When having conversations about improving education, it is common to look at student achievement data and ask questions about pedagogically sound practices. While there is an indisputable connection between the quality of instruction and student achievement, test scores and student data can act as a distraction from other, equally important, factors that impact student learning outcomes. What is one such “other” factor? Educator well-being.
Recent research on wellness indicates that far too many educators are struggling. One study found that 46% of the teachers they surveyed reported high levels of stress during the school year.1 What is causing this stress? Educators attribute it to a number of factors including things such as lack of autonomy, high-stakes testing, difficult student behaviors, and heavy workload.2,3 And unsurprisingly, educators report that these stressors spill over into other aspects of their lives affecting their sleep, their health, and their emotional well-being.4,5
From the outset, the relationship between educator well-being and student achievement may not be immediately clear. However, studies indicate that high-quality interactions with educators can increase student motivation, on-task behavior, and engagement, all factors that affect how well students do in school.6 When educators are experiencing high levels of stress, though, they report that the quality of their relationships with students diminishes.7 This means that when educator well-being suffers, so, too, can student achievement. What can school leaders do to help? The following four practices have been identified through research as powerful approaches to addressing this important issue.
- Provide educators with support that helps them identify and manage their stress. Oftentimes, people don’t realize they are being adversely affected by stress until they find themselves holed up in a bathroom sobbing uncontrollably or sitting in front of the phone contemplating whether to call in sick just to avoid whatever is waiting for them at work. Training that helps educators become more aware of and in touch with their stress levels and overall wellness is the foundational first step. It is also crucial to provide a meaningful response to ongoing or perpetual sources of stress.
- Implement programs that help improve student behavior. Challenging student behavior is one of the most often cited sources of stress for educators, which means that addressing student behavior is critical to improving educator well-being at a systemic level. Some strategies that have been shown to improve student behavior include helping students to identify and deal with difficult emotions, familiarizing them with their support network within the school, and teaching students to consider a full range of outcomes and responses before reacting to a situation.
- Nurture a supportive work environment. A supportive work environment has the potential to increase morale, confidence, and enthusiasm. In a school, this can be accomplished in a number of ways, such as providing new educators with mentoring, increasing the quality of communication with staff, and nurturing opportunities for colleagues to work together. Normalizing conversations about wellness as a part of a supportive school climate can help both staff and school leaders to differentiate between systemic and situational stressors, and then collaborate to address them.
- Increase levels of trust between school leaders and educators. People perform best when they know that they are valued and can see the ways in which their work impacts others. Offering educators an opportunity to voice their concerns and make suggestions on decisions that directly impact their work is one way in which to do this. Another way is to regularly communicate positive observations about growth and progress.
Strategies such as these can be implemented alongside regular instructional time/existing practices, and are inexpensive to implement while still working to address the root cause of common stressors. Put together, they can go a long way in supporting a school’s most important asset: educators. When educators feel their best, they give their best and when they give their best, students do better. The correlation is powerful and a predictive lead measure to improving student achievement is unleashed.
Content courtesy Franklin Covey Education
1 Greenberg, M. T., Brown, J. L., & Abenavoli, R. M. (2019, July 26). Teacher stress and health. RWJF. Retrieved from https://www.rwjf.org/en/library/research/2016/07/teacher-stress-and-health.html
2 Ross, S., Romer, N., & Horner, R. (2011, July 12). Teacher well-being and the implementation of school-wide positive … Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/258174597_Teacher_Well-Being_and_the_Implem entation_of_School-Wide_Positive_Behavior_Interventions_and_Supports
3 Lever, N., Mathis, E., & Mayworm, A. (2017). School Mental Health is not just for students: Why teacher and School Staff Wellness Matters. Report on emotional & behavioral disorders in youth. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6350815/#R4
4 Greenberg, M. T., Brown, J. L., & Abenavoli, R. M. (2019, July 26). Teacher stress and health. RWJF. Retrieved from https://www.rwjf.org/en/library/research/2016/07/teacher-stress-and-health.html
5 Xie, M., Huang, S., Ke, L., Wang, X., & Wang, Y. (2022, February 26). The development of teacher burnout and the effects of resource factors: A latent transition perspective. International journal of environmental research and public health. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8910542/
6 Zee, M., & Koomen, H. (2016, July 9). Teacher self-eﬃcacy and its effects on classroom processes, student academic adjustment, and teacher well-being: A synthesis of 40 years of research. Sage journals. Retrieved from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.3102/0034654315626801
7 Polishchuk, K. (2022, May). Supporting Educator Mental Health and Well-Being. American Psychological Services. Retrieved from http://votervoice.s3.amazonaws.com/groups/apaadvocacy/attachments/APA_Supporting-E ducator-Well-Being_2022.pdf