Wellbeing plans needed to support teachers

The Centre for Social Impact (CSI) has released a new policy response to COVID-19’s impact on Australian teachers, calling for a wellbeing plan to support teacher mental and emotional health during the pandemic response.

Lead researcher, Dr Meera Varadharajan from CSI UNSW, said there has been no data tracked to see how teachers are professionally and personally coping during the current pandemic and whether they are being adequately heard and supported.

“While there has been some research conducted to understand students’ anxiety and wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been little information to find out how the pandemic has affected teachers and how to support them,” Dr Varadharajan said.

“Remote working has substantially increased teachers’ workloads, with studies indicating that some teachers are working an extra 20 hours per week. Teachers are feeling exhausted and drained on several fronts, due to the additional workload and being worried about their students.

Data reports that those from low SES schools may also be more anxious and concerned about the level and adequacy of support available for their students and their level of preparation to cope with the move to online learning, which in turn affects their own mental and emotional health.”

The Teacher Wellbeing and COVID-19 paper highlights that our concern for schools and students during COVID-19 should also extend to teachers and their families.

“There is a lack of advocacy and there is no accredited peak body that focuses on providing information and guidelines for supporting the health and well-being of teachers in schools. Failure to recognise and provide suitable support might leave some teachers vulnerable and unable to cope with their professional and personal demands, severely impacting their mental and physical health. Some might even be forced to consider leaving teaching, resulting in a huge loss to the profession, to students they teach and adding to the current economic crisis,” Dr Varadharajan said.

The paper suggests a number of strategies that should be implemented to improve teacher mental health and wellness through recognition, acknowledgement and support:

  1. Encourage school colleagues and senior executive to collaboratively develop and design a teacher well-being plan including stress-management techniques.
  2. Generate support from senior executive and leadership staff to recognise and acknowledge challenges and ongoing hurdles.
  3. Explore online modules on well-being and resilience strategies that are endorsed by accredited education authorities.
  4. Apply adaptability and adjustment skills to current and future scenarios that maybe unfolding as a result of the pandemic.
  5. Where available, enlisting the support of school psychologists and counsellors who have complementary and specialist skills, to communicate their feelings.
  6. Recognise and accept uncertainty and what is achievable within the current situation.
  7. Being part of or establishing supportive network of colleagues and friends within local community. Online teacher support groups can be useful to help gain a shared understanding of the causes of stress and suggestions to overcome them.
  8. Wider community appreciation and valuing of teachers’ professional roles to student contribution.