IEN will be taking a break until the end of August, but in the meantime, please revisit some of our posts highlighting specific improvements that organizations like Fount for Nations, Van Ness Elementary School and Transcend, and the Central Square Foundation are making in schools and learning opportunities around the world. IEN returns in September with our annual scan of “back to school” headlines in the US and other parts of the world.
How can we measure the long-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the mental health and well-being of students and educators?
What are the medium and long-term strategies that support the well-being of all student from diverse cultural backgrounds, as well as those vulnerable families?
What are the key factors- physical, social and/or emotional- that systems should focus on in our efforts to enhance staff and student well-being during and beyond this pandemic context?
These key question launched A Focus on Well-being and Social Emotional Learning (SEL), the Atlantic Rim Collaboratory’sJanuary ThoughtMeet (TM). ARC Talks were provided by Ársæll Már Arnarsson (Professor at the University of Iceland School of Education), Marc Brackett (Director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence) and ARC co-founder and President Andy Hargreaves. This post highlights the key ideas and issues that were discussed by the ARC TM participants, representatives from the seven ARC member systems and its global partners. A detailed description from the January meeting can be found here; additional videos and other resources can be found here. This post was produced by Mariana Domínguez González, ARC Research Assistant and Trista Hollweck, ARC Project Director
The Icelandic Well-being Saga
“Children are engaged in their well-being and they are expressing their feelings. It is our responsibility to make that acceptable and to show them the way forward.”
In his ARC talk, Ársæll Már Arnarsson shared how Iceland was able to increase student well-being through policy and practice. Keeping in mind the important link between research and policy development, the Icelandic government drew from local, national and international studies to make changes in their legislation focused on child and adolescent well-being. Iceland´s Act of the Integration of Services in the Interest of Children´s Prosperity was written in June 2021 and was implemented in January of 2022. The Act is a gradual, coordinated law focused on the education and well-being of children from an early age. It proposes that each child have a support plan developed by a caseworker in coordination with the child’s family, and that this plan be revisited frequently.
Emotional Intelligence: Unlocking the Power of Emotions to Achieve Well-being and Success (Especially During Uncertain Times)
“[S]chools have too many rules, not enough feelings”
In hisARC talk, Marc Brackett began by asking ARC delegates about their own emotions and feelings. For Brackett, emotions are important to recognize and name because they have a direct impact on our attention, our memory and our learning; on our capacity to make decisions; on the quality of our relationships; on our physical and mental health; and on our performance and creativity. This ability to recognize and name emotions is part of emotional intelligence which he defines as a set of discrete yet interrelated skills that can be learned and developed regardless of age. He then introduced ARC delegates to RULER, a systemic approach to social emotional learning (SEL) that he uses with schools worldwide. RULER is an acronym for:
Recognizing emotions in self and others Understanding causes and consequences of emotions Labeling emotions accurately Expressing emotions Regulating emotions effectively
In describing RULER and its use, Brackett highlighted that it should be implemented first with teachers through professional learning processes before using it with students. Additionally, pedagogical practices and school-wide policies around RULER should always take into consideration the different existing levels of mindsets, skill-development, as well as the school and home emotional climates of students.
Well-being in Schools. Three Forces That Will Uplift Your Students in a Volatile World
“One way to get well is to engage with the world, and to care about it and to feel that you are an actor and not only someone who is resilient or responsive or trying to cope at the same time.”
In the final ARC talk of the event, Andy Hargreaves presented the key ideas from his new book with colleague Dennis Shirley. He began by describing how recent interest in well-being draws from both the Global Education Reform Movement (GERM) and VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Chaos, Ambiguity). The first of which he argues has led to a sense of too much control, while the second creates a feeling of being out of control. For Hargreaves, SEL and well-being are not opposites or in competition. Rather, SEL is an important part of the holistic well-being concept. He posited that SEL helps educators and students cope with the educational challenges they experience, but collective effort must also be directed at changing the system to increase well-being. He challenged ARC delegates to pay attention, not only to the interactive, the emotional and the social dimensions of well-being, but also to consider the societal, the physical and the spiritual. An important question for delegates to ask when engaging in policy development on this topic is “What is the role of well-being in society?”
Like previous ARC TMs, this event stimulated thinking and provoked further questions for participants. A more detailed capture of the discussion can be found in the summary document. The summary also includes a number of questions to spark future discussions for policy development, implementation, and practice, such as:
How can the research on well-being and SEL be made more accessible to policymakers, leaders and educators?
What are political challenges to the design and implementation of well-being models in education?
How can we meaningfully and effectively integrate well-being and SEL into schools at all levels?
What resources and professional development will support teachers in this work and how do we provide it?
How can we engage students in taking an active role in their education to improve well-being and prosperity?
How can we provide space, time and access for staff and student well-being and SEL?
Key References and Resources
Arnarsson, Kristofersson, G. K., & Bjarnason, T. (2018). Adolescent alcohol and cannabis use in Iceland 1995–2015. Drug and Alcohol Review, 37(S1), S49–S57. https://doi.org/10.1111/dar.12587
Brackett, M. A., Bailey, C. S. Hoffmann, J. D. & Simmons, D. N. (2019). RULER: A Theory-Driven, Systemic Approach to Social, Emotional, and Academic Learning. Educational Psychologist, 54(3), 144-161. https://doi.org/10.1080/00461520.2019.1614447
Hargreaves, A. & Shirley, D. (2021). Well-Being in Schools. Three Forces That Will Uplift Your Students in a Volatile World. ASCD.
The Atlantic Rim Collaboratory (ARC) is an international policy learning network that was established in 2016 to advance educational change based on eight guiding principles: equity, excellence, inclusion, wellbeing, democracy, sustainability, human rights, and professionally run systems. Headquartered at the University of Ottawa (Ontario, Canada) since 2019, ARC brings together senior public officials (i.e ministers and deputy ministers of education), professional association leaders (i.e. unions and inspectorates) and other key stakeholders from its seven education member systems (Iceland, Ireland, Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan, Scotland, Uruguay and Wales), global partners (International Confederation of Principals) and international experts and scholars to discuss, debate and exchange knowledge about educational policy issues and to formulate responses suited to their contexts. One of the founding ideas behind ARC is to tear down the walls between countries and regions, as well as between educational researchers and politicians, in order to pursue the most fundamental ideas of what it means to be educated in today’s world for the mutual benefit of all ARC-systems and future generations of students worldwide. Every year, ARC members meet at the annual Summit hosted by one of the member systems. However, since 2020, in addition to a virtual summit, ARC has also hosted bi-monthly virtual ARC ThoughtMeets (TMs) for its members. The TM outreach series was designed to stimulate and support a global educational movement for equitable, inclusive and sustainable educational solutions to COVID-19.
Just in time for Teacher Appreciation Week, this week’s post describes the key results from a study of teachers’ wellbeing in England. The post comes from John Jerrim, Professor of Education and Social Statistics at the Institute of Education, University College London, and it was published originally on the UCL Institute of Education Blog
With my colleagues Becky Allen and Sam Sims, I have published a major new analysis of teacher mental health and wellbeing in England. Funded by the Nuffield Foundation, it is the culmination of two years of work and is, we believe, the most comprehensive analysis on this issue to date. In this blogpost, we’ll take you through a whistle-stop tour of some of our results.
1. Teachers in England are more likely to perceive their job as causing them stress – and having a negative impact upon their mental health – than teachers in other countries
In spring 2018, teachers in more than 40 countries were asked whether they felt their job caused them stress and had a negative impact upon their mental health. As the chart below illustrates, teachers in England were very clear in their views. Lower-secondary teachers in this country were more likely to say that their job had a negative impact upon their mental wellbeing than teachers in almost any other country. (Results for primary teachers produced a similar finding – albeit compared to a smaller number of other countries). Teachers in England clearly believe that their job – in certain ways – has a negative effect upon their wellbeing.
2. Teachers in England do not have lower levels of wellbeing than demographically similar individuals working in other professions.
It has previously been claimed that teachers have lower levels of wellbeing than other occupational groups. Our analysis dispels this myth – see the chart below. Once demographic background characteristics of individuals have been controlled for – e.g. gender – teachers in England actually have similar levels of (un)happiness and anxiety as other professional workers.
3. Like those working in other professions, there has been a recent rise in the percentage of teachers reporting mental health problems…
Over the last decade, there has been a notable rise in the percentage of teachers reporting a long-lasting mental health problem – see the chart below. This, however, is also true for other professional workers, such as accountants, nurses and human resource workers. It is therefore not a phenomenon that is specific to teaching, and hence seems unlikely to be related to teachers’ jobs. Indeed, our report reveals that there has been little change in the proportion of teachers who suggest depression has been caused or aggravated by their job.
4. …but this could just be due to an increase in reporting of mental health problems (rather than a decline in teacher wellbeing per se).
One potential explanation for the finding presented in the chart above is that it is due to increased reporting of mental health problems – both among teachers and society as a whole. The chart below may provide some support for this point of view. Over the period that reported mental health problems of teachers increased we have found the percentage of teachers reporting low levels of personal wellbeing has remained broadly flat. In other words, despite more teachers reporting a long-lasting mental health problem between 2011 and 2018, there has not been a similar systematic increase in anxiety, unhappiness, dissatisfaction with life and feelings of low self-worth.
5. There is no specific half-term where teachers feel particularly anxious or unhappy (…they are particularly happy in the summer, though!).
We all have ups and downs in our wellbeing. But we previously knew very little about how the feelings of teachers varied over the course of the academic year. Are teachers particularly anxious and unhappy at certain times? As the next chart demonstrates, we found little clear evidence that feelings of anxiety or unhappiness are especially likely to occur in any given half-term. Although there seems to be quite a large amount of week-on-week fluctuation (quite possibly due to our limited sample size) there seems little evidence of a systematic pattern by school term. The only exception is that – surprise, surprise – teachers seem to be happier and less anxious during the summer holiday.
6. There is no evidence that becoming a teacher is associated with a decline in mental health.
When someone decides to become a teacher – with the heavy workload and new experiences that entails – does wellbeing start to plummet? The answer – as demonstrated by the chart below – is no. Recently qualified teachers actually have similar levels of mental wellbeing at age 26 to when they were age 17 (before they became teachers). This pattern is also similar to other professional groups. Consistent with our interpretation of the second chart in this blogpost, this result suggests that deciding to become a teacher is unlikely to lead to a decline in wellbeing and mental health.
7. Middle-aged teachers who quit do not have better mental health and are not more happy generally (despite being slightly happier at work)
There is also little evidence that middle-aged teachers who quit for alternative employment experience much change in their general wellbeing and overall mental health. As the table below illustrates, although those middle-aged teachers who quit teaching report being slightly happier at work, this does not translate into lower levels of anxiety or depression, and is not associated with greater levels of happiness in life overall. In other words, for those who are considering leaving the teaching profession, the grass may not be that much greener on the other side.
8. Teachers’ working hours have been broadly stable since the early 1990s.
Workload and working hours have become a key education policy issue in England over the last few years, in part stimulated by results from the TALIS 2013 study which suggested that teachers in England work longer hours than teachers in most other countries. However, it does not seem that teachers are now working much longer hours than historical averages. Indeed, as the next chart reveals, there has been relatively little variation in the average working hours of teachers since the early 1990s. There is, of course, an important caveat to this finding. It is possible that workload has increased while working hours have remained stable – with teachers required to cram more work into the same amount of time – or for more tasks to build up and remain incomplete.
9. It is time spent upon marking and lesson planning that really causes teachers stress in the workplace.
When it comes to the link between working hours and workload stress, it is clear that not all tasks are equal – see the table below.
Looking across English-speaking countries, we find that each additional hour teachers spend on marking and lesson planning is strongly associated with an increase in their workload stress. The same is not true, however, for time spent on professional development and time spent actually teaching. Increasing working time spent on these areas are either associated with a decrease in workload stress or only weakly associated with an increase workload stress. For policymakers and senior leaders the message is clear. If you want to reduce the workload stress of teachers, it is these auxiliary tasks (often done in the evening, at weekends or during holidays) that need to be tackled.
10. Countries with extensive accountability systems are slightly more likely to have teachers who feel stressed from being held accountable for pupil achievement.
Outside of workload, the other great evil often associated with low levels of teacher wellbeing is high-stakes accountability. Unfortunately, little high-quality quantitative evidence exists on how such accountability systems really impact on the mental health of teachers. What we do know from our report is that countries with more school accountability do have teachers who are (slightly) more stressed by this aspect of their job. Now, as I have said previously, we need to be careful with such cross-national comparisons. And, of course, correlation does not equal causation. So we might ask: in England, do we have the right balance between quality assurance of schools and ensuring that this does not stress teaching staff out? But at the same time, we should keep in mind that the relationship between accountability and teacher wellbeing is not that strong – and is certainly not deterministic.
11. Teachers feel more stressed about accountability when their colleagues do as well (but, surprisingly, not really when their headteacher does).
One thing we have learned about teacher stress induced by accountability is that it seems to some extent to cluster within specific schools. A form of ‘emotional contagion’, as it were. Teachers in over 40 countries were asked to rate how stressed they were about accountability in the TALIS 2018 study – “not at all”, “to some extent”, “quite a bit”, or “a lot”. For every one category increase in colleagues’ stress levels – from “quite a bit” to “a lot”, say – there was a 16 percentage point increase in the proportion of teachers saying that they felt “quite a bit” or “a lot” of accountability-related stress themselves. Interestingly, though, we find only a weak relationship between whether headteachers feel stressed by accountability and the stress reported by their teaching staff. This may suggest that, in general, headteachers do a good job in not projecting their worries about accountability on to their staff.
12. Supportive leadership and manageable workloads appear more important than other factors when controlling workplace stress levels.
What can schools do to reduce workplace stress? In our project, we looked at how workplace stress (as well as job satisfaction and teacher retention) is related to five separate aspects of teachers’ working environments. When it comes to workplace stress, two of these working conditions stood out – see the table below. First, having teachers who feel their workload is manageable is strongly associated with a reduction in their stress levels. The second is having a supportive leadership team in place. These factors were much more important than collaboration with colleagues, lesson preparation and school discipline when it came to teacher wellbeing in the workplace.
13. Lockdown did not seem to reduce teachers’ workplace wellbeing or lead them to suffer from greater levels of work-related anxiety
The Covid-19 crisis has, of course, turned teachers’ (and everyone else’s) lives upside down. Although most of the data we use in our report comes from the pre-Covid era, we were able to investigate how the wellbeing of teachers may have changed during the early stages of the pandemic. As the chart below reveals, teachers’ work-related anxiety actually declined during lockdown. Moreover, our report reveals how lockdown did not seem to impact upon teacher wellbeing overall. Headteachers, however, did suffer from some period of high-stress, particularly just before school lockdown was announced and when school reopening was announced.
The project has been funded by the Nuffield Foundation, but the views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily the Foundation. Visit www.nuffieldfoundation.org.
Notes: The findings relate to around 131,000 teachers in lower-secondary schools.