Wellbeing in Australian Schools Report and what is really means for Teacher Wellbeing
The AITSL Spotlight: Wellbeing in Australian Schools report was released in March, 2022 and while it offers a deep analysis and comparison of student wellbeing, as well as extensive resources we as teachers can use to support and strengthen it, it excludes key demographics and offers little insight into practical solutions. Furthermore, I feel altering the title to Student Wellbeing in Australian Schools more accurately reflects with content within the report.
Read the full report here: https://www.aitsl.edu.au/research/spotlights/wellbeing-in-australian-schools
Within the unpacking of wellbeing, a term that has increased exponentially in literature since the early nineties, the definitions the Spotlight: Wellbeing in Australian Schools report provides are all in relation and connected to student wellbeing. For the dimensions and definitions identified, examples are given and unpacked in relation to the needs of students and from a childhood developmental perspective. Whilst this is important, and it’s interesting to note the variety in the definitions, research by Hattie⁵ (2003) tells us all too well the impact teachers have, which reinforces the need for them to be thriving and flourishing.
Within the Educator Wellbeing section of the report, a definition for teacher or educator wellbeing has not been provided. The report goes on to provide and discuss measures for educator wellbeing and suggests some frameworks that are in use in other states within Australia, but without an agreed universal and foundational understanding of what this wellbeing is, how can we all be sure we are thinking of the same thing? How do we create supports for something we can’t pinpoint the meaning of?
The report acknowledges this, citing the work of Hascher & Waber (2021)¹ and McCallum et al. (2017) ², who have also identified this issue.They identify the broad nature of wellbeing, as well as the intersection teachers face between personal and professional elements, a particular and unique challenge to this profession. They suggest work needs to be done to drill down and assemble a wellbeing model specifically for teachers.
Let’s unpack some data
Interestingly, with the data collected within the Australian Teacher Workforce Data Report (ATWDR) ³ (the 2021 version is cited most frequently), only data from New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and the Northern Territory was collected. The omitted states and territories do not participate in the survey. Considering this report is a reflection on the state of Australian educators, it raises the question of the reliability of the data and whether we can use it to gain a valid overview of what teaching really looks like within an Australian context. For example, Australian Bureau of Statistics Data from 2006-2021⁴ shows that Queensland and Western Australia, two states that do not participate in the ATWDR consistently have in school staffing numbers that sit within the top 4 highest states and territories of Australia. What that means is, we have a significant portion of the Australian teacher cohort, whose experiences are excluded. Is there a data collection that includes all Australian states and territories? What are the ramifications for this Spotlight report and the data sets listed within it? Does this create a true reflection of the wellbeing within our schools, or is this skewed?
But what about rural and regional teachers?
Furthermore, the data around wellbeing of rural and regional teachers was not included within the Spotlight: Wellbeing in Australian Schools or the ATWDR documents. Considering teachers who work within these locations make up 30% of the teaching workforce, this is a significant population group to be excluded. In saying this, it is likely that the non-participation of Queensland and Western Australia, two states which include the dominant number of rural and remote educators, would have given very little data remaining to make accurate trends and assessments on. Where do the voices of these teachers get to be heard? Does this imply that their experiences are not valued as highly as their metropolitan counterparts?
Resources - for Whom?
Whilst the student resources focus around social and emotional enhancement strategies, this is not the same for the teacher resources provided within the Spotlight: Wellbeing in Australian Schools report, where the focus is purely on teaching/administration support. For example, some of the resources included strategies to set up a successful teaching round, NCCD mental health adjustments for students, and supporting a clear workplace induction. Though important elements of a successful professional workplace, it could be seen that these resources are missing the social and emotional support that’s given to our students. Do our teachers know what their strengths are? Can our teachers name and label their emotions? Do our teachers know how to regulate their own emotions? What supports are in place within our schools to help colleagues form deeper connections?
Key Theme 1: Teacher Wellbeing is declining
According to the ATWDR, one-in-four members of the teacher workforce reported that they intended to leave the profession before they retired (25%), with 56% intending to leave within the next ten years. Furthermore, teachers who reported working an average 140 to 150% of their paid hours. Whilst this Spotlight: Wellbeing in Australian Schools includes data collected during remote learning and the height of the covid-19 pandemic in Australia, the ATWDR uses data collected in 2018, and is an interesting comparison point. Firstly, it offers insight into trends pre and during the pandemic. Also, it highlights the challenges with wellbeing within the profession being significant prior to the pandemic, showing those stresses and concerns have been present for some time, though exacerbated during the pandemic.
Key Theme 2: Collegial support and connection is a MUST
The report highlights time and time again the importance of social connectedness and collegiality within teaching, something that at first seems fairly obvious considering the importance of collaboration, but is connected in this newer way from a wellbeing perspective. From a graduate perspective, the support and collegiality provided from a mentor can act as a protective factor in supporting wellbeing, helping develop feelings of confidence, self esteem, communication pathways and trusting relationships. The next step is to collect and measure how this is embedded in schools. What behaviours do individuals who are skilled in this display? How can we teach and replicate this across teaching units, teams and schools? How are opportunities for genuine connections, based on deeper conversations and emotional vulnerability embedded and modelled in daily practice?
Interestingly, the following comment was also made: Collaboration and collective efficacy are recognised sources of wellbeing, however, evidence suggests an increasing focus on individualised solutions such as mindfulness and yoga, as well as self-paced online professional learning, which is leading to increasing isolation.
So, what about us?
It seems that the following key actions are needed
- A clear definition of wellbeing, incorporating personal and professional elements. This will assist in the creation of a measurement tool allowing for the collection of data in a truly Australia wide context
- Whilst some protective and risk factors to wellbeing are noted within the report, specific strategies to improve teacher wellbeing are vague. Further research is required to plan, implement, review and revise specific strategies for teachers. Whilst a whole-school community implementation has been noted as a potentially effective pathway, specific strategies and process for teachers external to student learning, needs and outcomes would be beneficial
- Hascher, T, & Waber, J 2021, ‘Teacher well-being: a systematic review of the research literature from the year 2000-2019’, Educational Research Review, vol, 34, pp. 1-25, <https://doi.org/10.1016/j.edurev.2021.100411>.
- McCallum, F, Price, D, Graham, A & Morrison, A 2017, Teacher wellbeing: A review of the literature, Association of Independent Schools of NSW, Sydney, https://apo.org.au/sites/default/files/resource-files/2017-10/apo-nid201816.pdf
- Australian Teacher Workforce Data Report (2021): https://www.aitsl.edu.au/docs/default-source/atwd/national-teacher-workforce-char-report.pdf?sfvrsn=9b7fa03c_4
- Australian Bureau of Statistics Data Set: In-school Staff (Number), 2006-2021 https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/people/education/schools/latest-release#staff
- Hattie, J. (2003). Teachers make a difference: What is the research evidence? Paper presented at the Building Teacher Quality: What does the research tell us? ACER Research Conference, Melbourne, Australia. Retrieved from http://research.acer.edu.au/research_conference_2003/4/
OECD’s Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS)
Australian College of Educators 2021, Teachers Report Card 2021, www.austcolled.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/NEiTA-ACE-Teachers-Report-Card-2021.pdf