Preventing teacher stress and burnout, and improving wellbeing

It is widely acknowledged that teaching is a stressful job, and the global events of this year have added an enormous amount of extra pressure on those working in education. In today's article, we take a look at the research into the prevalence of stress and burnout for teachers and school leaders, and explore some of the protective factors.

Almost six in 10 Australian teachers (58 per cent) say they feel quite a bit or a lot of stress in their jobs, according to the latest data from the OECD's Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS 2018).

In 2018, TALIS also asked teachers for their perception of the extent to which their job negatively affects their mental and physical health. Around one-quarter of Australian teachers (24 per cent) reported that their job negatively impacts their mental health quite a bit or a lot, and 21 per cent reported that it negatively impacts their physical health quite a bit or a lot.

The personal consequences of teacher stress are wide-ranging, and can include burnout, physical and emotional distress, reduced self-confidence and self-esteem, and damaged personal relationships (Gardner, 2010). In some cases, stress can force teachers to leave the profession, resulting in a significant loss of experience and skills (Howard & Johnson, 2004).

The Principal Health and Wellbeing Survey monitors school principals', deputy or assistant principals' health and wellbeing annually. Latest Australian data show school principals are overwhelmed by the amount of work they're doing, they're having great difficulty sleeping, and they're experiencing high rates of offensive behaviour and physical attacks.

‘Compared to the general population, school leaders reported huge effect size higher for emotional demands, demands for hiding emotions, and work-family conflict,' the report reads. ‘For Health and Wellbeing subscales, school leaders reported very large effect sizes for burnout, sleeping troubles and stress compared to the general population.' (Riley et al, 2020).

Protective factors against stress and burnout

Research suggests that teacher wellbeing not only improves the health and wellbeing of the teachers themselves, but also has a positive impact on students and their learning outcomes.

In her presentation Teacher wellbeing and its impact on student learning (Cross, 2014), Winthrop Professor Donna Cross cites the following factors that protect against teacher stress and burnout:

  • Resources to increase sense of self-efficacy
  • Connectedness with students and colleagues
  • Support by colleagues
  • Receiving recognition for their work. (Klassen et al., 2012; Flook et al., 2013; Gardner 2010; Schwarzer & Hallum, 2008)

In their paper Teachers' Relatedness With Students: An Underemphasized Component of Teachers' Basic Psychological Needs, Klassen et al. (2012) acknowledge that people who perceive that their basic psychological needs are satisfied tend to be intrinsically motivated.

‘They tend to seek out new challenges and opportunities to learn, and to seek to display mastery of their environment, even in the absence of external rewards,' the paper reads.

The authors say teachers need to experience enjoyment from work if they are going to display high levels of energy and dedication to teaching. ‘For teachers, the day-to-day effects of coping with poor quality teacher-student relationships may lead to lower levels of engagement and enjoyment and higher levels of anxiety, anger, and emotional exhaustion.'

Schwarzer and Hallum (2008) make a similar argument in Perceived Teacher Self‐Efficacy as a Predictor of Job Stress and Burnout: Mediation Analyses.

They question: why do some teachers succeed in being good teachers, in continuously enhancing students' achievements, and in setting and pursuing high goals for themselves, while others cannot meet expectations imposed on them and tend to collapse under the burden of everyday stress?

‘One reason lies in a teacher's perceived self-efficacy as a job-specific disposition,' they report. ‘Teacher engagement is positively associated with personal coping resources, whereas teacher burnout is indicated by a number of negative personality characteristics, including low levels of self-efficacy.'

In Mindfulness for teachers: A pilot study to assess effects on stress, burnout and teaching efficacy, Flook and colleagues (2013) say that teachers play a central role in creating a classroom climate that fosters student learning and social-emotional wellbeing. However, teaching can be stressful and managing classroom dynamics taxing.

‘The personal, societal, and financial costs associated with burnout are too high to ignore.

Teacher stress and burnout have been an ongoing challenge in education. Providing resources to increase teachers' sense of personal efficacy and ability to manage stress may reduce burnout,' the paper reads.

Improving educators' health and wellbeing

We know that teachers and school leaders do a stressful job, and are now facing added pressure, uncertainty and anxiety due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In our annual reader survey we asked educators about COVID-19 and how they have been caring for their wellbeing during this time. The feedback we got this year is that readers would like additional support aimed at their personal wellbeing outside of the classroom.

The team at Teacher is thrilled to announce the launch of our new publication, Wellbeing by Teacher. Focusing on topics like mental health, nutrition, fitness, relationships and sustainability, each week we'll be delivering a research-based article to our email subscribers. We'll also be sharing recipe ideas, fitness tips, book reviews (and more!) from educators around the country.

While the content in Wellbeing by Teacher is aimed at those working in education, the strategies are specifically focused on caring for your wellbeing while you're not working.

Subscribe to the Teacher email bulletin to receive the first issue of Wellbeing by Teacher on Saturday 21 November, 2020.


Cross, D. (2014). Teacher wellbeing and its impact on student learning [Powerpoint slides]. University of Western Australia.

Flook, L., Goldberg, S. B., Pinger, L., Bonus, K., & Davidson, R. J. (2013). Mindfulness for teachers: A pilot study to assess effects on stress, burnout, and teaching efficacy. Mind, Brain, and Education, 7(3), 182-195.

Gardner, S. (2010). Stress Among Prospective Teachers: a Review of the Literature. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 35(8), 2.

Howard, S., & Johnson, B. (2004). Resilient teachers: Resisting stress and burnout. Social Psychology of Education. 7. 399-420. 10.1007/s11218-004-0975-0.

Klassen, R. M., Perry, N. E., & Frenzel, A. C. (2012). Teachers' relatedness with students: An underemphasized component of teachers' basic psychological needs. Journal of Educational Psychology, 104(1), 150-165.

Riley, P., See, S-M., Marsh, H. & Dicke, T. (2020) The Australian Principal Occupational Health, Safety and Wellbeing Survey (IPPE Report). Sydney: Institute for Positive Psychology and Education, Australian Catholic University

Schwarzer, R., & Hallum, S. (2008). Perceived teacher self‐efficacy as a predictor of job stress and burnout: Mediation analyses. Applied psychology, 57, 152-171.

Thomson, S., & Hillman, K. (2020). The Teaching and Learning International Survey 2018. Australian Report Volume 2: Teachers and School Leaders as Valued Professionals. Australian Government Department of Education.

Subscribe to the Teacher email bulletin to receive the first issue of Wellbeing by Teacher on Saturday 21 November, 2020.