Teacher wellbeing is of critical importance to healthy functioning at work and to students’ academic development. Although growing research is pinpointing factors that support teacher wellbeing (Collie, 2023), less is known about how teacher wellbeing changes over time.
Understanding how teacher wellbeing fluctuates, and whether there are factors that help to sustain teacher wellbeing over time, is important for supporting effective and healthy teachers and schools.
This is what we set out to investigate in our study, published in Teaching and Teacher Education (Collie & Martin, 2023). We examined the extent to which teacher wellbeing changes over one school term, and the role of teacher-student relationships in how these changes unfold.
The factors we examined in our study
Our study followed 401 primary (56%) secondary (38%) kindergarten to year 12 (6%) school teachers, from all Australian states and territories, during Term 3 (out of 4) in the 2021 Australian school year.
We investigated 3 different types of wellbeing that are key to healthy and effective functioning at work:
- Vitality – the energy and vibrancy that teachers feel in their work.
- Engagement – the dedication and exertion that teachers channel into their job.
- Professional growth – teachers' commitment to enhancing their expertise and competencies.
Positive teacher-student relationships were assessed by teachers’ reports about the degree to which they feel connected to their students.
What did we find?
Study participants reported on their wellbeing (and relatedness with students) in week 2, week 5, and week 8 of a 10-week term. We found that all 3 types of teacher wellbeing declined over the course of the term, highlighting the need for ongoing efforts to support teacher wellbeing.
Importantly though, teachers who started the term with more positive teacher-student relationships ended the term with higher wellbeing than teachers who started the term with lower levels of teacher-student relationships.
Our findings were generally very similar across different types of teachers, though we did see some minor variations. For example, female teachers started the term with lower vitality, but higher engagement than male teachers. More experienced teachers also started the term with higher engagement than less experienced teachers.
Because our data were collected during COVID-19, we also examined whether there were any differences in the findings if teachers were teaching in-person, hybrid, or remotely. Results indicated very few differences across these different teaching situations, suggesting that the changes in wellbeing – and the supportive role of teacher-student relationships – were important across all teachers.
When taken together, our findings highlight the interconnectedness of teacher wellbeing and teacher-student relationships, and underscore the importance of practice efforts to address both.
What can teachers and school leaders do?
Ensuring the factors above are bolstered at the beginning of a term seems particularly critical as these ‘starting points’ shaped subsequent patterns of wellbeing and teacher-student relationships. Some strategies that teachers and school leaders can implement are:
To boost teacher-student relationships, it is worth considering the students’ interactions with the teacher, content, and pedagogy (Martin & Dowson, 2009), as all are important for building positive interpersonal interactions within the classroom.
For the connection between students and teachers, teachers may want to find opportunities for professional learning (Split et al., 2012) that focus on building high-quality teacher-student relationships. This may involve reflecting on the nature of their interactions with particular students, and setting goals for improving their interactions with those students.
For the connection with content and pedagogy, designing activities and teaching approaches to be relevant and aligned with students’ interests can boost positive interactions between teachers and students (Martin & Collie, 2019).
School leaders may like to prioritise teacher wellbeing by providing resources and support for managing workload and stress. This can include offering flexible work arrangements, seeking teachers’ input about what policies and practices work for them, and promoting a positive school culture that values teacher wellbeing.
Another way to promote wellbeing at work is for school leaders to foster a sense of community and connectedness among teachers by promoting collaboration and teamwork (Carroll et al., 2021). This could involve creating opportunities for teachers to work together on projects, and providing time for peer mentoring and coaching.
Through strategies such as these, teachers can experience greater wellbeing and interpersonal relationships in the workplace – leading to more optimal outcomes for both teachers and students.
Carroll, A., Flynn, L., O’Connor, E. S., Forrest, K., Bower, J., Fynes-Clinton, S., York, A., & Ziaei, M. (2021). In their words: listening to teachers’ perceptions about stress in the workplace and how to address it. Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 49(4), 420-434. https://doi.org/10.1080/1359866X.2020.1789914
Collie, R. J. (2023). Teacher well‐being and turnover intentions: Investigating the roles of job resources and job demands. British Journal of Educational Psychology, (93)3, 712-726. https://doi.org/10.1111/bjep.12587
Collie, R. J., & Martin, A. J. (2023). Teacher well-being and sense of relatedness with students: Examining associations over one school term. Teaching and Teacher Education, 132, 104233. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tate.2023.104233
Martin, A. J., & Collie, R. J. (2019). Teacher–student relationships and students’ engagement in high school: Does the number of negative and positive relationships with teachers matter? Journal of Educational Psychology, 111(5), 861–876. https://doi.org/10.1037/edu0000317
Martin, A. J., & Dowson, M. (2009). Interpersonal relationships, motivation, engagement, and achievement: Yields for theory, current issues, and educational practice. Review of educational research, 79(1), 327-365. https://doi.org/10.3102/0034654308325583
Spilt, J. L., Koomen, H. M., Thijs, J. T., & Van der Leij, A. (2012). Supporting teachers’ relationships with disruptive children: The potential of relationship-focused reflection. Attachment & human development, 14(3), 305-318. https://doi.org/10.1080/14616734.2012.672286
One strategy shared in this article to bolster teacher wellbeing at the start of term is to foster a sense of community and connectedness among staff. As a school leader, how often do you provide opportunities for teachers to work together on projects? Do ensure time is set aside on a continuing basis for peer mentoring and coaching?