Thank you for coming along to my talk today. As ** said, my name is Greer Bennett and I am presenting today on a relatively new research project titled Start Well which is focussed around supporting resilience and wellbeing in beginning (meaning early career) school teachers. Before I get started I would just like to mention that this project is being carried out by myself and colleagues at the Hunter Institute of Mental Health in collaboration with A/Prof Frances Kay-Lambkin from the University of Newcastle.
Just to give you some quick background on the Hunter Institute of Mental Health in case you are not familiar with our organisation. We are a leading national organisation dedicated to reducing mental illness and suicide and improving wellbeing for all Australians. We have been doing this work for over 20 years, operating out of Newcastle to deliver successful evidence-based mental health and suicide prevention programs. If any of you are particularly interested in finding out more about what we do, I encourage you to have a look at our website for more details.
So it probably comes as no surprise to most of you that the first few years of employment for a school teacher are really critical for shaping whether or not a teacher will stay in the profession long enough to achieve a peak in performance and confidence. There are several studies showing that peak teaching performance increases rapidly over the first few years of a teachers’ career and plateaus out at around 5 years. One study even found that, on average, teachers with 20 years of experience are not much more effective than those with 5 years of experience, highlighting the importance of those first 5 or so years in shaping the skills and confidence that a teacher will carry with them for the rest of their careers. Unfortunately, despite our knowledge of the importance of these first 5 years, some research estimates report that almost 1 in 2 early career teachers will leave the profession within those years however it is not clear exactly why those teachers in particular choose to leave. There are many reasons which have been implicated in teacher attrition worldwide, with the majority coming from a mental health origin including stress, burnout, job dissatisfaction, a mismatch of expectations between what is taught in University and what it is actually like working in schools, feeling overwhelmed and a potential lack of social inclusion at school among others. As I mentioned however, the reasons why teachers leave in Australia are not clear although these factors could be reasonably assumed to be true here as in other developed countries.
As a note here, I would like to mention that I will be using the terms early career and beginning teacher interchangeably referring to the first 5 years of service in teaching.
So how can we potentially help these beginning or early career teachers during this critical time? Previous studies have shown that the culture of schools as a professional learning environment that promotes social connectedness, collaboration, both formal and informal induction processes and ongoing learning opportunities can
Start Well - A research project supporting resilience and wellbeing in beginning school teachers
A Research Project Supporting Resilience
and Wellbeing in Beginning School Teachers
Dr Greer Bennett, Ms Ellen Newman, Ms Elizabeth Kemp,
A/Prof Frances Kay-Lambkin, Dr Gavin Hazel
Hunter Institute of Mental Health
• The Hunter Institute of Mental Health is a leading national
organisation dedicated to reducing mental illness and suicide
and improving wellbeing for all Australians.
• For more than 20 years we have been delivering successful,
evidence-based mental health and suicide prevention
programs from our base in Newcastle, NSW.
Early career teachers are at risk
• The first years of employment are a critical time for early career (beginning) teachers;
• Peak performance in teachers occurs at around 5 years of service (Clotfelter, Ladd and
• In Australia, almost 1 in 2 early career teachers will leave the profession within 5 years
of beginning their teaching careers (Gallant and Riley, 2014); and
• There are many reasons for early career teachers leaving the profession; however
overwhelmingly the strongest factors include those of a mental health origin:
- Job dissatisfaction;
- Mismatch of expectations;
- Feeling overwhelmed; and
- Lack of social inclusion at school….
How can we help beginning teachers?
The culture of schools as a professional learning environment that
promotes social connectedness, collaboration, formal and informal
induction processes and ongoing learning opportunities, enables
teaching staff to support each other and enhances early career
teachers’ resilience (Johnson et al., 2012; Gibbs & Miller, 2014).
1. To identify some of underlying issues that may contribute
to high rates of attrition in beginning school teachers in
2. To identify and recommend strategies to promote
retention in beginning teachers, with a particular focus
on peer relationships.
• Review of current evidence (ongoing);
• Online survey of beginning teachers’ views; and
• Targeted telephone interviews with key
stakeholders in education sector.
453 teachers responded to
our survey in just 3 weeks.
417 respondents were
eligible for inclusion in the
• Online survey augmented with interviews with key
thought leaders from the education sector:
– Peak training organisations;
– Union representatives; and
– Organisations providing dedicated support to
Methodology Part 2:
"Leadership at a school
level could actually reflect
the value that early career
teachers have, not just to
other early career teachers,
but to experienced teachers
"One of the problems of early
career teachers is problems are
perceived to be the product of
them being relatively
inexperienced. We have to realise
that they are dealing with the
same sorts of problems that very
experienced teachers are dealing
with and they need at least the
“We need to get in early with our
pre-service teachers while they
are still training to talk to them
about some of the things that
could impact mental health and
wellbeing for them, and their
resilience in dealing with a whole
range of things that sit outside of
the mandated curriculum.”
Key thoughts: Leaders interviewed
Take home messages
• Beginning teachers in NSW have high rates of planned
• There are key factors that influence a teachers’ plans to
stay in teaching, such as work/life balance and level of
social support; and
• Generally, key thought leaders in the field agree with
information provided by the teachers themselves.