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Start Well: A research project supporting resilience and wellbeing in early career teachers


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Symposium presentation by Dr Greer Bennett, Hunter Institute of Mental Health, for the Society of Mental Health Research Conference 2016.

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Start Well: A research project supporting resilience and wellbeing in early career teachers

  1. 1. Start Well A Research Project Supporting Resilience and Wellbeing in Early Career School Teachers Dr Gavin Hazel and Dr Greer Bennett Ms Ellen Newman, Ms Elizabeth Kemp, A/Prof Frances Kay-Lambkin
  2. 2. 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.
  3. 3. The Big Picture • The first years of employment are an important component of establishing a professional identity and building skills critical time • There is a perception that early career teachers are at an increased risk of leaving the profession prior to retirement (known as attrition). The possible factors influencing early career attrition seem to be multiple and interrelated • One key factor of concern is early career teacher’s wellbeing
  4. 4. The Big Picture • Early career teachers commonly draw on their family, friends, colleagues, mentors, and peers as formal and informal supports to help them in navigating their successful transition to the profession • Social and professional feelings of belonging, connectedness, support and acceptance are potential contributors to early career teacher resilience and coping, adding to overall wellbeing • Therefore, support systems that target relationships, skills and strengths are thought to be helpful to early career teachers in managing both professional and personal wellbeing
  5. 5. Snapshot of Australian education workplace mental health • Health issues are a growing challenge for the education community with the demand for mental health services doubling over the past five years among younger members in the 24-29 age group (Teachers Health Fund) • Safe Work Australia (2015) reports that the top three occupation groups by work related mental disorder claim numbers were school teachers (around 460 claims per year), health and welfare support workers (310) and personal assistants and carers (270).
  6. 6. Snap shot of teacher mental health: International data Internationally: • The mental health of teachers is of concern • Workload has been proposed as a significant contributor • Almost 2 out of 3 teachers turn to their partners for help • Many teachers go to their friends or family for support.
  7. 7. How can we help early career 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). By understanding both the risk and protective factors for early career teacher attrition, an effective and efficient support mechanism or intervention can be designed. Peer Support
  8. 8. “Teachers need their professional lives to be individually motivated, relationally connected and organisationally supported” Lieberman (in Day and Gu (2010) The New Lives of Teachers)
  9. 9. Study aims and methodology • To better understand the specific challenges and experiences of early career teachers in NSW, and; • To identify and recommend strategies to promote wellbeing, with a particular focus on the contribution of peer relationships. Literature Review Phase Quantitative Phase Survey of early career teachers Qualitative Phase Interviews with key thought leaders Recommendations for action
  10. 10. Research methods: Surveying early career teachers
  11. 11. Who answered our survey? 453 Teachers in NSW Age Relationship Status • 3% identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander • 97% said they were mainly a classroom teacher working with mainstream students (91%) • There were slightly more (53%) teachers from metro areas than rural and remote combined (47%).
  12. 12. Early career teachers’ experiences Teachers were asked to reflect on their most positive experiences so far in teaching. Almost all teachers noted that seeing students learn or building relationships with students were the most positive experiences they had. Peer support or collegiality were the second most commonly mentioned positive experiences in early career teachers.
  13. 13. What’s it like to be a early career teacher? Approximately 70% of early career teachers received induction and/or mentoring. “I have an experienced teacher who is my mentor who is next door. He is extremely approachable and assists with anything little or big.” “I was paired with an amazing teacher who taught me so much and who I respect beyond all others.”
  14. 14. What are the most challenging aspects for early career teachers? 1 in 3 early career teachers reported that managing the workload was the skill they felt least confident in.
  15. 15. How do early career teachers feel about their futures? “I have chosen teaching as a career.” “I hope to stay in the teaching profession but it is almost impossible to get full time work in teaching.” “Intended to, but losing confidence in ability to get permanent work.” “I am finding teaching very stressful. I don't know if I want to be in it long term.” “Have decided I will most likely leave at the end of the year, do some casual/part time work and transition to another field.”
  16. 16. Most teachers reported good levels of social support Key results: • Peer support and social support is important to early career teachers and may help to improve resilience • 94% of early career teachers said they had other early career teachers at their school. “Fellow teachers were my best support as they could identify with the issues and understand the importance of downloading about your day!”
  17. 17. Technological supports for early career teachers • Two thirds of all early career teachers noted that they would find support services available on a mobile phone or tablet helpful • 90% said they use their phone at least every few days, highlighting the potential usefulness of a support program using this medium. “It would be helpful in seeking information and advice related to the profession. It would also be comforting to engage with others who are in similar stages of their career who likely have common encounters and emotions.”
  18. 18. What can we do now? 1. Build awareness of mental health and wellbeing 2. Build capability for help seeking 3. Encourage self-care and teach skills 4. Reduce and manage stress 5. Strengthen social support 6. Activate and involve peer (formal and informal) support where appropriate 7. Promote work life balance. Start Well Be Well Stay Well
  19. 19. Early career teachers reflect on their careers
  20. 20. Thank you This project is supported by: Contact:
  21. 21. What were early career teachers’ work circumstances like? • Most teachers were from Government schools • Slightly more teachers were from primary • schools than secondary schools • About the same number of teachers were in • full-time employment, permanent employment and contract or temporary work • 1 in 4 teachers had relocated for their current job 84% of teachers reported permanent employment as their preferred type of employment.
  22. 22. • Generally, teachers were quite confident in their self-reported pedagogical abilities and their skills in making professional relationships: “Helping students to realise their potential, to develop a love and appreciation for learning and to actually want to come to school.” “I love the people that I work with, they are very supportive and I have lots of friendships. I like that they are a mix of ages – both similar to me, and older people I see as role models.” • Teachers also commented about the need for clarity around processes: “Providing training or awareness of expectations of registrations, paperwork and accreditation in the first 5 years needs to be clear and communicated openly. It should not be a ‘surprise’ moment when you are in a school.” What are the most challenging aspects of early career teaching?
  23. 23. Moving towards support Mentoring or collaboration were the most frequently mentioned support needed by early career teachers Other support themes mentioned include: reduced workloads, time to participate in professional development, help with pedagogy, induction into schools, support from school leadership, help with accreditation and job security.
  24. 24. What do the leaders in education say? "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 as well." “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.” "One of the problems for early career teachers is that their 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 same support."
  25. 25. What do the leaders think is needed to support early career teachers? • Collaboration (especially at key times during the school year e.g. report writing) • Internal opportunities within schools including regular feedback from leadership • Funding for professional development • Mentoring and team teaching opportunities • Targeted support for casual of temporary teachers.
  26. 26. Key results: Ways to support early career teachers: • Early career teachers showed a preference for active forms of support including being given feedback, advice and information as well as practical strategies • Early career teachers in this study largely sought support from sources within school in the form of leadership and peers, or from their close relationships outside of school such as family, friends and spouses • 3 out of 4 early career teachers said they have provided guidance to other early career teachers and that this was important to them: “Once I have been through it, I can use my knowledge and experience to help others.” “I would like to share my experience so others are aware it is not an easy job but persistence pays off.”