I’ve just returned from an invigorating weekend in Hobart indulging in two of my favourite things – the culinary delights of Tasmania and spruiking the benefits of a healthy workplace.
I had the great pleasure of presenting two workshops at the Association of Heads of Independent Schools of Australia (AHISA) conference. Lots of engaging discussions with leaders on how to develop a workplace wellness strategy that works, plus the important role they play in building a wellness culture in their school. One in which both staff and students will flourish.
What really strikes me with the education sector, is that whilst there has been a real spotlight on principal and student wellness in recent years (and rightly so), there is a real dearth of research and shining examples of schools focusing on staff wellness. This is also despite the Health Promoting Schools Framework developed by the World Health Organization encouraging a whole school approach to addressing health issues.
This glaring oversight doesn’t appear to be disappearing anytime soon.
Here’s 4 reasons why schools must invest in staff wellness.
Reason #1. It’s a more complex and demanding teaching environment
Heavy workloads, classroom management issues and a lack of collaboration and support have been cited as the main reasons why teachers leave the profession. Plus, the extra hours that teachers put in over and above the standard school day are often invisible, with teachers spending on average more than 47.5 hours per week on school related activities.
Reason #2. We’re failing to retain the best teachers.
A concerning number of teachers who walked through the school gates last year in Australia didn’t return this year. Researchers estimate around 30-50% of teachers are leaving prematurely in the first 5 years of their career. The latest figures from ABS also suggest that 53% of people who hold a teaching degree do not currently work in education.
Reason #3. The workforce is ageing and changing.
The schools workforce is ageing, is becoming more feminised and is increasingly employed on a contract basis. The median age for those working in the education sector is 44 years, which is notably higher than the median age of 40 years for Australian workers.
Reason # 4. The physical and emotional demands of the industry are taking its toll
Research suggests many long serving teachers are also retiring early feeling utterly spent. The demands of the job simply become too much. Fatigue, illness, mental problems, anxiety, isolation, intolerance and loneliness have been identified as contributing factors to teacher stress. This is also showing up in work-related mental disorders, with teachers one of the top three occupations at most at risk (15%).
So, what do these factors mean for schools?
The implications of the above factors are obviously far reaching – loss of expertise, disruption to school communities, less experienced teachers being called upon to do more, and impact on the public and school purse.
Investing in staff wellness will be critical to tackling these challenges.
What research and experience tells us is that when staff members are doing well across multiple wellbeing domains, they are more committed to the school, and more satisfied with their life, and jobs. Teacher wellbeing is also deeply connected to the quality of their work and student outcomes. In fact, a recent study in the United Kingdom found that 8% of the variation of SAT (Statutory Assessment Tests) were attributable to teacher wellbeing.
What’s going to set schools apart into the future? Staff believing they are cared for, and have an opportunity to develop personally and professionally in their roles. To be their best self every day – and contribute their skills and gifts to something that matters – our future generations.
I would argue there’s has never been a more important time to future proof our schools. So what are we waiting for?