Teacher Well-Being – A New Role for Teachers Unions (Part 4)
By Mark Greenberg
Emeritus Bennett Chair of Prevention Science, Penn State University, Chair of CREATE (www.createforeducation.org)
Consider the following questions:
1. Are school districts and school boards more likely to be successful when educators are resilient,
involved and flourishing in their jobs?
2. Unions advocate for teachers and have an interest in the functioning of the overall education system. Would teacher unions be more successful when educators are resilient, involved and flourishing in their job?
If you have said “YES” to both of these questions, then the domain of teacher well-being/flourishing is a place where school districts and teachers unions should find common ground that supports teachers in ways that will support their flourishing and increase school success for students.
Let me elaborate the reasons here.
What do school districts gain from having educators who are resilient, involved and flourishing in their jobs?
- Students who show higher achievement
- Students who show less disruptive behavior and attention
- Students who feel included and valued at school
- District savings re teacher turnover costs
- District saving re teacher physical and mental health costs
- Lower rates of teacher absenteeism and higher rate of presenteeism
- Greater teacher stability which means greater community stability
What do teachers unions gain from having educators who are resilient, involved and flourishing in their jobs?
- Teachers who are likely to remain in the profession and progress in their careers
- Teachers who see their unions as responsive to their psychological and occupational needs
- Schools that have lower rates of turnover and create stability in communities
- A union in which teachers are healthier and show more job engagement and growth
Then here is the third question,
3. Why don’t we see Collective Bargaining Agreements that provide the necessary support for teacher’s resilience, well-being, and flourishing?
Although teachers unions have long protected teachers through supporting positive working conditions and quality health benefits, this has not stemmed the tide of teacher’s stress, burnout, and attrition with over 35% of teachers leaving the profession in the first five years. Further, during the pandemic teacher’s stress, uncertainty, and trauma has been compounded and has led to a large segment of teachers taking early retirement or just leaving the profession.
As in the first three blogs in this series, the refrain is ”Without well teachers, we will not have healthy schools and successful students” but it is also true that without well teachers we can never achieve the balance of caring, belonging and challenge that we want for our children.
So, if teachers well-being and flourishing is in the interests of teachers unions and their members and it is in the interest of school boards and their administrators, we need to develop innovative models for teachers professional development that are part of the collective bargaining process to ensure that teachers thrive and flourish.
There is an old Chinese story that asks the question, “When is the right time to plant a tree?” and the answer is 20 years ago. But the second best answer is “now” The time is now to see new models of cooperation in which teachers unions and school districts set the goal of deeply supporting teachers well-being to create the schools we all yearn for.