Educator Well-Being – We Need Systems Change (Part 1)
Supporting educators social and emotional lives

By Mark Greenberg
Emeritus Bennett Chair of Prevention Science, Penn State University, Chair of CREATE (www.createforeducation.org)

Without well teachers, we will not have healthy schools and successful students"

Even before the world pandemic, teachers/educators faced very challenging situations that have led to high levels of burnout and many teachers leaving the profession across the world.  Even under the best of conditions, teaching is a highly demanding profession. Teaching places high demands from a physical, emotional, and cognitive standpoint.  Learning soars when students and teachers develop trusting and caring relationships. If there is one thing we have learned during the pandemic, it is how important the teacher-student relationship is to learning. 

Yet, this is nothing new.  As the highly respected Lee Shulman reflected in 1983 “….the teacher must remain the key. The literature on effective schools is meaningless, debates over educational policy are moot if the primary agents of instruction are incapable of performing their function. “

Don’t you as a reader find it is at least somewhat surprising that teacher wellness has not become a central policy issue – at least until now?  If we are to take seriously the task of supporting teacher’s well-being, there are three key approaches that need to be integrated into school reform for the sake of teachers as well as students and their families. They are:

  • Supporting teachers social and emotional development on the job
  • Reforming teacher training to better prepare teachers for the job they face
  • Making educational reforms at the district and school levels to systemically support teacher well-
         being.
        In each of three blogs, I explore one of these three approaches.

Supporting teachers social and emotional development on the job

During the past decade there has been increased attention to supporting teachers social and emotional competence (Klingbeil & Renshaw, 2018).  There is substantial data that teacher’s social and emotional competence and well-being both influence student behavior and achievement (Schonert-Reichl, 2017).   In fact the field of social and emotional learning (SEL) has recently (and finally) placed a focus on the social and emotional needs of teachers and  the report of the National Commission on Social, Emotional & Academic Development (2018) shined a spotlight on the importance of adult SEL.  The CASEL School Guide to systemic SEL places a major focus on adult SEL and even recommends the possibility that school consider focusing on adult SEL before implementing evidence-based SEL Programs for students.

What Have We Learned So Far re Teacher SEL Research?
A recent meta-analysis of teacher mindfulness/SEL  programs indicates significant effects on teacher well-being and psychopathology (Klingbeil & Renshaw, 2018). There are now a number of Adult SEL Programs that have been carefully studied in randomized trials and two of the most prominent, CARE and CALM are recommended as potential teacher interventions in the CASEL School Guide.  

These programs have been shown to improve teacher well-being, their efficacy and enjoyment of teaching, and to lower burnout and negative affective symptoms such as anxiety and depression. In addition, CARE has shown effects on the quality of classroom instruction (Jennings et al, 2017) and longer-term effects in the next school year (Jennings et al, 2019). Further, a number of studies have produced in-depth qualitative studies that provide the voice of participants on how CARE enables teachers to respond more compassionately with students and colleagues (Schussler et al, 2016, 2018; Sharp & Jennings, 2016; Taylor et al, 2015).  Findings from CALM have shown positive effects on physiological indicators of teacher health (i.e., improvements in cortisol/stress response and blood pressure).

The fact that evidence-based Adult SEL programs have led to such broad improvements should be of great interest to administrators, school boards, and unions – all of whom are deeply invested in teachers being well and successful.  Yet, professional development for teachers focused on their own social and emotional competence is a rare event.  As Seymour Sarason reflected decades ago “It is virtually impossible to create and sustain over time conditions for productive learning for students when they do not exist for teachers”

Although supporting teachers own social and emotional awareness is only one of three parts of an integrated solution to teacher well-being, the time is now.


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