The success of children’s education lays in the hands of teachers, and a large body of research tells us that if teachers are satisfied in their job, they display a higher level of motivation and are less likely to leave the profession. With rising attrition rates being costly to schools and education departments, and teacher burnout affecting teachers both physically and psychologically we need to look at why teachers are more stressed than ever and find ways to build teacher happiness.
The reasons behind teacher stress have been heavily researched, particularly in the United States, with increased workload being a major determining factor in good teachers leaving the profession, as with lack of autonomy and student behaviour to name a few. This article looks at how building skills in adaptability will support teachers in what is arguably a profession with the highest level of constant problem solving all day, every day, which can be emotionally draining and contribute to teacher burnout.
Teaching is indeed a unique profession, and it’s not just the amount of people they come into contact with daily, there is a plethora of changing circumstances throughout the school day. There is no other profession where you interact with the number of people throughout your workday. Retail workers, for example, come into contact with ample people, however, 5-10 minutes per say is spent dealing with one customer at a time, and once their needs have been met, they move on.
Teachers, and I am speaking as a teacher in the primary sector here, spend 5 hours per day meeting the instructional and emotional needs of up to 30 children whilst simultaneously implementing engaging lessons. Just when you think your day is running smoothly, a change might occur to your timetable, for example, your class’s music lesson is cancelled, and all of a sudden you need to fill that space with quality learning and that time you had allocated to find resources for the next lesson is gone, throwing your teaching session into chaos and impacting on the rest of your day. As the saying goes, the only thing that is consistent in education is change, and without adaptability, our stress levels rise, therefore contributing to reduced teacher job satisfaction.
This scenario, of course, is not an isolated event, we come back to work the following day for a day filled with just as much mayhem, and we do it because we love what we do. One thing that would help us avoid being stressed, is building our ability to adapt to consistently changing factors throughout our day. I say adaptability here, rather than resilience, as resilience refers to our ability to recover from setbacks, adaptability allows us to restructure multiple factors at the same time.
The topic of teacher adaptability has never been more evident than recent challenging times, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Teachers had to develop and implement a whole new way of learning at the drop of a hat, mostly while suffering some levels of stress just learning ways to teach digitally. The full impact of how education will ‘look’ moving forward may not be known for some time, adding further pressure to teachers and highlighting the importance of teacher adaptability.
What can we do to be more adaptable to change?
Surprisingly, teacher personal characteristics have been found to be minimally related to adaptability, other than to say that years of experience are advantageous to adapting to new situations (Collie & Martin, 2017).
A consistent classroom behaviour policy whereby high expectations are fostered when it comes to student motivation and disruptive behaviours plays an important role in limiting the occurrences that teachers must deal with behaviour issues throughout the school day. A quality school-wide behaviour policy where principal support is consistent is key to decreasing disruptive behaviours in the classroom.
Research findings suggest that there is an important connection between the adaptability of teachers and how principals’ support teacher autonomy. Autonomy is related to a teachers capacity to modify to changing circumstances (Collie & Martin, 2017). Higher teacher autonomy has direct positive implications for teacher job satisfaction.
Additionally, a school that fosters an environment for healthy teacher well-being has been proven to have a higher rate of teaches who can adapt to uncertain circumstances (Collie & Martin, 2017). Therefore, implementing a teacher well-being program in our schools is paramount to not only supporting teachers to be more adaptable during their workday, but contribute to the overall happiness of teachers, thus lowering attrition rates.
Professional discourse, say at weekly staff meetings whereby teachers discuss ways in which they have been adaptable during the school week will foster supportive colleague relationships and allow teachers to grow in this area, as after all, the many changing and uncertain factors of a school day will not change. Professional discussion will normalise this to a certain extent and provide professional learning opportunities for teachers with limited skills in adaptability.
Additionally, teachers with higher levels of self-efficacy have a greater belief in themselves to carry out tasks (Caprara et al., 2006; Tschannen-Moran & Hoy, 2001), and this confidence goes a long way when having to adapt to changing and uncertain circumstances. This in turn will assist teachers to be satisfied in their profession, which after all, is imperative to student achievement and positive school climates.
Caprara, G. V., Barbaranelli, C., Steca, P., & Malone, P. S. (2006). Teachers' self-efficacy beliefs as determinants of job satisfaction and students' academic achievement: A study at the school level. Journal of School Psychology, 44(6), 473-490. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsp.2006.09.001
Collie, R. J., & Martin, A. J. (2017). Teachers' sense of adaptability: Examining links with perceived autonomy support, teachers' psychological functioning, and students' numeracy achievement. Learning and Individual Differences, 55, 29-39. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lindif.2017.03.003
Tschannen-Moran, M., & Hoy, A. W. (2001). Teacher efficacy: Capturing an elusive construct. Teaching and Teacher Education, 17(7), 783-805. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0742-051X(01)00036-1
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