Teacher Developed Wellbeing Interventions Work Best

The best source of effective wellbeing strategies is teachers.
Mental health
Teachers know what it is that can support their wellbeing, they just need the opportunity to reflect and the drive to act.

Attention to wellbeing, and in particular, teacher wellbeing, has grown in recent years in the wake of emerging findings that associate positive wellbeing with a range of favourable life outcomes. As teachers play an increasingly significant role in the educational and psychological development of their students, it is the wellbeing of teachers that determines the degree to which they can support their students.

With increased insights into the significance of the wellbeing of teachers has come the commercial opportunists looking to cash in on the growing industry with programs and courses promising teacher wellbeing to flourish! However, the key to teacher wellbeing might be more involved with internal change, rather than costly external influences.

In an attempt to remedy the poor wellbeing of many of the staff in my school, I was given the opportunity to highlight to staff the importance of teacher wellbeing, to share a renowned wellbeing framework and accompanying online survey to support teacher wellbeing, and offered an invitation to staff to prioritise their wellbeing over a two-week period. The invitation was well received, and participants were supported in developing a wellness goal for the period of the project by either considering the results of the online survey to identify aspects of their wellbeing in need of attention or by personally reflecting on aspects of their wellbeing requiring resolve.

Surprisingly, all participants found little value in the results of the wellbeing survey, but when given the opportunity to self-reflect on aspects of their wellbeing, each could easily identify features of their wellbeing that needed attention and consequent ways to address their wellbeing. While participants could identify problems and potential solutions, they were not taking steps to apply these strategies to foster their wellbeing. These same participants welcomed the opportunity to put into action their independently developed goal over a two-week period.

This small-scale study found that participants were invested in applying their personally developed intervention/s. They revealed feeling calmer, happier, less stressed and having more control over their moods and actions. Participants claimed that this enhanced positive state was felt across various contexts, encompassing both home and school life. They identified that being calmer at school allowed them to be more organised and engaged in their work and foster improved relationships with their students, allowing them to be more responsive to the needs of their students in their care. Participants were therefore inspired and motivated to persist with attending to their wellbeing beyond the term of the project.

Why then, if these participants were confidently aware of an aspect of their wellbeing that required attention, and experienced significant rewards when attending to their wellbeing, did they not act to address it prior to being involved in this study? Participants responded to this question by referring to the gentle ‘push’ of being involved in the project, motivating them to adjust their mindset and see it as an opportunity to improve their wellbeing. These responses highlight the key role of rousing self-regulation and promoting a growth mindset to reframe poorer states of wellbeing as an opportunity for flourishing.

A curious finding from this study, was that a significant majority of participants claimed that their newly energised mindset internally motivated them to adjust other aspects of their lives, beyond their initial wellbeing action, to support their wellbeing. Not only did participants exercise their elevated sense of control over their thinking, relationships, and actions both at work at home, but also with their involvement in the wellbeing project. One participant stating that, ‘My goal was to get fitter by going for a 30 minute walk each morning. It felt good doing this and I stopped having a glass of wine the night before so I could wake better for my walk and less alcohol was also helping me being fitter anyway.’ (Participant 7) The goals that participants were setting and acting on resulted in heightened self-regulation and a knock-on effect of employing secondary practices conducive to their wellbeing. Armed with enriched self-regulation, Singh and Sharma (2018) recognised that individuals are likely to seek out new experiences to support them in their desire to reach their goals.

This study acknowledges the significance of a teacher’s individual capacity to isolate and target a specific personal intervention strategy to address their own wellbeing. Through introspection of their wellbeing state, participants adopted an increasingly metacognitive stance to think about their thinking, applying mindful approaches of paying closer attention to their thoughts and emotions. These findings align with Self-Determination Theory (Deci & Ryan, 2000) suggesting that each teacher’s wellbeing is heavily influenced by their authority to autonomously choose and have control over their wellbeing action, by experiencing competence through successfully achieving personal goals and by the relatedness of feeling valued and respected by others.

I urge readers to reflect on aspects of their life or work where they feel their wellbeing is being tested, to consider an action they might take to address this and, most importantly, take a step to proactively and courageously apply this action to enhance their own wellbeing. You might be surprised with how a small action can grow into bigger than expected rewards, influencing your own wellbeing and the wellbeing of those around you.

For a more detailed report on this project please contact [email protected]

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2008). Hedonia, eudaimonia, and well-being: an introduction. Journal of Happiness Studies, 9(1), 1–11. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10902-006-9018-1

Singh, S., & Sharma, N. R. (2018). Self-regulation as a correlate of psychological well-being. Indian Journal of Health and Wellbeing, 9(3), 441-444. https://www.proquest.com/openview/f70a147e53c1166891b4f5016e833dda/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=2032134