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Teachers’ wellbeing matters

4th Oct 2018

The mental health and wellbeing of students in our schools has rightly become a priority in recent years. However, one of the essential components of a students’ educational experience, including that of their mental wellbeing, has been overlooked – their teachers.

Today marks the 24th annual World Teachers’ Day – a prime opportunity to recognise and celebrate the contribution teachers make to their students’ lives. Recent findings suggest that if the wellbeing of students is a concern, then a greater focus on the mental health of those in the teaching profession is required.  

Until recently, we had little empirical evidence on the impact of a teacher’s mental health on their pupils. However, new research from the University of Bristol found that when teachers suffer from mental health issues, it also has negative consequences for student mental health.

This finding will be unsurprising to many teachers. In a recent UK survey , 81% of teachers felt that poor mental health had a negative impact on the quality of their relationships with pupils and 73% believed it can have a negative impact on the quality of lessons.

As a result of stress and workload, teacher burnout is on the rise. The education system already faces low levels of retention and recruitment, with training applications down by 5% and recruitment targets missed for five successive years. There is a clear need to improve teacher wellbeing.

What has been done

Initiatives to support teachers’ mental health do exist. Examples of such programmes include the Education Support Network, which has a support line specifically for educators, HeadsTogether’s mentally healthy schools and the Carnegie Centre for Excellence of Mental Health in Schools.

However, if we believe that schools have a role in promoting the mental health and wellbeing of students, we must first acknowledge and address the increasing problem of teacher mental health. Because without a healthy and valued teaching profession, our efforts to improve education in the UK will have little impact.

We think behavioural insights can play a role in fixing this problem in two ways: 

  1. Applying behavioural insights to existing best-practices to increase uptake and use 

Great resources are no use if they aren’t used. We’ve applied behavioural insights to improve the uptake of a wide range of services, and we believe there is promise in applying this approach to mental health services for teachers. Additionally, we can contribute to existing teacher training materials by applying behavioural insights to make resources less time consuming for schools to increase uptake.

      2. Harnessing collective intelligence to reduce teacher workload

Unsurprisingly, teacher workload is a major factor in their wellbeing. For this reason, we are exploring ways to draw on the collective intelligence of schools and teachers to make entry into the profession easier by providing default schemes of work and lesson plans, like those used in education systems such as Shanghai.

Student and teacher mental health is closely connected. We can’t address one without the other.  We at BIT believe that behavioural insights can help improve teacher wellbeing and consequently enhance the educational experience of many students.