The links between teacher wellbeing and effective CPD

Written by: Megan Williamson | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

The links between effective CPD and teacher wellbeing and morale are clear. Megan Williamson looks at the research and offers some practical advice

The teaching profession has increasingly been associated with stress, burn-out and an overwhelming workload. According to the Education Support Partnership, the number of teachers seeking support for their mental health via the charity’s confidential helpline increased by 35 per cent in the past 12 months (from April 2017 to March 2018).

Poor teacher wellbeing doesn’t just have a detrimental impact on mental and physical health, it also affects performance in the classroom. Therefore, poor wellbeing doesn’t just affect teachers, it also corresponds with poor pupil progress and poor mental health among students.

A 2016 Canadian study – Stress Contagion in the Classroom? (Oberle & Schonert-Reich) – found that children whose teachers reported feeling close to burnout had much higher levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) than those whose teachers were not stressed.

It is also important to consider the impact that poor teacher wellbeing is having on the recruitment and retention of teachers. Typically, we choose to become teachers because we enjoy working with children and young people, we want to make a difference and we love our subject. However, the NFER’s 2016 report, Engaging Teachers, found that a high workload is associated with poor health and feeling undervalued, perhaps explaining the well-documented retention problems in the profession.

What is wellbeing?

The term wellbeing has been banded around in so many contexts recently that we are at risk of losing sight of what it really means.

Having a good sense of wellbeing is not the same as being happy or calm. Furthermore, it is not something that can simply be addressed by providing staff with mindfulness training, or yoga classes (although these can be highly effective ways to make staff feel valued).

People with great wellbeing will still have moments of stress and frustration, but they will have the physical, emotional and social resources to overcome challenges faced and still feel proud, rewarded and fulfilled.

Dodge et al (2012) describe wellbeing as a kind of see-saw: “Stable wellbeing is when individuals have the psychological, social and physical resources they need to meet a particular psychological, social and/or physical challenge. When individuals have more challenges than resources, the see-saw dips, along with their wellbeing, and vice-versa.”

Simply put, the key to positive wellbeing is having the resources needed to meet the challenges we may face. If an individual doesn’t have the resources needed to meet a particular challenge, their wellbeing is compromised.

Applying theory to practice

By applying the “see-saw” theory of wellbeing to professional development in schools, we can begin to identify some of the barriers that exist and the ways in which high-quality CPD is inextricably linked with having the resources needed to overcome the associated challenges within the profession.

High-quality CPD supports teachers to overcome the associated occupational hazards that can contribute to a low sense of wellbeing and which can lead to a detrimental impact on teacher performance and pupil outcomes.

Ultimately, if teachers do not feel empowered, or well enough prepared to teach in a way that allows them to make a difference, it creates a burden of not just letting themselves down but also their pupils. Therefore, it’s vital that teachers feel confident in their ability to teach and have the support in place to pursue the very best opportunities.

EPPI-Centre research from 2003 showed that effective CPD in schools can lead to greater confidence among teachers, greater enthusiasm, greater self-efficacy and a willingness to learn and innovate.

Good working relationships

In a high-stakes educational landscape where teachers are under intense pressure to meet data targets and justify pupil outcomes, it is all the more important to have the support of your colleagues.

Incorporating collaborative practice into your CPD programme is one way of encouraging positive working relationships within school. Small changes can lead to big results.

For instance, we worked with a school to audit their CPD practice and found that staff wanted more time in subject teams. So we helped them to embed more conversations about teaching and learning into their department meetings. Encouraging joint planning to take place within time already allocated to subject-specific CPD could be one small change that positively influences relationships within departments and has a positive ripple effect on whole-school culture.

Positive performance management

Another way in which schools can promote positive wellbeing among staff is through well-designed and considered performance management systems.

Although this may seem counter-intuitive to many staff who may have had negative experiences with performance management in the past, when done well, it can in fact be a powerful tool for identifying a teacher’s needs, creating professional goals and ultimately supporting them to grow professionally.

Schools with the most effective appraisal systems consider performance management to be a developmental process and not a judgemental one. Just like with students, self-esteem is integral to teacher performance, therefore appraisal conversations need to focus on future development and not criticism of their performance.

Teachers need to trust that their performance management is a process in place to inform their professional development and practice. Where possible, allow teachers to choose which measures are used to evaluate their own performance and ensure that any targets are designed collaboratively, with full buy-in from both appraiser and appraisee.

Clear career progression pathways

Similarly, it is important that schools that have clear, structured career progression pathways for teaching staff. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a route to becoming a senior leader, deputy headteacher or headteacher. We are increasingly seeing schools introduce specialist subject, research and curriculum positions for staff.

It may sound simple, but encouraging staff to consider their career options and how they’d like to progress in the future is a great form of motivation.

Having regular “what next?” conversations allows for discussions around current and future opportunities and also creates an incentive for teachers to think about what CPD they might need to reach their next step.

Allocating time to CPD

We regularly carry out CPD audits in schools and during these interviews we’re often told by teachers that they do not have enough time to focus on their own professional development. Therefore, it is important that there is time allocated within teachers’ timetables in which they can read, research, reflect or observe colleagues to inform their teaching practice.

This shouldn’t be framed as an added burden for teachers, but as safeguarded time for them to dedicate to their own development and over which they have a degree of autonomy. Similarly, it is a good idea for teachers who have attended external courses or conferences to have some time to reflect on what they have learnt and how the ideas could be implemented within their context. If only one member of staff has attended training, we recommend that they feedback to their colleagues about what was covered, what they learnt and how they might implement suggestions. It is also important for teachers to consider the long-term evaluation of impact of any CPD.

Conclusion

Quality CPD can provide teachers with the time, support and resources needed to overcome the challenges faced in the profession. Remember, one of the keys is to ensure that CPD times include sufficient autonomy for staff and teams to pursue their own thinking.

And if you’re not sure where to start, why not review your school’s CPD culture using the TDT’s CPD Audit Tool, which can also benchmark your overall resourcing of CPD.

  • Megan Williamson is a graduate network support officer for Teacher Development Trust, a national charity for effective professional development in schools and colleges around the UK. Visit http://tdtrust.org/

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