The importance of teacher wellbeing

Attention to teacher wellbeing has grown in recent years in the wake of emerging findings that associate positive wellbeing with a range of favourable life outcomes, IEU member and Year 5 teacher Damien Lynch writes.

As teachers continue to 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 improved insights into the significance of teacher wellbeing, educational authorities, teachers and their unions can put in place strategies to minimise conditions that cause wellbeing to suffer and promote conditions that cause teacher wellbeing to thrive.

The teacher wellbeing experiment

To remedy the poor wellbeing of many staff in my school, I was given the opportunity to highlight the importance of teacher wellbeing to my colleagues.

I shared with them a renowned wellbeing framework and accompanying online survey to support teacher wellbeing and offered an invitation for 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 survey, but when given the opportunity to autonomously reflect on aspects of their wellbeing, each could identify features that needed attention and consequent ways to address it.

While participants could identify problems and potential solutions, they were not taking steps to apply these strategies to foster their wellbeing in their everyday lives.

These same participants welcomed the opportunity to put into action their independently developed goal over a two-week period.

Erosion of identity impacts wellbeing

Participants commonly shared that their wellbeing was weakened through a devaluing of the teaching profession by administrators, their educational authority and broader society, along with the stressful impact of constant and unrealistic intensification of workloads.

Respondents were generally not opposed to new initiatives or evolving expectations but struggled to find the time and energy to always be doing more.

Teachers felt as though this pressure influenced their professional identity, or what Kelchtermans (2005) identifies as the “professional self”, the ideas one has about their capacity as a teacher.

A teacher’s self-esteem is impacted by feeling obliged to be doing more for their students and doing more to meet professional standards, but this comes at the cost of longer work hours, negative impacts on personal relationships, and work-related stress (Bubb & Earley, 2004).

The July 2022 report from Monash University is the latest report that corresponds with the findings of my own study and highlights the struggles of Australian teachers.

This report revealed that 59 per cent of Australian teachers surveyed planned on leaving the profession in the next five years due to excessive and unsustainable workloads, wellbeing concerns and the status of the profession, and established that most teachers are not coping with the demands expected of them.

It is through strong union chapters, advocacy and collective bargaining that IEU members must continue to remind educational authorities that people matter and that enhancing the quality of teaching and learning in our schools is dependent on professional, supported and valued human resources.

The results

My own small-scale study to support teachers found participants were invested in applying their personally developed interventions.

After two weeks, they reported feeling calmer, happier, less stressed and having more control over their moodsand actions.

Participants claimed this enhanced positive state was felt across various contexts, encompassing both home and school life.

They identified 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.

Participants were inspired and motivated to persist with attending to their wellbeing beyond the term of the project.

Another finding from this study was that most participants claimed their newly energised mindset motivated them to adjust other aspects of their lives, beyond their initial action, in support of their wellbeing.

Not only did participants exercise their elevated sense of control over their thinking, relationships, and actions both at work and at home, but also with their involvement in the wellbeing project.

One participant said, “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).

Flow-on benefits

The goals participants were setting and acting on resulted in heightened self-regulation and a flow-on effect of employing secondary practices conducive to their wellbeing.

Armed with enriched self-regulation, Singh and Sharma (2018) recognised 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, 2008) suggesting each teacher’s wellbeing is influenced by their ability to choose and have control over their wellbeing action, by experiencing competence through achieving personal goals and by the relatedness of feeling valued and respected by others.

Taking initiative to improve wellbeing

Why then, if these participants were confidently aware of an aspect of their wellbeing that required attention, 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.

I urge all IEU members to reflect on aspects of their life or work where they feel their wellbeing is being tested and to consider the actions required to address the difficulty.

Members can take steps towards applying this action to enhance their own wellbeing. You may be surprised at how a comparatively small action could grow into bigger than expected rewards, with the potential to improve personal wellbeing and influence the wellbeing of those around you.


Bubb, S & Earley, P 2004, Managing teacher workload: Work-life balance and wellbeing, Paul Chapman Publishing, London.

Deci, E. L & Ryan, R. M 2008, ‘Hedonia, eudaimonia, and well-being: an introduction’, Journal of Happiness Studies, vol. 9 no. 1, pp 1–11.

Heffernan, A et al. 2022 ‘I cannot sustain the workload and the emotional toll’: Reasons behind Australian teachers’ intentions to leave the profession’, Australian Journal of Education, vol. 66, no. 2, pp. 196–209. doi: 10.1177/00049441221086654

Kelchtermans, G 2005, ‘Teachers’ emotions in educational reforms: Self-understanding, vulnerable commitment and micropolitical literacy’, Teaching and Teacher Education, vol. 21, pp 995–1006.

Singh, S & Sharma, N. R 2018. ‘Self-regulation as a correlate of psychological well-being’, Indian Journal of Health and Wellbeing, vol. 9, no. 3, pp. 441-444.

Damien Lynch is a long-time IEU member and has worked in education for over 25 years. He has worked in primary and secondary schools in the non-government and public sectors in Australia and overseas. Damien followed his initial teaching degree with a MEd in ESL/Inclusive Education, and he recently graduated with a MEd in Guidance Counselling. In his 16th year as a teacher with Brisbane Catholic Education, Damien, continues to explore ways of developing and sharing his skills in attending to the wellbeing and engagement of all those in our school communities.

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