Enhancing Teacher Well-Being: Put on Your Oxygen Masks!

By Hills, Kimberly J.; Robinson, Ashley | National Association of School Psychologists. Communique, December 2010 | Go to article overview

Enhancing Teacher Well-Being: Put on Your Oxygen Masks!


Hills, Kimberly J., Robinson, Ashley, National Association of School Psychologists. Communique


RESEARCH-BASED PRACTICE

Every day, teachers have the opportunity to have great impact on the lives of children through their leadership in the classroom. Their positive influence in the classroom is critical to meeting the challenges of educating and guiding young minds to their full potential. As members of a positive psychology research lab, we are delighted to see the partnership of the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) withFishful Thinking to promote student well-being, optimism, and resilience. However, similar to the recommendation on airplanes that adults put on their oxygen masks before attendingto their children, a focus on teacher and staff well-being is essential to improving student well-being.

Recent research offers a number of strategies for promoting the five ingrethents of well-being outlined by Reivich and the individuals at Fishful Thinking. These include Optimism, Emotional Awareness, Goal Setting/Hope, Resilience, and Empowerment (Reivich, 2010). These five factors are empirically supported as significant predictors of well-beingin children as well as in adults (Youssef & Luthans, 2007; Lyubomirsky, Sheldon, & Schkade, 2005). The literature on well-being and education has focused primarily on applications to students rather than to school-based professionals who work with students (Miller & Nickerson, 2008); however, the industrial/organizational literature notes significant relationships between well-being and job performance (e.g., Youssef & Luthans, 2007). This research, in addition to the well-established notion that teachers serve as important and influential role models in children's lives, suggests that teachers must first "put their own oxygen masks on" by promoting their own personal and professional well-being. Teachers caring for their own well-being capitalizes on potential contagion effects of positivity (Cameron, Dutton, & Quinn, 2003) and helps to ensure that teachers are modeling the five ingrethents described earlier in this article.

In today's schools, adversity and setbacks are commonplace, challenging teacher self-efficacy and well-being with considerable frequency. The current economic climate and resulting budget cuts for schools create an ever increasing need for resilient teachers. Directly promoting teacher wellness may be a key issue for school psychologists to address because of the direct impact on students (Maslach, 2002). Fredrickson's "broaden and build" theory suggests that an increased effort to promote a healthy balance of positive and negative emotions (a key component of subjective well-being) can lead to a stronger repertoire of flexible and creative problem solving and build resiliency for the future (Fredrickson, 2001). The purpose of this article is to briefly review recent literature on teacher well-being and to offer strategies for directly promoting teacher well-being.

Historically, research and practice in psychology and education have focused primarily on remediating weaknesses and pathology and, with respect to teachers, there is a significant literature base addressing "teacher burnout." Previous research in this area has focused specifically on negative aspects of mental health such as burnout (e.g., emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, low self-efficacy, Maslach, 1993) and job stress. The literature on adult well-being suggests that focusing on burnout alone may not be sufficient in preventing or reducing burnout. However, the absence of "burnout" does not imply that one possesses the skills, characteristics, and contexts needed to flourish.

Recent studies investigating well-being and teacher performance suggest that positive traits like high self-efficacy, life satisfaction, and resilience are important predictors of teacher performance and student academic outcomes (e.g., Duckworth, Quinn, & Seligman, 2003). A review of the literature by Baumeister, Campbell, Krueger, and Vohs (2003) notes that self-esteem, use of self-regulatory strategies, and overall life satisfaction are strong predictors of work performance. …

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