The busy nature of schools often means that teachers and principals have too much to do in too little time, and consequently, this can lead to high levels of burnout and attrition.
However, while educators are often perceived as resilient and adaptable, this is not always the case. The University of NSW (UNSW) recently looked into the benefits of adaptability in the classroom – particularly when it comes to teacher well-being.
For example, teachers must encounter a diverse range of learners to whom they must respond appropriately. They also face unexpected situations in the classroom or shifts in timetabling that they need to navigate. Being adaptable can help teachers navigate these issues effectively.
In the study, UNSW researchers Rebecca J Collie, Andrew Martin and Helena Granziera, asked 164 Australian secondary school teachers to rate their adaptability along with their experiences of work disengagement and their job commitment.
They found that work disengagement occurs when teachers continue to do their work, but they invest little or no effort; that is, they have largely “given up”.
“This is a negative experience for teachers and usually occurs when teachers feel they can do little to influence their workplace experiences,” the researchers said.
“Job commitment refers to teachers’ attachment to and personal identification with their workplace. When teachers have high job commitment, they tend to invest more effort into their work and are less likely to quit their jobs.”
The study’s results showed when teachers were more adaptable, they tended to report lower work disengagement and, in turn, greater job commitment.
As an additional question in the study, the researchers also looked at the role of principal support.
“Here, we asked teachers about the extent to which they felt the principal listens to teachers’ perspectives [such as inviting teachers’ input in decisions) and supports their initiative and innovation (such as providing teachers with choices in how they do their work],” they said.
“Our findings showed when teachers reported more principal support, they tended to be more adaptable.”
So how can principals support adaptability in their teachers?
The study showed that adaptability has been highlighted as essential for teachers, given the constantly changing demands of teaching work.
“Our research has shown adaptability may also help teachers avoid feelings of disengagement and, in turn, avoid lower job commitment, and so adaptability may be one factor to consider in efforts to support teachers’ well-being and promote teacher retention,” the researchers said.
Given principal support was also an important factor, the study provided some ideas for supporting adaptability in practice.
Actions by principals such as inviting teachers’ input in decisions, providing teachers with choices in curriculum and policy development, listening to teachers’ perspectives, and expressing confidence in teachers’ abilities have been highlighted as supportive of teachers’ sense of empowerment and belonging in the workplace.
“Together, these approaches may also help teachers to be more adaptable at work,” the researchers said.
The original version of this article was published on The Conversation.