While there is an ever-growing body of evidence on the importance of staff wellbeing, and just as much on student wellbeing, there is little research linking the former with the latter.
However, a ground-breaking report commissioned under Independent Schools Queensland’s (ISQs) Our Schools – Our Future initiative, has sought to change that.
The new study, by behavioural scientist Professor Donna Cross and co-author Sarah Falconer of the Telethon Kids Institute, presents an evidence-based perspective on what promotes or erodes school staff wellbeing, which is one of the first in Australia to make the links to student wellbeing.
The ‘School Leaders’ and Staff Wellbeing is Critical for Student Success’ research report found that school leader and staff wellbeing is critical to help students reach their full potential – a win-win situation that could have positive implications on a whole-of-school level.
Yet, as Professor Cross points out, rarely in recent history has school leader and staff mental health and wellbeing been so tested as during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The pandemic has further exposed the high rates of school leader and staff stress and exhaustion from the intensification of their front-line work supporting the health, development and learning of their students,” she said.
“Given teacher wellbeing, student wellbeing, relationships within the school, and educational outcomes are closely intertwined, it isn’t surprising that for all students to be well, their teachers must be well too. The pandemic has exacerbated the issues.”
Professor Cross says governments, school systems and the community must act now to reduce the potential impact of ‘long-COVID’ on school leaders, staff, and students’ wellbeing.
Independent Schools Queensland (ISQ) Chief Executive Officer, Chris Mountford, said the report offers some practical evidence-based actions and makes five wellbeing recommendations:
- Prioritising the school community’s wellbeing and ensuring improvements are contextual, sustain evidence-based practice, focus on relationships, and underpin the whole-school culture.
- Enabling and sustaining supportive leadership practices that build teacher wellbeing.
- Providing effective induction and mentoring, and meaningful professional learning that is sustained and authentic.
- Tracking wellbeing priorities and progress to benchmark, monitor and effectively meet the wellbeing strengths and needs of the school community.
- Advocating for government policy reform addressing staff workload, resourcing, and safety. Specifically, at a broader system level, the following actions are needed to positively impact school leader and staff wellbeing:
- Identify and address drivers of workload intensification.
- Facilitate equitable access to trained mental health professionals in all Australian schools to respond to the increasing complexity of student behaviour and mental health and wellbeing difficulties.
- Use policy reform to protect school leaders and staff from the impact of aggressive and other offensive behaviour directed at them.
Professor Cross said the wellbeing of members of the school community is “so inextricably linked” that it can form “a virtuous or vicious cycle”, whereby the wellbeing of each member in the school community affects the wellbeing of others resulting in a continuous process of wellbeing decline or improvement.
“Government, sector and school-level actions must prioritise and monitor school leader and staff wellbeing, providing necessary school resources and sufficient staff capacity to support the complex needs of the school community; establishing a school culture that values and normalises respectful and positive relationships; and thereby reducing the harm from work overload and intensity on school leaders and staff.”