Well-being – "ευ ζην" or "good living" in ancient Greek – has traditionally been a matter of intense interest since the time of Aristotle. His concept as explored in Nicomacheian Ethics is not merely that of momentary pleasurable state, or fun moments, but rather as a way of life issuing from personal values and habits.
Currently, positive Psychology proposes a broader perspective of well-being - a correlation of personal traits and societal contexts. Seligman proposes the PERMA model, in which well-being is comprised of Positive emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishment. In this light, well-being affects all the domains and contexts where people interact, including bilingual classrooms.
Obviously, the well-being of educators – ESOL teachers included – can be affected by various factors. In the personal domain these include self-efficacy, resilience, and optimism, while in social contexts where educators operate and interact, they may involve positive social relations, a supportive school climate, and teachers identifying with the school's values.
Text by: Effie Kyrikakis
Long-term stress effects on teaching
One of the major adverse influences on teacher well-being is long-term stress. Teaching is considered one of the most stressful professions globally and bilingual educators face additional challenges; thus, the detrimental consequences of teacher stress on educators' quality of life and health are to be taken seriously indeed. The challenges teacher long term stress and burnout represent for the educational systems worldwide translate to high levels of quiet quitting or outright turnover, especially after the health crisis caused by the pandemic, affecting teaching quality and school culture. Physical and emotional exhaustion seriously affect teaching patterns and consequently student outcomes in a number of ways.
Firstly, teaching quality suffers as stressed educators resort to outdated instructional practices, such as teaching to the test, and not to the general curriculum. Additionally, long-term stress is correlated with lower levels of self-efficacy. Exhausted educators find it increasingly challenging to recognize and reward their own efforts and support a model of prosocial classroom model where teachers serve as role models of social competence.
Teacher exhaustion also seems to create a vicious circle of negativity in the classroom. Stressed teachers perceive student behaviour as a major cause for stress while they themselves are found to respond more reactively to disruptive behaviours and refer students more frequently. This in turn can demoralise students leading to lower performance.
High teacher stress and burnout has also been found to affect student-teacher relationships and eventually the relational aspect of student well-being. Supportive relationships are known to be vital in the development of both teachers’ well-being and students‘ outcomes in multiple ways. Indicatively, teachers' difficulty to engage with students and create relationships has been shown to affect peer acceptance in students (Hughes & Kwok, 2006).
Additionally, emotional contagion – the unconscious emotional confluence –between teachers and students makes stress and other negative emotions automatically transferable, which further impacts students' state and outcomes.
Unfortunately, declaring interest in teachers’ well-being does not necessarily imply a school culture that supports this claim. A current term in the workplace is "well-being washing" implying a context where lip service is paid to employee well-being while little substance is offered to their well-being, as such initiatives are not supported further by managers.
How Significant is Educator Well-being for Student Outcomes and Thriving?
Well-being has been found to mediate learner engagement and accomplishment as well as positive interactions with peers and educators thus acting as a catalyst for learning. Numerous studies over the years, and whole disciplines – educational psychology and positive psychology among them – confirm what Plato stated eons ago: all learning has an emotional base. Modern neuroscience supports that powerful emotions are highly conducive to learning, in every education level and subject. However, how specifically is teacher mental health and well-being correlated with student outcomes and, possibly, well-being?
Evidence provides increasing support for the fact that there is a correlation between teacher well-being and positive student outcomes. Indeed, teachers with high wellness are better able to create positive educational contexts, establish more collaboration in the classroom, are more creative in their teaching approaches and promote student engagement and achievement. Furthermore, students who are taught by teachers with high well-being are more likely to have increased emotional well-being. Thus, it has justly been proposed that mental health interventions in schools for students' well-being should begin with emotionally and mentally well teachers.
It is no wonder that, among the conclusions of a report compiled during the COVID-19 pandemic, UNESCO states: "Teachers are at the frontline of recovery and need multi-faceted support. […] In addition, teachers need assistance to build their resilience by ensuring their well-being, providing opportunities for mentoring and peer learning, and fostering intrinsic motivation. The global health crisis of the pandemic, has finally led to well-being increasingly taking central stage in educational contexts. Indicatively, OECD PISA profiles and the UN goals for Edu2030 recently added student well-being to educational goals. Education seems to finally be entering a new era, precipitating a paradigm shift where well-being takes its rightful place, not to usurp learning but to assist it critically and creatively.
Ultimately, educators can only teach what they are versed in. Learning and teaching habits of wellbeing that will lead to mental fitness and creativity is an incremental necessity at this time of disruptive change. More than ever, education is now required to grasp the opportunity to transform the paradigm in education from success at any cost to wellbeing at all levels.