“The most valuable resource that all teachers have is each other. Without collaboration our growth is limited to our own perspectives.” Robert John Meehan
Teachers, like other employees in the EU, spend around one third of their life at work. Maintaining high levels of wellbeing in the workplace is crucial for everyone, and the OECD’s working paper on the economy of wellbeing stresses that individual wellbeing is a paramount component of human capital that can have a positive impact on economic growth.
So how important is wellbeing for teachers, and how has it been affected during the pandemic? A new Eurydice’s report ‘Teachers in Europe: Development, Progression and Well-being’, analyses the experience of stress at work as reported by teachers. It shows that teachers working in schools with a collaborative climate tend to report lower levels of stress. Meanwhile, higher stress levels are reported by teachers when working in classrooms that they consider disruptive or when they feel less confident in managing student behaviour and motivating students.
As the new Digital Education Action Plan highlights, school closures and the transition from face-to-face to remote teaching during the first lockdown in March was particularly sharp and harsh. Remote teaching has profoundly changed the working conditions of teachers, but how has it affected their wellbeing?
The JRC report on the likely impact of COVID-19 on education highlights the difficulties faced by some teachers in handling a wide variety of e-learning tools to deliver lessons. The rapid transition to virtual classes along with internet connectivity issues had a negative impact on teachers’ stress levels, and underlined the need for advancement of teachers’ digital skills. The JRC report also emphasises that remote teaching can become very stressful for both teachers and learners, with children from less advantaged backgrounds more likely to fall behind in learning. Students with limited access to technology, lack of adequate study space or parental support for homework can place an extra burden on teachers struggling to provide all children with equal and quality learning opportunities.
Many teachers in Europe, and especially those newly-qualified, have felt overwhelmed as remote teaching has meant longer working days than usual . Many pupils have missed out on education as a result of school closures or having to self-isolate. As a result, teachers have tried to compensate by putting more time and effort into preparation and planning of lessons in order to support students who have fallen behind. Remote teaching has also meant that teachers have had to learn to deal with the lack of physical interaction and visible body language including gestures and expressions – all of which provide critical signals for assessment and class management .
While much research has pointed to negative consequences of remote teaching, other surveys have found that remote teaching conditions can have a positive impact on teachers’ wellbeing. A recent UCL Institute of Education study, for instance, found that fewer teachers were anxious about work during lockdown, with about one in twenty reporting very high anxiety compared to one in eight before lockdown. Indeed in April 2020 teachers were more likely to say they were feeling energetic, relaxed and loved than when the same questions were asked earlier in the academic year (October 2019).
What can the EU and governments do to support teachers working remotely during the pandemic? SELFIE for Teachers is a new self-reflection tool (fully available in mid-2021) developed by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC), and it aims to improve teachers’ digital competences. In addition to the SELFIE tool, eTwinning can provide teachers with a dynamic European community where they can find resources and exchange best practices. The European Commission’s Digital Education Action Plan substantially supports the long-term vision for the digital transformation of education in the EU based on the lessons learnt from the pandemic. Governments should take the necessary steps to support teachers and students from less advantaged backgrounds through this unprecedented time with adequate funding for IT and office equipment where needed.
Last but not least, peer support among fellow teachers can be vital. As Loria Di Landri , a teacher in Lombardy, Italy, says: ‘To me, working together and sharing knowledge, experience and doubts with my fellow teachers has helped me to grow, drive the change and look ahead.’ As the Eurydice report underlines, a collaborative school climate can be effective in reducing teachers’ stress at work, and the value of collaborating is also essential when working remotely.
EU News – European Commission