Research shows workplace conditions play greater role than personal characteristics
Workload and management support are more strongly associated with teachers’ ability to cope with the demands of the profession than their personal characteristics, new research suggests.
Academics at Manchester Metropolitan University found that the resilience of teachers was influenced more by external factors – such as how a school is run and its culture – than internal and personal factors, such as lack of confidence.
The findings, published in the journal of Teaching and Teacher Education, have implications for school leaders looking to tackle teacher retention issues. Only last month, a poll by the National Education Union found that around one in five teachers plans to leave the profession in less than two years.
Manchester Metropolitan researchers Dr Steph Ainsworth, from the Faculty of Education, and Dr Jeremy Oldfield, from the Faculty of Health, Psychology and Social Care, asked teachers to rate their levels of wellbeing, burnout and job satisfaction.
The teachers rated this alongside individual factors such as empathy, self-belief and optimism, and environmental factors such as school culture, workload and relationships with management and colleagues.
The study – which surveyed 226 teachers in the UK – suggests that environmental factors usually play a greater role than individual characteristics in terms of their impact on how teachers experience their role.
Thriving not surviving
Dr Steph Ainsworth, Senior Lecturer, said: “The three outcome measures were chosen because high levels of wellbeing and job satisfaction, and low levels of burnout are indicators of positive adaptation in teachers. These outcomes reflect the degree to which teachers are either thriving, surviving, or leaving the profession.
“If we are to support teachers in ‘thriving not just surviving’ we need to ensure that teachers are not only protected from burnout, but that they are also satisfied and well.”
More than 72% of the variation in teachers’ levels of job satisfaction and 61% of the variation in teacher burnout was attributed to environmental factors – positive support from management was seen to be the biggest factor, while workload and school culture were also found to be very important.
For wellbeing, environmental and individual factors were found to be equally important.
Dr Ainsworth added: “The environmental factors impacting on levels of wellbeing, burnout and job satisfaction can all be manipulated at the school level and are essential to improve the lives of teachers, sustain motivation and provide an effective learning environment for their pupils.
“Positive adaptation to the workplace – or lack of – has an indirect effect on pupils, with satisfied and well teachers creating happier and more productive classrooms.”
The researchers say the findings also have important implications for how we think about what it means to be a resilient teacher.
Dr Ainsworth said: “A key implication of the study is that the responsibility for adaptation should not be placed solely at the feet of the teachers. While there might be a place for interventions or training designed to boost teachers’ ability to cope within the workplace, equal attention needs to be paid to the nature of the conditions which teachers are expected to work in.
“We hope that this research is viewed as an empowering message for school leaders to become more mindful about the workspace they create to improve the lives of teachers and the children in their care.”