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Staying Well at School

Welcome to our first newsletter! In the work we do with Australian school staff and schools, we get to share from the evidence base about what works in supporting staff wellbeing and building positive, authentic school cultures that engender flourishing. We've started a newsletter to share more broadly what we're learning and doing so that more of us can access this evidence easily. Below you'll find an article summarising recent research, and links to a couple of our free upcoming events, as well as ways to get in touch - we hope you find it helpful, and welcome ideas and feedback.



Staying Well As Teachers and School Leaders: Recovering from Burning Out

Schools are communities, and like other communities in any given moment one group of us has flourishing mental health and wellbeing, another group may be travelling okay (moderately mentally healthy), a third group languishing and a fourth group managing mental health concerns (Keyes, 2002).


One helpful aim for school communities can be to help everyone move toward flourishing, with small steps to protect and support mental health, and increase wellbeing. For many of us as individuals, though, flourishing can feel hard to imagine, as we are currently ‘on empty’ with not much left to give. In this case, what are some ways we can get started?


Burning out and burnt-out: what are the roads to recovery?

Professor Gordon Parker and Gabriela Tavella, two researchers at the University of NSW here in Sydney, have looked deeply at one aspect of workplace wellbeing – burnout (and those in the process of burning out). Their work is valuable for us as teachers, leaders and school staff as they highlight three key domains that we can consider as individuals managing and recovering from these experiences - work, stress and personality. Parker and Tavella (2021) go on to say that each person is different, with different circumstances, and will need different solutions in these three areas (and potentially others too) – we need to plan and implement a multi-pronged approach!


  • Addressing work issues – here we might think about identifying and prioritising our tasks at work and becoming more comfortable with not getting everything done (if it can’t fit into the hours), crafting our work to do more of what we enjoy if we can, asking for support from our colleagues and leaders, and if needs be changing teams or changing schools.

  • Adopting stress management strategies – their top five strategies from their Australian research are (p. 196):

    • Seeking social support (family, friend, health professional)

    • Walking or other exercise

    • Mindfulness or other meditation

    • Improving sleep

    • Having a break from work or leaving work.

  • Considering our personality – Parker and Tavella note that caring, conscientious people are often at risk of burnout.  The key trait they highlight though, is perfectionism – if you recognise yourself in high standards, high expectations, and ongoing high (unrealistic?) demands, it is worth looking at whether the cost of these traits are worth the benefits. Learning to streamline, accepting ‘good enough’, getting tasks done in an allocated amount of time, and – importantly – accepting that your worth doesn’t depend on your output can be gamechangers.


Staying hopeful

It is possible to be well, and teach and lead in schools …. however  in 2024, like elite athletes, we can’t take wellbeing for granted, and we need to plan and manage ourselves (including our recovery). Your GP can be another great source of support, as can EAPs, websites like Beyond Blue and others. Reach out on our website (https://www.compassionateschools.com.au) if our webinars, supervision, one-on-one support or training programs are of interest too!


References

Keyes CL. (2002). The mental health continuum: from languishing to flourishing in life. Journal of Health and Social Behaviours 43(2), 207-22.

Parker, G., Tavella, G., & Eyers, K. (2022). Burnout: A Guide to Identifying Burnout and Pathways to Recovery (1st ed.). Routledge.

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