Teacher wellness: an interpretive inquiry




Lauzon, Lara Lucille

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Teacher stress literature is voluminous. There are numerous research studies that discuss what contributes to the stress levels of teachers. Missing in the literature is research on what makes teachers well. The purpose of this study was to build on and move beyond the teacher stress literature and investigate what makes teachers well. The objectives of the study were: to explore how teachers define wellness, to discover how teachers plan for their well-being, and to determine what wellness programs and services were available for teachers in School Districts throughout British Columbia, Canada. This inquiry used interpretive phenomenology as a way to explore teacher wellness. Data were gathered from in-depth teacher interviews (n = 11), a focus group (n = 1), and surveys sent to British Columbia School District Superintendents (n = 44) and Presidents of Local Teachers' Associations and Unions (n = 55). Two theoretical frameworks were used to guide the inquiry—Hettler's (1976, 1979) Six Dimensions of Wellness model, and Bolman and Deal's (1997) Four Frame Organizational Model. Six teacher wellness themes emerged to support both conceptual frameworks: holistic, finding balance, sense of self, self-responsibility, job satisfaction, and connection and support. Findings suggest that teacher wellness is a personal construct, unique to individual teachers and schools, but that there are common threads linking teacher wellness definitions. Activities that supported teachers' wellness included teaching, and connecting with and supporting colleagues and students. Teacher wellness can also be linked to organizational development theory. Teachers reported they were well when they had structure in their work, were supported by administration, colleagues, students, parents and the public, when the politics of teaching did not over-shadow teaching and when they were able to celebrate teaching. Data collected from the questionnaires indicated that there were a number of teacher wellness programs and services available for teachers in School Districts in British Columbia. The list included Employee Assistance Programs and Employee and Family Assistance Programs (EAP/EAFPs), the British Columbia Teachers Federation (BCTF) Rehabilitation program, professional development, mentoring programs, district wellness initiatives, and health programs. Responses from Superintendents and Local Presidents of Teachers' Unions and Associations indicated that program offerings vary across School Districts, as did the funding for these programs. Data gathered from in-depth personal interviews indicated that participating teachers were not aware of these programs. Data also showed that although EAPs were listed as the top teacher wellness program, many Superintendents, Local Presidents and teachers did not believe them to be wellness programs. A key finding was that teachers, Superintendents and Local Presidents of Teachers' Unions and Associations believed that Teacher Wellness was an important issue that should be addressed. Another key finding was that there was no designated leader in the British Columbia public school education system to take on a leadership role with regard to Teacher Wellness. The findings of this study suggest that support is needed from both the teachers and the administration for Teacher Wellness programs to succeed. More importantly, teachers must have the opportunity to design a program to meet their individual and school needs. A blend of both current wellness research and organizational development theory may assist in a strategic planning process for Teacher Wellness programs.



Teachers, Mental health, Teaching, Psychological aspects, Job stress