An evidence-based approach to addressing teacher mental health and wellbeing
A new approach
Concerns about teachers’ wellbeing and mental health have heightened since the pandemic (See et al., 2020; Müller, 2022). While this concern has been raised and discussed in several outlets – for instance in the recent issue of Research Intelligence (issue 152) and BERA Bites (issue 6), few evidence-based interventions have been suggested to address the problem. A team of us at Durham University, University College London and Mendel University in the Czech Republic have been testing a promising new intervention with our trainee teachers. This approach, known as Leadership Alphabet of Disposition Development Engagement and Reflection (LADDER©), was co-produced with teachers and developed by trainers at the Louisiana State University.
What is LADDER and how it works
LADDER is a comprehensive model of assessment and coaching support. It uses the principles of reflective practice and cognitive-behavioural approach to guide the conversation between the coach and the teacher. Coaching involves teachers sorting a stack of LADDER cards identifying their strengths and weaknesses and reflecting on these dispositions. Coaches use probing questions to facilitate the teacher through self-reflection. It helps teachers to be aware of the critical dispositions that are likely to cause stress, building resilience and coping strategies that will support them in dealing with the demands of teaching. The aim is to equip teachers with the effective dispositions to handle stress and, as a result, reduces their likelihood of leaving the profession. The coaching can be delivered either in a group or one-to-one. Ideally, the first course is delivered just before trainees start their school placement experience. A second session is delivered while they are in school. While LADDER has been tested for efficacy in the corporate world and other organisations, it has never been used with teachers outside the US and no robust evaluations have been conducted so far. Before we recommend its use, we pilot tested this approach on our teacher trainees.
The pilot study used a matched comparison design where one group of trainees was assigned to receive the intervention while another group was assigned to the business-as-usual control. Intervention trainees received an initial face-to-face group session, followed by a one-to-one session online with a coach. Early results are promising, with the intervention group showing bigger improvements than the matched comparison group in self-reported self-efficacy (effect size = +0.51) and mental wellbeing (ES = +1.67) over a three-month period. Intervention teachers were also more likely to indicate intention to stay in teaching, after receiving the coaching (ES = +0.46). These results are promising, and suggest that LADDER is a feasible approach and worth trying.
Comments from some trainees substantiated the results from the impact evaluation:
I have found the sessions useful in identifying my strengths and weaknesses.
I have improved by prioritising my workload to enable myself to have a better balance to home and work life.
I have really appreciated the coaching sessions and feel that they have been very beneficial. [It] is very useful in preparation for teaching interviews and I feel much more confident in my abilities as a teacher.
I have been able to improve my work balance.
Why teacher wellbeing matters?
These results are reassuring as research evidence suggests that there is a strong correlation between teachers’ wellbeing and teacher attrition (Geiger & Pivovarova, 2018; Wang et al., 2015). Preparing teachers well while they are in initial teacher education could help to insulate them from the adverse effects of the challenging work environment, reducing teacher attrition. Previous studies have also suggested a strong link between teacher wellbeing and student wellbeing (Carroll et al., 2021; Viac & Fraser, 2019).
‘Preparing teachers well while they are in initial teacher education could help to insulate them from the adverse effects of the challenging work environment, reducing teacher attrition.’
How is LADDER different?
Although there are a number of strategies aimed at supporting teachers in their early career (DfE, 2018; Ofsted, 2019; Toropova et al., 2021), they are not targeted at the root cause of teacher stress, anxiety and burnout. Previous research on interventions to develop teacher wellbeing is often based on teachers’ self-report and single group pre- and post-measures. In the absence of a comparison group, it is not possible to say whether teachers would have improved without the intervention. It is also the case that most interventions address pupils’ wellbeing rather than that of the teaching staff. Our pilot study addresses these gaps.
Carroll, A., York, A., Fynes-Clinton, S., Sanders-O’Connor, E., Flynn, L., Bower, J. M., Forrest, K., & Ziaei, M. (2021). The downstream effects of teacher well-being programs: Improvements in teachers’ stress, cognition and well-being benefit their students. Frontiers in Psychology, 12, 689628. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.689628
Department for Education [DfE]. (2018). Exploring teacher workload: qualitative research (Research report). https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/686734/Exploring_teacher_workload.pdf
Geiger, T, & Pivovarova, M. (2018). The effects of working conditions on teacher retention. Teachers and Teaching, 24(6), 604–625. https://doi.org/10.1080/13540602.2018.1457524
Müller, L-M. (2022). Teacher well-being is key to COVID-19 recovery. Chartered College of Teaching. https://fed.education/teacher-well-being-is-key-to-covid-19-recovery/
Office for Standards in Education [Ofsted]. (2019). Teacher well-being at work in schools and further education providers. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/936253/Teacher_well-being_report_110719F.pdf
See, B. H., Wardle, L., & Collie, P. (2020). Teachers’ wellbeing and workload during Covid-19 lockdown (Working Paper). Durham University Evidence Centre for Education and Schoolzone. https://dro.dur.ac.uk/31114/1/
Toropova, A., Myrberg, E., & Johansson, S. (2021). Teacher job satisfaction: The importance of school working conditions and teacher characteristics. Educational Review, 73(1), 71–97. https://doi.org/10.1080/00131911.2019.1705247
Viac, C., & Fraser, P. (2020). Teachers’ well-being: A framework for data collection and analysis (Education Working Paper No. 213). Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. https://www.oecd.org/officialdocuments/publicdisplaydocumentpdf/?cote=EDU/WKP(2020)1&docLanguage=En
Wang, H., Hall, N., & Rahimi, S. (2015). Self-efficacy and causal attributions in teachers: Effects on burnout, job satisfaction, illness, and quitting intentions. Teaching and Teacher Education, 47, 120–130. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tate.2014.12.005