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Values and wellbeing

Many teachers in England and Europe report the demands of their job harm their wellbeing (Education Support, 2019; ETUCE, 2011). Poor wellbeing is cited as a key reason why teachers choose to leave the profession (Ofsted, 2019). Therefore, teacher trainers have a duty, to trainees and schools, to prepare new teachers for the reality of the profession, to equip trainees with strategies to maintain and enhance their wellbeing, and to support their capacity to remain, and thrive, in the role. Strategies to support trainee wellbeing should encourage trainees to adopt a realistic view of their own responsibility for their wellbeing and encourage them to acknowledge systemic stressors that are beyond their control. To this end, we have developed an approach to supporting trainee teachers’ wellbeing which encourages teachers to identify and actualise their personal values within the realities of their contexts.

The values card sort

Research indicates workers whose personal values are congruent with their working environment experience greater wellbeing (Tranberg, Slane, & Ekerberg, 1993). The Personal Values Card Sort (Miller, C’de Baca, Matthews, & Wilbourne, 2003) is a psychological tool, comprising 83 cards printed with potential values, such as ‘autonomy’, ‘compassion’, ‘humour’ and ‘service’, which respondents are invited to categorise as ‘very important to me’, through to ‘not important to me’. Having identified their ‘core’ (‘very important to me’) values, respondents are then supported to identify how they might be actualised in their lives.

Supporting trainee teachers to actualise their values

We used the Personal Values Card Sort with a group of science PGCE students in a session focused on developing strategies to support wellbeing, held between their two school placements. After identifying their core values, we invited trainees to consider the extent to which they were actualised in their first placement and how they might be more fully actualised in their second placement. For example, one trainee identified ‘family’ as a core value: they had chosen to become a teacher because they valued community and relationship-building and hoped to foster positive relationships with colleagues and pupils. However, the student had begun to feel alienated from the profession because they had experienced an insufficient emphasis on this personally meaningful aspect of the role in their placement. Strategies were discussed for how they might actualise this value more in their next placement.

Values and the performativity culture

The current policy agenda places an onus on schools to support teachers’ wellbeing (DfE, 2019; Ofsted, 2019). This initiative is welcomed, but care needs to be taken that approaches not only reduce teachers’ in-the-moment feelings of stress but also create environments that support long-term wellbeing. Approaches that seek to foster congruence between individual teacher’s values and their school’s values have the potential to support wellbeing. However, schools are constrained by performativity and accountability cultures that value data collection and performance on certain kinds of assessment, potentially undermining teachers’ capacities to actualise, and achieve positive recognition of other values, such as the ability to foster deep learning. Values-based approaches that support wellbeing can help trainee teachers identify systemic challenges to their wellbeing and to develop their practice, within the parameters of their institutional context, in ways that are personally meaningful.


Allen, B. Benhenda, A., Jerim, J., & Sims, S. (2019). New evidence on teachers’ working hours in England. An empirical analysis of four datasets. (Working Paper No. 19-08). London: Institute of Education, Department of Quantitative Social Science.

Department for Education [DfE]. (2018). Workload reduction toolkit. London. Retrieved from

Education Support. (2019). Teacher wellbeing index 2019. London. Retrieved from

European Trade Union Committee for Education. (2011). Teachers’ work-related stress: Assessing, comparing and evaluating the impact of psychosocial hazards on teachers at their workplace. Brussels. Retrieved from

Miller, W. R., C’de Baca, J., Matthews, D. B., & Wilbourne, P. L. (2003). Personal values card sort. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico.

Ofsted. (2019). Teacher well-being at work in schools and further education providers. Manchester. Retrieved from

Tranberg, M., Slane, S., & Ekerberg, S. E. (1993). The relationship between interest congruence and satisfaction: A meta-analysis. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 42(3), 253–264.