01 SES 09 C, Teacher Resilience in Adverse Contexts
There are growing concerns internationally about the impact of professional pressures on teachers’ health and wellbeing (Avalos & Valnzuela, 2016). Attrition rates across Europe, Hong Kong, Australia and North America have reached worrying levels, with 40-50% of teachers leaving within the first five years (Gallant & Riley, 2014). Numerous studies demonstrate that teachers are faced with mounting pressures which can have a detrimental effect on their mental health (Gray, Wilcox & Nordstokke, 2016). Within Europe, there has been a call for action to address this issue (ETUCE, 2007, 2010). While a number of European initiatives have been conducted to support schools and policy makers in understanding the psychosocial risk factors encountered by teachers (ETUCE, 2007; ENTRÉE, 2013), further research is needed to allow a full understanding of the challenges which teachers face (ETUCE, 2010).
Such challenges and potential strategies for overcoming them are frequently framed within the construct of ‘teacher resilience’ (Mansfield, Beltman, Broadley & Weatherby-Fell, 2016). Despite the growing body of work within this area, a consensus is yet to be reached about how teacher resilience and the concept of resilience more generally should be conceptualised (Beltman, Mansfield, & Price, 2011). Early work investigating resilience tended to focus on resilience as a capacity within the individual, which could be reduced to a list of personal attributes (Masten, Best, & Garmezy, 1990). More recent work however, has favoured a social ecological view where resilience is seen as a dynamic interaction of risk and protective factors, which may originate within the individual or within the environment (Benard, 2004; Ungar, 2011).
Previous research investigating resilience in teachers has sought to identify which risk and protective factors have an impact on teachers’ capacities to thrive within a challenging profession (Beltman, Mansfield, & Price, 2011). Although previous teacher resilience studies, which have been mainly qualitative in nature, have been crucial in providing rich insight into teachers’ working lives, they do not allow us to quantify the significance of these factors or to ascertain whether certain factors are more important for positive adaptation (teacher wellbeing, job satisfaction, etc.) than others. The current study addresses this gap by evaluating which of the many factors within the literature is most strongly associated with a range of outcomes representing aspects of positive adaptation in teachers. In doing so, the study adopts a variable focused approach to the investigation of teacher resilience, allowing us to move beyond what the factors implicated in teacher resilience are, to be able to say how much these factors influence teachers’ ability to cope with the demands of the profession.
In particular, drawing upon Bronfrenner’s bio-ecological systems theory (2005) the study investigates the relative influence of individual factors (e.g. self-esteem) versus contextual factors (e.g. support from management). This question is especially pertinent in light of critical perspectives on teacher resilience, which have warned of an overemphasis on individual factors when tackling issues related to recruitment and retention (Johnson & Down, 2013; Price, Mansfield & McConney, 2012). The current study addresses the following aims:
1) to determine which individual and contextual level factors are related to positive adaptation in teachers;
2) to highlight which of these factors is the most important and
3) to evaluate whether factors at the individual or contextual level exert the greatest influence on positive adaptation.
The current study quantified a range of factors identified within the qualitative literature, and investigated their relative strength in predicting a composite measure of positive adaptation. Data were collected from 236 teachers across 39 schools and colleges within the UK who completed an online questionnaire consisting of 208 items. The questionnaire measured 13 individual factors (emotional intelligence, self-esteem, life orientation, self-care, emphasis on relationships with pupils, self-efficacy, conflict between beliefs and practice, independent problem solving, extroversion, neuroticism, conscientiousness, agreeableness and openness), 8 contextual factors (support from management, mentor support, pupil behaviour, workload, support from family and friends, support from colleagues and atmosphere) and 6 outcome measures relating to positive adaptation (stress, anxiety, depression, burnout, job satisfaction, and wellbeing). To maximise validity, pre-existing standardised scales were used wherever possible. In cases where a suitable scale of an appropriate length was not available (e.g. atmosphere), the authors constructed their own items based on findings about that particular construct within the existing teacher resilience literature. The questionnaire responses were analysed using relative importance analysis – a technique which facilitates separation of variance for interrelated predictor and outcome variables (Johnson, 2000). Analyses were conducted using the RWA web tool constructed by Tonidandel and LeBreton (2015). Using this method, the individual and contextual factors listed above were regressed onto the multidimensional criterion space created by the six outcome variables: stress, anxiety, depression, burnout, job satisfaction and wellbeing. By using multivariate relative weight analysis in this way, we were able to evaluate the relative importance of a range of individual and contextual factors in predicting a multi-dimensional proxy for positive adaptation.
The analyses revealed that nine factors significantly predicted positive adaptation in teachers. While five of these factors relate to individual aspects (higher self-esteem, higher self-care, greater levels of emotional intelligence, less conflict between beliefs and practice and lower neuroticism) the remaining four factors relate to the school context (more support from management, a more favourable workload, a better atmosphere and more support from colleagues). The results suggest that contextual influences on teachers’ ability to manage the many demands of the profession are just as important as individual factors, providing strong support for the social ecological view of resilience (Ungar, 2011). The importance of context also resonates with critical perspectives relating to teacher resilience (Johnson & Down, 2013) which warn us of the tendency towards “hyper-individualisation” and the consequent shifting off responsibility onto teachers. While there is arguably a place for interventions designed to boost teachers’ ability to cope within the workplace, our work suggests that (at least) equal attention needs to be paid to the nature of the conditions which teachers are expected to work in. Any intervention designed to help teachers thrive within their role needs to address ‘both sides of the equation’ (Price et al., 2012), by ensuring supportive management, reasonable workloads and positive school atmospheres where staff collaborate and socialise with one another. While the findings reported here are drawn from a sample of UK schools, concerns over teacher wellbeing in the UK (Day and Gu, 2014) are broadly similar to those held within European countries (ETUCE, 2007). The key message that school environment is just as important as individual factors, is therefore likely to be of interest to schools and policy makers across Europe. This study represents an important first step in quantifying teacher resilience, providing the impetus for comparative studies on an international scale.
Avalos, B. & Valenzuela, J.P. (2016). Education for all and attrition/retention of new teachers: A trajectory study in Chile. International Journal of Educational Development, 49, 279-290. Beltman, S., Mansfield, C. & Price, A. (2011). Thriving not just surviving: A review of research on teacher resilience. Educational Research Review, 6, 185-207. Benard, B. (2004). Resiliency: what we have learned. San Francisco, CA: WestEd. Bronfenbrenner, U. (2005). Making human beings human: Bioecological perspectives on human development. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Day, C. & Gu, Q. (2014). Resilient teachers, resilient schools: building and sustaining quality in testing times. Oxon: Routledge. European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE) (2007). Report on the ETUCE Survey on teachers’ work-related stress. https://www.csee-etuce.org/images/attachments/Report_WRS_EN.pdf Accessed 30 Jan 2018. European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE) (2010). Action Plan on teachers’ work-related stress. https://www.csee-etuce.org/en/documents/policy-papers/121-etuce-action-plan-on-teachers-work-related-stress Accessed 30 Jan 2018 Gallant, A., & Riley, P. (2014). Early career teacher attrition: new thoughts on an intractable problem. Teacher Development, 18, 562-580. Gray, C., Wilcox, G., & Nordstokke, D. (2016). Teacher Mental Health, School Climate, Inclusive Education and Student Learning: A Review. Canadian Psychology, 58, 203-210. Johnson, J. W. (2000). A heuristic method for estimating the relative weight of predictor variables in multiple regression. Multivariate Behavioral Research, 35, 1-19. Johnson, B. & Down, B. (2013). Critically re-conceptualising early career teacher resilience. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 34, 703-715. Mansfield, C.F., Beltman, S., Broadley, T. & Weatherby-Fell, N. (2016). Building resilience in teacher education: An evidenced informed framework. Teaching and Teacher Education, 54, 77-87. Masten, A. S., Best, K. M., & Garmezy, N. (1990). Resilience and development: contributions from the study of children who overcome adversity. Development and Psychopathology, 2, 425-444. Price, A. Mansfield, C. & McConney, A. (2012). Considering ‘teacher resilience’ from critical discourse and labour process theory perspectives. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 33, 81-95. Tonidandel, S. & LeBreton, J. M. (2015). RWA Web: a free, comprehensive, web-based, and user-friendly tool for relative weight analyses. Journal of Business and Psychology, 30, 207-216. Ungar, M. (2011). The social ecology of resilience: addressing contextual and cultural ambiguity of a nascent construct. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 81, 1-17. Wosnitza, M., Morgan, M., Nevralova, K., Cefai, C., Henkel, M., Peixoto, F., Beltman, S. & Mansfield, C. (2013). Keeping Cool Europe – Enhancing Teacher Resilience in Europe. Application. Lifelong Learning Programme. Submission number 539590-LLP-1-2013-1-DE-COMENIUS-CMP.
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