08 SES 08, Teachers' and Student-teachers' Wellbeing
The main research question of our study deals with the psychological wellbeing of students in Estonian higher education. More specific research questions are: how do students assess their own wellbeing? How do students conceptualize wellbeing and how much importance do students attribute to wellbeing in their life and in their work?
Nowadays, the concept of wellbeing and its synonyms – the quality of life, happiness, health, flourishing, thriving, fulfilling and many more – can be easily found in popular magazines as well as scientific journals. The increment of this area over the last two decades has led to the creation of what has been called the science of happiness (Kahneman et al. 2003; Diener 2000).
Modern studies on wellbeing and happiness cover a wide spectrum of scientific investigation, from the biological level (Berridge and Kringelbach 2011; Lewis et al. 2014) to the personal level (psychology, Seligman 2013), to the macro level (policy studies and big data, (OECD 2015). The neuroscientific aspect focuses mainly on the pleasure and rewards neuronal circuits and how to reinforce, limit or suppress them (Kringelbach and Berridge 2010; Berridge and Kringelbach 2015). The psychological level mostly focuses on the subjective well-being (SWB), its inherited and/or malleable aspects, and its concrete applications (Diener 1984; Diener and Suh 2000). The policy level makes use of big data sets to discover how different factors such as schooling, health or income interact in shaping collective well-being (Costanza et al. 2014).
Each of these areas already vast and well-structured. Educational reflection on happiness and well-being in modern society and science has also been brought forward (White 2007; Suissa 2008) but it does not seem to have reached the same magnitude and critical mass of other disciplines. Following the assumption that wellbeing and education relationship is crucial both in terms of cognitive performance and life skills, with our study we wanted to contribute to the debate within educational science by investigating how Estonian Teacher Education students conceive, perceive and describe their own condition with regards to wellbeing.
No universal definition of subjective well-being exists (OECD, 2013). On a general level of analysis subjective well-being and psychological well-being appear to represent components of the general well-being construct (Chen, Jing, Hayes, & Lee, 2013). There is room for some debate about exactly what elements comprise psychological well-being and subjective well-being (Chen, Jing, Hayes, & Lee, 2013; OECD, 2013). Kashdan et al.(2008) proposed that subjective well-being and psychological well-being are far more closely associated than previously believed, and argued that subjective well-being may be a prerequisite of psychological well-being, citing evidence that the induction of positive affect led participants to report higher levels of meaning in life (King, Hicks, Krull, & Del Gaiso, 2006). In the current paper psychological well-being and subjective well-being have been used as synonyms. Subjective well-being has been used as “an umbrella term for the different valuations people make regarding their lives, the events happening to them, their bodies and minds, and the circumstances in which they live.“ (Diener, 2006, p. 400). By this definition subjective well-being refers to both positive and negative evaluations that people make of their lives. Subjective well-being includes a person’s evaluation of his or her life in terms of cognitive states (i.e., satisfaction with one’s life) and in terms of ongoing affect (i.e., the presence of positive emotions and moods and absence of unpleasant affect) (Diener, Sapyta, & Suh, 1998; Diener, Oishi, & Lucas, 2003).
In our study, we adopted a concurrent mixed method design (Creswell, 2003) in order to explore the students’ definition of wellbeing, their confidence in defining it, and their assessment about the importance of wellbeing. In such design, qualitative and quantitative data have been collected in parallel from the same sample and analysed separately. At the end of the data analysis phase, data have been merged to uncover possible mutual enlightenment. The sample was constituted by 126 students at the Tallinn University, Estonia, at the Teacher Education Program. Among them was 82 future subject teachers and 44 class teachers. Participation in the study was voluntary. Participants were not provided with any incentive, monetary or otherwise, for their participation. Students were informed about the study purpose and ethical information sheet has been provided. We made use of three different standardized and well-known questionnaires: 1. the Satisfaction With Life Scale (SWLS); 2. The Psychological Well-Being Scale (PWB); 3. WHO (Five) Well-Being Index. We then employed 5 open-ended questions for the qualitative part. The purpose of these questions was to uncover students’ personal definitions of wellbeing, the relevance they attach to it, and their strategies to increase it. Data have been gathered and analysed using quantitative and qualitative software (SPSS and Nvivo). The statistical analysis included descriptive statistics, correlation analyses, t-test and ANOVA. For what concerns qualitative data, answers have been transcribed verbatim and analysed by two different researchers. Categories have been compared and then cooperatively defined.
As expected the psychological wellbeing scale and wellbeing index scale were highly correlated, due the fact that they measure similar factors. From preliminary quantitative data analysis, we see a clear indication that students perceive wellbeing as very important in their life. However, a partial confusion emerges from qualitative data about the definition of wellbeing and the student’s confidence of their definition. For what concerns the qualitative part of the study, interesting results consist in the value that students ascribe to highly positive relations with others (social dimension of wellbeing), with relatives (family dimension). Students also report the importance of improving their wellbeing and they describe certain strategies to accomplish it (improving wellbeing dimension). This appears to be relevant, especially in teacher education programs, in order to prepare professionals able to tackle psychological and emotional stressful conditions. Moreover, in qualitative data, it appears to be clear that students tend to mention social and mental dimensions of wellbeing but do not mention the physical dimension of it. In our opinion, this point deserves further investigation. Finally, considering that psychological wellbeing concerns skills and abilities, which can be developed and learnt, we recommend more attention within Teacher Education Programs to such skills to tackle problems related to poor levels of wellbeing, stress and burnout.
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