08 SES 01, Professionals' Role in School Wellbeing
What is the role of teachers’ and school leaders’ in fostering well-being and positive mental development among students (pupils)?
- How do teachers understand their responsibility and their role in fostering well-being and positive development among students (pupils)?
- What do teachers think about their own competence and motivation for the task of fostering well-being and positive psychological development among students (pupils)?
In this study, we explored how school teachers and school leaders see their role as promoters of their students’ positive mental health and well-being, and how this is related to their work on learning environment in the classroom.
More children and young people seem to struggle with mental health problems in our society (Western societies) over the recent years, and therefore students’ mental health and well-being at school have received increased focus. It is debated what kind of societal structures causes the pressure students experience, how stress factors can be reduced or mitigated, and what measures that should be taken to promote positive mental health among student. The role of the school is essential in this regard, as the school is the only meeting place for practically all children and young people, and is the place where they spend most of their time, in addition to in their homes. Much of what is written about teachers’ role in mental health promotion, is linked to the situation of students with mental health difficulties, and how the teacher could or should assist them and contribute to alleviate their problems. The starting point of this study, however, is not how to deal with the students mental health problems, but rather the entire student group and the school context, and how the teachers and principals see their role in contributing to the development of positive mental health. The study explores how the teachers and principals refer to mental health promotion, whether they see it as a as part of their mandate, and how this is linked to their general task of contributing to the students psychological development.
Data are derived from a qualitative method approach, and the data consists of eight interviews, of which four are focus group interviews with teachers (n = 24) and four with school leaders (n = 7). The data is a convenience sample, as the data gathering was done as a part of a larger study. The interviews were done at four schools of different sizes, all grade 1 to 10 schools (K 1-10). Three of the schools were of medium size (150-240 students), whereas one of the schools is characterized as a large school (350 students). Two of them where in small industrial towns, and two of them were in village/country side environment. All of the schools are in Western Norway. The teachers who participated in the focus group interviews were recruited at the schools participating in the study, by the school leaders. The researcher instructed the school leaders to put together a group of six teachers, representing the variation within the teacher group, such as subject and grade of teaching, years of experience, age and gender. The majority of the teachers have many years of teaching experience, which is representative of the staff at the four schools. For the interviews with school leaders, the principal and the vice principal was invited to participate. The starting theme of the eight interviews are the schools' role in general, in promoting the students' mental health, and in particular the role of teachers' and the school leaders'. Furthermore, in the interviews they are asked how they understand the concept learning environment, and they are describing the learning environment on their particular schools and classes. The interviews are semi-structured, which allows the participants response to guide the direction on the interviews. The interviews were carried out in the spring of 2014, with researcher and research assistant present. The researcher explained the interviewees that whatever reflections, ideas, and experience they wanted to share, would be of interest. The interviews were taped, then and transcribed (by the research assistant). The transcribed material consists of 47 pages (Times New Roman, pt. 12). The analytic procedures follow the inductive analytic approach common in thematic analysis. The interviews were coded by the research team, and NVivo software was utilizes for the analysis. Then the coded text was categorized in main- and sub-categories, and for this study, we ended up using 3 main categories and 11 sub-categories.
The teachers and school leaders in this study express complex but shared notions of the importance of the learning environment when it comes to the students' well-being and positive mental health. The informants put great importance to the role of the teacher in fostering a secure and sound psychological learning environment. They see social and emotional learning as a vital part of the overriding purpose of the school, and even as a prerequisite for academic learning. Yet, it varies how they characterise a good learning environment in the classroom, and the influencing role of the teachers. They see themselves as important for the students' development of positive mental health, and they expressed needs for more acknowledgement, trust, competence, and resources related to this aspect of their job. The participants in this study maintain that societal changes the recent years have led to more pressure on children and adolescents. They perceive that the school is partially responsible for the increased pressure, while at the same time, teachers have a role in alleviating the students' stress burden. The teachers expressed that they have less time and resources to work on mental health promotion and learning environment within the school. They feel pressured to give priority to academic learning in a way that might add the students' stress burden. Many teachers experience a mismatch in what they see as their students psychological, social, and emotional needs, and the dominant focus on comparison, evaluation, and extrinsic motivation within the school system. Therefore, the teachers need to be involved in deciding and designing how the schools can increase their work on positive mental health. Furthermore, measures need to be taken, to make sure the teachers themselves have a manageable work situation, and that they know how to cope with their own (work related) stress.
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