01 SES 12 A, Teacher Co-operation and Soft Skills: Analysis, Typology and Review
In Germany we find that perceived teacher stress is high and cooperation is uncommon (Steinert et al., 2006; Wolgast & Fischer, 2017). In addition, with the continuous expansion of its inclusive education system and therewith linked challenges of teaching evermore heterogeneous groups of students, we may expect professional burdens and stress for teachers to increase.
Stress itself has been shown to negatively affect teachers’ motivation, self-efficacy, teaching quality as well as student outcomes and to ultimately lead to job attrition and the loss of human capital in the educational sector (e.g. Skaalvik & Skaalvik, 2010). It therewith poses a continuously important challenge for educational policy and research aiming to understand its origins. The causes of teacher stress have been well researched and identified to originate on different levels (Carroll et al., 2020). The sources of stress may thus originate at the systemic level (data collection and reporting), the organisational level (poor leadership and resources), relational level (relationships with colleagues) or the intrapersonal level (work-life balance) (ibid.).
While the sources of teacher stress have been well examined, especially in the international literature, research has focussed less on aspects that can prevent and alleviate teacher stress (Day, 2008). Logically, these aspects may also be assigned to respective levels. Carroll et al. (2020) find that stress reliefs are predominantly assigned to the organisational and relational levels. At the relational level teacher cooperation can, amongst others, alleviate stress directly (e.g. Wolgast & Fischer, 2017) or the factors associated with it (Vangrieken et al., 2015). It is assumed that cooperation facilitates group processing and psychological health and thereby is able to reduce stress (Social interdependency theory; Johnson & Johnson, 2003). More simply put, stress may be reduced, when teachers perceive their work environment more positively through combined efforts (Fernet et al., 2012).
In addition, there is evidence, that teacher cooperation depends not only on teachers’ willingness to work with others (Meirink et al., 2010) but also on the provision of organisational structures that enable cooperation (e.g. designated time and space) (Carroll et al., 2020; Main, 2012).
Against this background, this research aims to a) provide further evidence on the relationship between teacher cooperation and stress and b) investigate teachers’ motivation to cooperate and the structural provision for cooperation as prerequisites for this relationship.
Data stem from a comprehensive study in the state of Brandenburg, Germany, that aims to evaluate the preconditions of successful inclusive schooling. For the present study we draw on information from 4258 teachers from 216 inclusively working schools, collected in 2019 and 2020. Teachers were asked to indicate on a 4-point Likert scale (not at all to strongly) eleven aspects of their working conditions that burden them (e.g. “achievement heterogeneity of students”, “preparing and reviewing lessons”). Answers to eleven items were collapsed into a count variable, with high values indicating high perceived stress. Conceptually and empirically research has indicated benefits of distinguishing three levels of cooperation among teachers (Gräsel et al., 2006; Richter & Pant, 2016). We follow this line of research differentiating three levels of cooperative activities: Level 1: exchange of information and materials (scale reliability: α= .854; e.g. “We share materials among staff members”), Level 2: division of labour (scale reliability: α= .798; e.g. “We discuss how to support individual students related to a specific subject”) and Level 3: co-construction (scale reliability: α= .779; e.g. “We develop strategies to cope with professional challenges”). Moreover, teachers answered questions about their willingness to cooperate with colleagues (scale reliability: α= .787; e.g.: “I am willing to share my experiences from inclusive lessons with others”). Further, head teachers of the 216 schools provided information on how they provide structures that enable cooperation amongst teachers (scale reliability: α= .724; e.g. “Time for cooperation is a fixed part of the daily working hours”). Multilevel modelling is applied, nesting teachers into schools (i.e. head teacher). Hierarchical linear models are run to examine a) the relationship between cooperation and teacher stress, b) the direct and indirect (mediation via cooperation) relationship between willingness to cooperate and teacher stress and c) the effects of structural provision for cooperation on cooperation as well as on its relationship with the willingness to cooperate (moderation).
Preliminary results show that teachers actively cooperate occasionally on all three levels and that, taken by themselves, all three levels of cooperation are significantly related to teacher stress, where higher levels of cooperation are associated with lower levels of teacher stress. Examined jointly in a multiple regression, only cooperation on Level 2: division of labour remains significantly related to lower levels of teacher stress. The proposed multilevel modelling strategy will provide further comprehensive and decisive insight into the relationships between different levels of cooperation and teacher stress and examine whether teachers’ willingness to cooperate and the structural provision by the head teacher are significant prerequisites for those relationships. The findings will provide further evidence that different levels of cooperation can alleviate teachers’ perceived burden and therewith stress and that this may also hold for Level 3: co-construction that is often viewed as initially overly work-intense and thus stress inducing (Drossel, 2015). The findings are also relevant for those in school leadership positions, as they highlight the need to provide structures within which cooperation can take place.
Carroll, A., Flynn, L., O‘Connor, E. S., Forrest, K., Bower, J., Fynes-Clinton, S., York, A., & Ziaei, M. (2020). In their words: listening to teachers’ perceptions about stress in the workplace and how to address it. Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education. Retrieved online: https://doi.org/10.1080/1359866X.2020.1789914 Day, C. (2008). Committed for life? Variations in teachers’ work, lives and effectiveness. Journal of Educational Change, 9(3), 243-260. Drossel, K. (2015). Motivationale Bedingungen von Lehrerkooperation. Eine empirische Analyse der Zusammenhänge im Projekt ‚Ganz In‘ [Motivational conditions of teacher cooperation. An empirical analysis of relationships in the project ‚Ganz In’]. Münster: Waxmann. Fernet, C., Guay, F., Senécal, C., & Austin, S. (2012). Predicting intraindividual changes in teacher burnout: The role of perceived school environment and motivational factors. Teaching and Teacher Education, 28(4), 514–525. Gräsel, C., Fussangel, K. & Pröbstel, C. (2006). Lehrkräfte zur Kooperation anregen – eine Aufgabe für Sisyphos? [Motivating teachers to cooperate – a Sisyphean task?] Zeitschrift für Pädagogik, 52(2), 205–219 Johnson, D. W., & Johnson, R. T. (2005). New developments in social interdependence theory. Genetic, Social, and General Psychology Monographs, 131(4), 285–358. Main, K. (2012). Effective middle school teacher teams: A ternary model of interdependency rather than a catch phrase. Teachers and Teaching: Theory and Practice, 18(1), 75–88. Meirink, J. A., Imants, J., Meijer, P. C., & Verloop, N. (2010). Teacher learning and collaboration in innovative teams. Cambridge Journal of Education, 40(2), 161–181. Richter, D. & Pant, H. A. (2016). Lehrerkooperation in Deutschland: Eine Studie zu kooperativen Arbeitsbeziehungen bei Lehrkräften der Sekundarstufe I [Teacher cooperation in Germany: Studying cooperative working relationships of teachers in lower seconday school]. Bertelsmann Stiftung. Skaalvik, E. M., & Skaalvik, S. (2010). Teacher self-efficacy and teacher burnout: A study of relations. Teaching and Teacher Education, 26(4), 1059–1069. Steinert, B., Klieme, E., Maag Merki, K., Döbrich, P., Halbheer, U., & Kunz, A. (2006). Lehrerkooperation in der Schule: Konzeption, Erfassung, Ergebnisse [Teacher cooperation in school: coneptualisation, assessment, results]. Zeitschrift für Pädagogik, 52(2), 185–204. Vangrieken, K., Dochy, F., Raes, E., & Kyndt, E. (2015). Teacher collaboration: A systematic review. Educational Research Review, 15, 17-40. Wolgast, A. & Fischer, N. (2017). You are not alone: colleague support and goal oriented cooperation as resourses to reduce teachers’ stress. Social Psychology of Education, 20(1), 97-114.
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