Educator wellbeing

ACECQA’s National Education Leader, Rhonda Livingstone encourages you to consider your own wellbeing, and the role it plays in your work with children, families and colleagues.

‘Wellbeing incorporates both physical and psychological aspects and is central to belonging, being and becoming. Without a strong sense of wellbeing, it is difficult to have a sense of belonging, to trust others and feel confident in being, and to optimistically engage in experiences that contribute to becoming’. (EYLF. Pg.33 & MTOP pg. 30)

The approved learning frameworks encourage educators to develop programs and practices which build children’s strong sense of wellbeing.

In this blog, I invite you to consider your own wellbeing, and that of others within your service, and the role wellbeing plays in your important work with children, families and colleagues.

Recent international research shows that some educators have a low sense of wellbeing. Some educators report feeling worn out and feeling devalued as professionals who play an important role in providing quality education and care (Jena-Crottet, 2017).

We know that the role of an educator in quality children’s education and care is complex and multifaceted. It requires the use of specialised knowledge, a commitment to continuous improvement, and a willingness to take on the many challenges faced each day. It’s a rewarding and busy job that can sometimes seem never-ending.

What does educator wellbeing mean?

It is important to understand the elements that can influence an educator’s sense of wellbeing. The concept of wellbeing is holistic and involves both psychological and physiological components. To experience a strong state of wellbeing, educators need to be supported to be both mentally and physically healthy. They need to experience a sense of belonging.

These elements of wellbeing are influenced significantly by the context of their service as well as the broader social and political landscape of Australia. A positive organisational culture assists educators to meet the demands and expectations of their role and provides a supportive environment to critically reflect on and develop quality practice.

Developing educator wellbeing enhances quality practices

Educator wellbeing is appearing more and more in academic research and literature as a professional responsibility for everyone within children’s education and care services (Cumming & Wong, 2018).

Recent Australian studies have suggested that an educator’s health and wellbeing reflects their level of professional satisfaction, including whether or not they like their job and the individual tasks within their role (Jones, Hadley & Johnstone, 2017).

These studies also identify that without effective ongoing supports in place, educators’ own wellbeing can be impacted, and this contributes to high rates of educator stress, emotional exhaustion, and educators leaving the profession (Jones, Hadley & Johnstone, 2017).

Service leaders have a role to play in observing and monitoring the level of professional satisfaction of their educators, to better understand their staff and to build a well and effective team.

Contemporary research indicates that when educators are well, they can be more responsive, thoughtful and respectful as they interact and build relationships with every child (Cassidy, King, Wang, Lower & Kinterner-Duffy, 2017).

Well educators are also better positioned to meet the emotional needs of children, supporting them in self-regulation and developing resilience. These capacities are essential for building secure relationships with children (Quality Area 5).

When educators have a strong sense of wellbeing they are better equipped to:

  • be responsive to every child
  • develop rich, respectful relationships with each child
  • encourage children to explore their environment and engage in play and learning
  • develop a deeper understanding of each child, promoting their ability to plan extensions of children’s learning and development
  • support children to develop confidence in their ability to express themselves, work through differences, engage in new experiences, and take on challenges in play and learning.

The complex nature of educator wellbeing requires that all parties take responsibility. This includes educators, educational leaders, nominated supervisors, service leaders and approved providers.

It is only through a collaborative approach that wellbeing will become a priority and an important part of practice in all children’s education and care services in Australia.

Reflective questions to make educator wellbeing a part of the everyday

  • How do we encourage educators to take responsibility for ensuring, maintaining and building their own wellbeing?
  • When do we critically reflect on our educators’ wellbeing and how can we improve it?
  • How do we work collaboratively with our teams to create safe and healthy learning and work environment for our educators?
  • What design elements in our learning spaces support educator wellbeing?
  • What opportunities exist for our educators and service leaders to discuss the team’s wellbeing?
  • How do we actively create a positive workplace culture?
  • How do we develop a professional learning community that builds educators skills and knowledge?
  • What strategies can we develop to retain educators to best meet the needs of children and their families?

Resources to build your understanding of Educator Wellbeing

References

Cassidy, D. J. King, E. K., Wang, Y. C., Lower, J. K. & Kinterner-Duffy, V. L. (2017). Teacher work environments are toddler learning environments: Teacher professional well-being, classroom emotional support and toddlers’ emotional expressions and behaviours, Early Childhood Development and Care, 187(11), 1666-1678. doi:10.1080/03004430.2016.1180516

Cumming, T. & Wong, S. (2018). Towards a holistic conception of early childhood educators’ work-related wellbeing. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood 1(1), 1-17 doi:10.1177/1463949118772573

Jena-Crottet, A. (2017). Early childhood teachers’ emotional labour. NZ International Research in Early Childhood Education Journal, 20(2), 19- 33. Retrieved from: https://search-informit-com-au.simsrad.net.ocs.mq.edu.au/fullText;dn=675313221536539;res=IELFSC

Jones, C., Hadley, F. & Johnstone, M. (2017). Retaining early childhood teachers: What factors contribute to high job satisfaction in early childhood settings in Australia. New Zealand International Research in Early Childhood Education Journal, 20(2), 1-18. Retrieved from: https://search-informit-com-au.simsrad.net.ocs.mq.edu.au/fullText;dn=675331854507798;res=IELFSC

Health and wellbeing

ACECQA’s National Education Leader, Rhonda Livingstone provides insight into National Quality Framework topics of interest.

Strong sense of wellbeing

We now know through research that brain development in the early years can significantly impact on a person’s long term mental and physical health. A strong wellbeing in the early years lays the foundation for improved outcomes in later life.

The importance of supporting children’s wellbeing is recognised in the National Quality Standard, Quality Area 2: Children’s Health and Safety. It is also outlined in Outcome 3 of the Early Years Learning Framework and Framework for School Age Care: Children have a strong sense of wellbeing.

“Wellbeing includes good physical health, feelings of happiness, satisfaction and successful social functioning. It influences the way children interact in their environments. A strong sense of wellbeing provides children with confidence and optimism which maximise their
learning potential.”*

Relationships, experiences and environment

Responsive relationships, engaging experiences and a safe and healthy environment all play a role in supporting children’s healthy mental and physical wellbeing.

“To support children’s learning, it is essential that educators attend to children’s wellbeing by providing warm, trusting relationships, predictable and safe environments, affirmation and respect for all aspects of their physical, emotional, social, cognitive, linguistic, creative and spiritual being.”**

This involves educators considering healthy development holistically and working towards improving skills such as physical development, cognitive skills, self-expression, social skills, resilience and self sufficiency skills.

Mental health

Mental wellbeing is as important as physical wellbeing to children’s overall health. It is important that educators are familiar with and promote positive mental health and wellbeing in children.

Mental health and wellbeing refers to a person’s psychological, social and emotional wellbeing and is affected by the context of each individual’s circumstances. Mental health difficulties relate to “…a range of challenges that people may experience in their thoughts, feelings or behaviour.”*** Mental health difficulties are not the same as mental illness or neurological disorder.

 

*Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations [DEEWR]. (2009) ‘Belonging, Being and Becoming – The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia’, Outcome 3: Children have a strong sense of wellbeing, pp. 30 and Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations [DEEWR]. (2009) ‘My Time, Our Place – Framework for School Age Care in Australia’, Outcome 3: Children have a strong sense of wellbeing, pp. 29.

**Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations [DEEWR]. (2009) ‘Belonging, Being and Becoming – The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia’, Outcome 3: Children have a strong sense of wellbeing, pp. 30 and Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations [DEEWR]. (2009) ‘My Time, Our Place – Framework for School Age Care in Australia’, Outcome 3: Children have a strong sense of wellbeing, pp.29.

***Hunter Institute of Mental Health. (2014) ‘Connections; A resource for early childhood educators about children’s wellbeing’, Key Concepts, pp. 13. The Department of Education and the Hunter Institute of Mental Health have developed ‘Connections; A resource for early childhood educators about children’s wellbeing.’ This guide promotes understanding in children’s mental health and wellbeing, and includes reflective questions, case studies and fact sheets.

A copy of Connections is being distributed to education and care services throughout Australia. Electronic copies are also available from the Department of Education website.

Further reading and resources

Alberta Family Wellness Initiative. How Brains are Built: The Core Story of Brain Development
Alberta Family Wellness Initiative. Executive Function.
Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University. InBrief: Executive Function: Skills for Life and Learning
Early Childhood Australia. Professional Learning Program. E-Learning video. Getting to know the NQS. Episode 3 Quality Area #2