Teamwork can help prevent stress fractures

Kerri Carr

Teachers can find support within the school grounds for improving job satisfaction.

Hunter Institute of Mental Health program manager Gavin Hazel says teachers who work collaboratively and connect socially with their colleagues enjoy improved wellbeing and resilience, making them happier and more effective teachers.

“An environment that is supportive and collegial is teaching at its best,” Dr Hazel said.

“All teachers face the same challenges together, such as a workload and work-life balance, so it makes sense to work together,” he said.

“If you are well supported you can feel stresses differently. Our colleagues, mentors, and broader social networks can provide support and act as a buffer in difficult times. This can be as simple as listening and providing a sounding board through to helping people connect with support services.”

“When we think of collaboration we are talking about how individuals or groups can work together in mutually reinforcing and supportive ways. Communication is key — ideas and expectations need to be shared in an open and respectful way. Establishing common goals and a shared agenda is critical for tackling problems and developing strategies.”

Research conducted by the Hunter Institute of Mental Health shows teachers with a strong social support system are 50 per cent more likely to plan on staying in the teaching profession long-term than those without.

The core of effective teaching is built on relationships, says Castle Hill Public School assistant principal Michelle Gleeson.

“Positive relationships come about when teachers have mutual trust and respect, but trust and respect don’t necessarily come about automatically or happen overnight, which is a challenge for schools in fostering a positive school culture.

"I feel, however, that these elements are possible when teachers feel supported, can genuinely collaborate, have a sense of belonging and of contributing to a shared goal. "When there can be equal give-and-take between teachers, positive relationships are more likely to occur,” she said.

Ms Gleeson related an example that builds the case for the benefits of collaborating: seven Early Stage 1 teachers at Castle Hill Public School working in concert over the past year on using student assessment data to inform programming for mathematics.

“Through our school’s QTSS (Quality Teaching, Successful Students) allocation last year, and using the Performance and Development Framework processes to focus on areas of practice teachers wanted to develop, we had a small group of our kindergarten teachers working together through observation, team-teaching and collaborative planning to review what we were doing in mathematics for our students.

“These practices have continued this year, and with two early career teachers joining kindergarten for the first time, we’ve worked in small teams to develop our programs by sharing knowledge and practice, utilising a range of resources and building teacher capacity and understanding to design effective learning opportunities for our students, whose needs are incredibly diverse.

“We use our regular stage meetings as an opportunity to share and reflect on what we’re doing and whether we’re seeing an impact on student learning,” Ms Gleeson said.

“From this, we’ve seen a positive uptake of teachers transferring their students’ needs directly to the teaching program and catering to them accordingly.

“The professional dialogue about what we’re doing has also been important, particularly in building the capacity of early career teachers and teachers new to the grade to be more effective in how they are supporting students with the content.

“Because everyone is working towards a shared goal there are regular opportunities for the team to discuss what works well — did that activity achieve what we intended, how did the students engage with a particular resource; what would we change next time, what might need to be revisited in one class.”

“Teachers who foster collaborative problem-solving, communication and connectedness, sharing, and having the needs of the learner at the centre of what we do are supporting all teachers — experienced and early career colleagues — to have a sense of belonging and not feel alone or isolated in their teaching practice.

“And in workplaces where this might not be physically possible, the explosion of online professional networks of such like-minded teachers are such an important resource for all teachers to consider accessing,” Ms Gleeson said.

Michelle Gleeson writes for JPL and presents sessions at various Centre for Professional Learning (CPL) courses.