EPisodes: Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age

4: Teacher First - The importance of wellbeing

October 08, 2019 Jimmy Bowens and Suskya Goodall Season 1 Episode 4
EPisodes: Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age
4: Teacher First - The importance of wellbeing
Chapters
EPisodes: Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age
4: Teacher First - The importance of wellbeing
Oct 08, 2019 Season 1 Episode 4
Jimmy Bowens and Suskya Goodall

Suskya Goodall is a researcher currently exploring the most effective drivers of teacher well-being. In this wide ranging conversation, Suskya reveals and unpacks what she has discovered about well-being practices through her research and recounts how her own teaching experiences led her to this field of expertise.

Glossary:

  • Hauora - Hauora is a Māori philosophy of health unique to New Zealand. The concept of well-being encompasses the physical, mental and emotional, social, and spiritual dimensions of health.
  • Ako - The concept of ako describes a teaching and learning relationship, where the educator is also learning from the student and where educators’ practices are informed by the latest research and are both deliberate and reflective.
  • Kura – a school
  • Te whare tapa whā - A holistic health and wellness model. The four cornerstones of Māori health are whānau (family health), tinana (physical health), hinengaro (mental health) and wairua (spiritual health).

You can find Suskya at https://www.thewellbeingcollective.nz/

Show Notes Transcript

Suskya Goodall is a researcher currently exploring the most effective drivers of teacher well-being. In this wide ranging conversation, Suskya reveals and unpacks what she has discovered about well-being practices through her research and recounts how her own teaching experiences led her to this field of expertise.

Glossary:

  • Hauora - Hauora is a Māori philosophy of health unique to New Zealand. The concept of well-being encompasses the physical, mental and emotional, social, and spiritual dimensions of health.
  • Ako - The concept of ako describes a teaching and learning relationship, where the educator is also learning from the student and where educators’ practices are informed by the latest research and are both deliberate and reflective.
  • Kura – a school
  • Te whare tapa whā - A holistic health and wellness model. The four cornerstones of Māori health are whānau (family health), tinana (physical health), hinengaro (mental health) and wairua (spiritual health).

You can find Suskya at https://www.thewellbeingcollective.nz/

Jimmy Bowens:

Welcome to the EPisodes Podcast where we explore the world of education, learning technology and all the minutia of human knowledge acquisition.

Jimmy Bowens:

My name is Jimmy Bowens and I'll be your host for today's show. I'm the Head of Global English here at Education Perfect and today I'll be chatting with Suskya Goodall. Suskya Goodall has a background in teaching and leading in primary and intermediate schools in Nelson and Wellington regions. Recent work with maternal mental health play center and local Iwi furthered her passion for wellbeing promotion for both children and adults. After completing her masters of education at Victoria University of Wellington on educational leadership and wellbeing, she's pursuing her doctorate, promoting flourishing in centers Kura and schools of Aotearoa, New Zealand.

Jimmy Bowens:

At Victoria, Suskya supports coaches and visits training teachers, participates on the teaching and learning committee for the faculty of education and in Wellington, she works with schools and clusters to facilitate professional learning and support organizational change through wellbeing. She also works with the ministry of education on wellbeing initiatives. Suskya has presented at the international conference on wellbeing and public policy, the positive education and New Zealand conference and will be sharing two papers and the upcoming New Zealand education research conference in November.

Jimmy Bowens:

Okay. Suskya, how are you,

Suskya Goodall:

I'm well thanks, Jimmy.

Jimmy Bowens:

Thanks so much for talking to us today. Wellbeing is such an important issue to discuss. I'm so excited to hear everything you have to say. Would you mind for our listeners, just giving a little bit of a background of who you are and where you come from and how you've become to be the person we're speaking to today?

Suskya Goodall:

Sure. I'll keep it brief, I think. So I grew up in Nelson. I spent most of my time just in a little place called Kina, which is out of Tasman sort of region because of that, I'm very big on being in the sun and I love being outdoors. I guess growing up in my family we didn't have a lot in terms of materials, sort of possessions, but we had each other and lots of amazing experiences. I think in a lot of ways I had a lot of rich experiences that really formed who I am today and maybe understandings of people that come from different places and different backgrounds. We moved around a lot and yes, I got to meet lots of wonderful people.

Jimmy Bowens:

That's interesting. I, of course I'm an immigrant here and my family stayed put, we never left Ireland until I was an adult and I think that spurned me on, that was why I became a bit of a nomad but, I'm always fascinated by people who have had a childhood where they moved around a lot because they always seem incredibly interesting. I wonder if it's because of that formative experience of having to make new friends all the time or meet new people all the time.

Suskya Goodall:

Yes, I think it's definitely a thing. I had six primary schools I went to and I think not only do I love making connections with people now and I've got probably quite a few strategies perhaps to do that but also, I think I probably developed a bit of a critical eye about education system from early on because I've had a lot of things to compare.

Jimmy Bowens:

How would you define the word teacher?

Suskya Goodall:

This is my own personal definition. I think it's one who brings joy of learning to life and the joy of life to learning.

Jimmy Bowens:

That's wonderful and very positive.

Suskya Goodall:

It's a bit of a positive psychology spin on that one.

Jimmy Bowens:

You never know what someone would say when they're asked that question because it's such a core of our society teaching teachers like police and nurses and doctors. It's a part of society that everybody knows and everybody experiences. I get different answers to that question. When did you first realize that teaching and education in general was something that you wanted to pursue? What was the time when you realized that teaching was for you?

Suskya Goodall:

I think if you asked my siblings, I have three younger siblings, and they would say that they've got a lot of memories and a very bossy older sister. We loved playing schools and I was fascinated with education really on. Helping people is really important to me. I think having a few youngest siblings, I sort of enjoyed kids and both my parents actually have a really strong love of learning so it's probably part of that as well.

Jimmy Bowens:

Can you remember something happening in your life that when you think back was an impactful experience of being taught something? Have you got a memory where you experienced very effective teaching?

Suskya Goodall:

I think I would go with maybe an experience that I remember in a school setting. I remember really vividly, must've been year four, year five and we were learning about fire and what was needed to make it and we got to experiment at school once we'd been learning about these basics and then days later we headed down to the beach and in groups we built bonfires-

Jimmy Bowens:

That's awesome.

Suskya Goodall:

Yeah, and we cooked damper and sausages for our tea and then we slept in tents. For me it was just really meaningful type of learning. It was authentic, it was place based, it was practical and it was so much fun.

Jimmy Bowens:

There's something quite symbolic about that as well. That seems that's a very inappropriate first memory of learning is a literal fire. As you grew up and you followed the path of education, what were the most important lessons you learned about yourself as you furthered your educational training?

Suskya Goodall:

That I'm an excellent procrastinator.

Jimmy Bowens:

Yes, I share that with you.

Suskya Goodall:

Important lessons. I think theories of ecological systems, social constructivism, Hauora, Ako, multiple intelligences, these are theories that really shaped my understanding of teaching and learning and probably shaped a lot of reflections around who I am and how I learn. Those big theories and understanding the world from those perspectives really impact me.

Jimmy Bowens:

I have to admit, I had two kind of formative experiences as an educator. One was when I was trained, but the other was when I moved to New Zealand and you mentioned Ako. I'm probably not pronouncing it the best way, but that was a whole other experience for me. Just teaching to another culture, teaching with another culture. The reason I mention that is because it made me question everything I had learned as a teacher [laughs] and it made me think about all of the theory again, because I think when I first trained as a teacher, I was so consumed by the thought of being in the classroom with the students, that nervousness of having to perform almost that I was more concerned about my behavior and my demeanor.

Jimmy Bowens:

I didn't digest the theory as much as I should have, so when I came to New Zealand to teach, I had the impetus to do so because I felt a much bigger responsibility trying to learn how to behave and how to act with this new culture. I guess I hadn't thought about it that much, but when I started teaching in South Auckland, but when I was ... I had all these assumptions from my previous experiences that I had to kind of throw out the window because these were different. It was a different culture and many different cultures in fact but I think it's quite a personal experience when you have to teach yourself how to teach.

Suskya Goodall:

And that's a lifelong learning thing, isn't it? You know, it's not something that we ever achieve, so to speak there's just this ongoing learning pathway of it really I think, isn't there?

Jimmy Bowens:

Yeah. So, what was your early teaching career like? Were there any specific experiences that you can now define as catalysts to your perception of how teachers ought to be perceived or treated?

Suskya Goodall:

Yeah. When I first started, gosh, I worked really long hours, I worked really hard. I tried to do everything I possibly could to think of, to make a difference in the lives of my students really. I recall asking my tutor teacher, "When does it end? When do you know you've done enough." Sort of thing. And she said, "The workload doesn't end. There isn't any end point. They will always be more, we can do. So you need to prioritize your time." And I remember that was a really good lesson for me in my first couple of years. Both my principal at the time and her were both very big on work life balance. And they lead by example that they showed us how to do that.

Jimmy Bowens:

How did they kind of communicate that to you? What were some examples?

Suskya Goodall:

I recall the principal after I'd been there for maybe half a term, just asking for a chat at the end of day and everyone else had gone home and he said, "What are you still doing here?" And I said, "Well, there's just so much to do." And he said, "What other things do you like to do? What brings you joy in your life?" And it went great. Well, I really do neat bowling. I'm doing some Latin ballroom on Thursday nights now and he was trying to find out what else there was. He was trying to get me to be really aware and mindful of having a balance of a life really. He was amazing because he would be getting up at I think five-ish and then he was in some sort of swimming squad. He represented New Zealand as like a triathlete, so he was hardcore, but this amazing sense of balance.

Suskya Goodall:

This is the time for training and this is the time for working and he was really big on forming very deep connections with people, but it was also very calm. That really impacted me and made me try and think about this stuff. That was definitely very formative and I really am so grateful. I think there's also a catalyst in terms of my current passion for positive and preventative mental health. Sort of a little bit of a tangent here, Jimmy, but-

Jimmy Bowens:

No, go for it.

Suskya Goodall:

In my first year teaching, on the first day of term two, I found out that a parent in my class had died the day before from a heart attack, playing basketball with his daughter and that day we also found out that one of our colleagues had committed suicide. There was massive 'load' at that time and that was a catalyst. That was a reality of the mental health side of things and how putting that balance really was. In hindsight, it brought my colleagues and I together very fast, we're still very close. We still meet up for reunions all the time. I don't do that with any other staff that I've ever been on.

Jimmy Bowens:

I could only imagine that would be very impactful and probably for the community as well I would imagine. It forces everybody to reflect on their wellbeing and this is probably more common than many of us realize with regard to student suicide as well. It forces the community to think carefully about priorities and that certainly seems like that would have been a catalyst. I suppose you all began to consider and reflect and think a bit more deeply about sustaining your efficacy as a teacher through making sure you're happy. Was there anything else from that point that changed in how you practiced and changed your outlook, or were there any immediate changes in how you worked or was it a slow sort of realization that you want to pursue that topic and that field a little bit more?

Suskya Goodall:

I think at the time it wasn't like, "Oh, these things have happened. Gosh, we need to enhance our wellbeing." It sort of crept up on us perhaps and I think we had an amazing support team that came and worked with the school. One of the practices that they ... I was going to say enforced. They suggested, they recommended we each had a buddy and for the the two weeks after that suicide, we had to check in everyday with our buddy. Sometimes it was a text message, but most of the time it was, if possible, just going and having a chat. And the idea was that we were there for that person. And then as a staff, even after that two week period, relaxed. I think we just kept doing that.

Suskya Goodall:

We didn't just do it for that one buddy. We did it for everyone else and so I think that's why we've got these deep relationships now because we really did look out for each other as much as we possibly could in a really mindful and specific way. That was just so helpful that they introduced their practice to be honest. It made a massive difference for us.

Jimmy Bowens:

It feels so... That that should be just intrinsic anyway, but for some reason what you're describing is just not a common dynamic that I would hear about or that it just doesn't seem to be something I've experienced in schools that I've taught in and many other teachers I know. That experience that you just described about people coming in and saying, "Look, you need to be supportive and collegial and an emotional level." Is fantastic. In your research proposal, you draw attention to the challenge of defining wellbeing. How do you define that term now?

Suskya Goodall:

Well, first of all, there's no sort of globally acknowledged definition. I think that's just, first and foremost, worth saying. The short version of how I define it would be feeling good and functioning well, which is based on Aristotelian lens and then has been adopted by avenues of positive psychology and things like that. It's a good basic understanding of wellbeing, feeling good, functioning well. One of the feeling good is about in the now the present and that positive emotion, the functioning well is long term and sustainability. It's sort of the two aspects.

Suskya Goodall:

The long version. I've got my new favorite definition. McCallum and Price are Australian wellbeing researchers. They've got this really lovely definition. Wellbeing is diverse and fluid respecting individual family and community beliefs, values, experiences, culture, opportunities and contexts across time and change. It is something we all aim for, underpinned by positive notions. Yet it is unique to each of us, providing us with a sense of who we are, which needs to be respected.

Jimmy Bowens:

Oh, that's wonderful.

Suskya Goodall:

For me it's poetry and there was a lot of the criteria for what I am beginning to understand wellbeing to be.

Jimmy Bowens:

There's a very strong message in that that screams to me that it's giving people permission to think about all the ways that they should love themselves.

Suskya Goodall:

I think it's worth sort of just backing that up with ... in Aoteroa, we're really fortunate to have Dr. Mason Durie's model of Te Whare Tapa Wha. Te Whare Tapa Wha is a model of Hauora, which is holistic wellbeing. It was created by Dr. Mason Durie who was a medical doctor and it was for the health sector initially, which although I don't think defines wellbeing, it characterizes it and explores it through really holistic things. It provides a lot of depth and I think it's part of what wellbeing can look like. It's the idea if you could just picture in your mind for a moment, a whare (a house) and the idea is that these four walls of a very simple house and each of these walls is a dimension of wellbeing. There's Taha Tinana, which is the physical wellbeing. There's Taha Hinengaro and which is the mint and emotional wellbeing.

Suskya Goodall:

There's Taha Whanau which is the social wellbeing and Taha Wairua which is spirituality. And the idea is that it's these four dimensions that hold up the roof, they work together. Yeah. And there's also a component of it to which all of the walls and necessary rather than an inbalance perhaps as well. It was adopted into the New Zealand curriculum in 1994 I think. It's been used in educational contexts ever since. So it's part of what wellbeing looks like and in educational context in New Zealand now, I think. Although there has been a little bit of appropriation around it. I think overall it's a gift that we are very, very fortunate to have.

Jimmy Bowens:

Yes. I think that the fact it is in the curriculum perhaps could be re-emphasize from time to time...

Suskya Goodall:

Yes.

Jimmy Bowens:

... It can, those kinds of things can easily slip by because they aren't perceived perhaps as immediately apparent or practical when really they're the foundation of effective teaching. But having defined wellbeing in those wonderful ways now, you've obviously done a lot of really good research. What are some of the startling data points that you've uncovered that indicate that this is a serious issue to be looked into?

Suskya Goodall:

Yes, sure. My doctorate focus is looking at education wellbeing, and that area addresses issues affecting the profession internationally, such as burnout, stress, attrition, emotional exhaustion, depression. Internationally, educators rate at the top of the Gallop employee burnout data along with medical professionals. In one particular data set, educators were the highest official area for emotional burnout internationally. That's sort of an international picture of things. And then in Aoteroa, we know that teachers experience large workloads, high levels of workplace stress, increasing hours.

Suskya Goodall:

There's been claims of substantive mentoring support both for PRTs and beyond. Beyond that, decreasing teacher morale and unrealistic expectations of schools. Now, some of those were findings that was sourced two years ago, and they came from the standardization and accountability of gender that we had experienced for the nine years prior. Some of those I believe are changing, but that's sort of a picture of where things are at according to the research.

Suskya Goodall:

When I say educators, I think it's just worth being a bit more explicit here. I'm trying to use that term as quite an inclusive one, including teachers and also leaders. The research that I've done when I'm talking about this stuff, is looking at an early childhood, primary and a secondary context, so it's quite an inclusive scope. Another one was in terms of retention in Aoteroa, just recently the head of PPTA was ... he said almost 50% of new educators leave the profession within five years. We've got a lot going on. That's a few data points.

Jimmy Bowens:

And a few very heavy ones. I mean, these are societal symptoms of course. I mean, when we look at that last fact about five years, that's worrying because we know historically that when there's teacher shortages, there are other impacts that that has on society that aren't entirely positive.

Suskya Goodall:

We are part of this bigger global picture. Depression is now the leading form of disease in the world and the World Health Organization had predicted that that would be the case by 2025 but it happened by 2017. These things are mental health challenge internationally is moving exponentially, so it makes sense that we're experiencing degrees of this within our profession as well.

Jimmy Bowens:

It is very, very startling. Before we dive into a little bit more specificity around New Zealand, is there any other exceptions that you can name globally where this isn't the case?

Suskya Goodall:

In all honesty? I haven't looked into that in detail. The areas that I've looked at in detail are around practices. My systematic literature view was around what practices specifically enhance wellbeing in an education context. Although there's a degree, obviously there's data in the stats to back things up or underpin, I've been really interested in practical application. I think I could speak a whole lot more to that.

Jimmy Bowens:

I'm just hyper aware of the past like seven minutes of this discussion being really, really kind of ominous and a bit worrying. I was thinking maybe together we could find some some shining light, but we can leave that to the listeners to write in and let us know what the exceptions are.

Suskya Goodall:

Well, and we can get back to that when we're talking about drivers and what we can do.

Jimmy Bowens:

Now, you draw attention in your research proposal about cultural factors affecting teacher wellbeing in New Zealand. Can you talk a little bit more about what these are and how they impacted your wellbeing?

Suskya Goodall:

At the moment in my PhD research. I'm really interested in finding out how our unique bi-cultural context influences the wellbeing of educators. And I'm interested in looking at how wellbeing of our educators is different from other places and why and that sort of stuff. But to be honest, there's not a lot of literature around that at the moment. In fact, I haven't really found any in New Zealand but ask me in two or three years time, Jimmy at the end of my PhD and I'll be able to write an essay on that one, I reckon. Right now it's a wondering and a pondering rather than something that I can provide a significant amount of information based on research.

Jimmy Bowens:

But it certainly worth wondering about considering as you said, the bi-cultural nature of this country. Can you talk a bit more about some of the causation factors in real world terms? What are the experiences that are leading to a lack of wellbeing in teachers? Thank you for being inclusive when you said educators, and I think that's probably a better word than teachers when we speak about this. For all educators, what are some of these experiences that are causative?

Suskya Goodall:

I think that these causative factors function at different levels. We think about it in terms of an ecological system. Thinking about some of Bronfenbrenner model, which is a model of almost concentric circles and within it different levels of a system that support each other. For example, at a big sort of sector-wide level, we've got causation that's around the accountability and standardization agenda that we've had politically and then in terms of causative factors for teachers or educators in schools. A recent Australian literature review found that there were specific factors that impacted teacher wellbeing in schools.

Suskya Goodall:

They were looking at, well what they found was resilience and self efficacy, the degree of social emotional intelligence, the responses to teacher workload and those personal responses did include burnout, fatigue, exhaustion, stress, things like that and then most strongly were the relational factors. Those were sort of the big causation factors that were found in large scale literature reviews, that's seen as one of the predominant ones recently.

Jimmy Bowens:

Thanks for mentioning the Bronfenbrenner's framework. I hadn't ever heard of that before when I was reading over your notes and one of the things that really sticks out to me when you talk about this is a few terms will be very familiar, especially to our listeners, things like burnout, but you mentioned emotional exhaustion. That seems to me like something worth unpacking a little bit more or what do you mean when you say emotional exhaustion, how does that manifest? What does it mean and how would that be explained to someone as being something that we have to be mindful of as educators?

Suskya Goodall:

Personally, I'm far more interested in what we can do to change this rather than dwelling on all of the causative factors. But if we think about it, so most of the research I've done in psych, so from that perspective, we think about burnout for example. It can have lots of different things that it could look like but then maybe if we think about that Hauora, Te Whare Tapa Wha model, that burnout may have sort of physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual components to it and if we're talking about emotional burnout or emotional exhaustion, then it's meaning that, that it's that aspect of wellbeing that has been almost, if we think about it in terms of like a gas burner - it's almost used up all the gas.

Jimmy Bowens:

Great analogy. This topic has a lot of areas to be explored and to be discussed and reading your proposal, what was uncovered to me was that it's not a simple issue and that there are many facets of this that we would want to talk to each other about as educators and explore and discover why things happen. It's not just our managers, it's not just the politics, it's not just the training or lack thereof. It's a combination of all of the above. I want to get to all of what you've discovered in terms of practical suggestions and I'm sure the listeners are dying to hear.

Jimmy Bowens:

Well, tell me what to do. We'll definitely get onto that in a moment or two. Just doing some reading, I came across the Varkey Global Survey, which was really interesting and a little bit disheartening to see that New Zealand teachers perceive that they have the biggest workloads and in your research, why do you feel, because that seems a bit odd to me that a global research paper would draw that conclusion. I mean, why do you think New Zealand teachers feel they have the biggest workloads?

Suskya Goodall:

Well, I think it's first of all, worth pointing out that within the Varkey index, they weren't really saying, "We've got the biggest workloads in comparison to other countries". They were asked in isolation, how do you work? And so I think we need to maybe just clarify that that's the data point of view. But yes, New Zealand teachers were found to be working the longest hours and it was deemed to be five or six hours above public perception. From my own experience as a teacher and friends and colleagues experiences, I'd say that's quite accurate in terms of if we're not thinking about this necessarily in comparison to all these other countries, but in isolation of our country and our experiences perhaps.

Suskya Goodall:

Why it's happening here though. That's not an area of my expertise yet. There are some New Zealand academics who have highlighted the accountability and standardization, political agenda that we experienced for nine years and are thankfully moving away from, but they have talked about it's influence on increased workload. I think that's differently something that's been discussed in academic research in New Zealand, so that's a contributing factor, but it's definitely not the only factor. There was an interesting line of discussion on a New Zealand teacher Facebook group and recently anyway and that was the person was arguing as a sector that we've got a culture where we work hard and that means if we're working as hard as we possibly can that we must be doing exceptional teaching and that at times, we wear our long hours as badges of honor.

Suskya Goodall:

I found that absolutely fascinating because I feel like I potentially did that at times and I can identify having experienced times with other people that they would have said the same sort of thing and I'm wondering if it links back to Varkey's Foundation's findings and the status of teachers in our society because that's what they're index is really fascinated by and what the focus is because, they're talking about the status of teachers in society influences directly on student academic achievement and I think that...

Jimmy Bowens:

Yes.

Suskya Goodall:

... That's sort of the crux point of all of this. There's a sort of a micro level but a macro component as well. It's how we look at this once again.

Jimmy Bowens:

It makes me think about the culture around public perception of the profession where you have some tired cliches about well, they get all the holidays and so maybe there's this internal driving force that makes teachers want to prove that wrong by constantly doing more hours and prefacing or emphasizing the amount of hours rather than the efficacy or it's ... that's a really interesting line of thought I suppose. I've experienced the same thing by the way, where, being over feeling or talking about working too many hours or having to work too many hours or the workload being too great is a very common thing. I just want to link back then to what I mentioned earlier about other professions. You mentioned medical profession being actually thinking globally, number two in terms of emotional burnout.

Suskya Goodall:

Yeah. But the Gallop employee data, the medical professionals rated similarly to educators in terms of workplace stress and workplace burnout. Some researchers explain the similarity in terms of time spent supporting other people emotionally, mentally, and socially. If we think about Te Whare Tapa Wha, we think about how multidimensional our wellbeing is supporting other people in all of those possible ways can be potentially draining in all those ways as well and depending on what types of practices we've got to fill us up again.

Jimmy Bowens:

That's a lovely way to look at us. Sorry to interrupt because giving so much emotionally to the individual students that we care for and then forgetting to fill ourselves up again. I just think that's a nice way to put it.

Suskya Goodall:

Well, I mean I think one of the wonderful things that was highlighted by the whole lot of pay strikes and rallies that we've had recently was that teachers don't, as much as we need to be valued and appreciated by society, and that is critical, and sometimes valuing does look like being paid an appropriate amount. We don't do this for the money. We do this because we're intrinsically motivated to make a difference in people's lives. It's a completely different place we're coming from. A GP she'd say that she's doing it because she wants to make a difference in people's lives too. In terms of our motivation. Perhaps it's aligned, I don't know.

Suskya Goodall:

I think the health sector, though, is aware of wellbeing or wellness from a different, but just as valuable perspective though and there's an increasing amount of literature around workplace environments for medical professionals and the support they need and in trying to make things really sustainable. I think they've been quite proactive around that. Probably a little bit more than the education sector because they are genuinely, that wellness component is something that they're experts in.

Jimmy Bowens:

What do you feel are some of the most common myths, then, about teacher wellbeing?

Suskya Goodall:

Well, you touched on one before, didn't you? "The terms are intense, but we swoon around for the entire holidays". Yeah, that's not a thing. Just going to move on from that. I think one of the common myths, if we think about wellbeing and educator wellbeing in particular, is that if we focus on all the problems and all the contributing factors, then we can fix them and what we know from research is that we'te literally just putting some Band-Aids on. We know that instead taking a positive, proactive approach means finding and building on strengths. It's genuine. We'd speak about agency and autonomy.

Suskya Goodall:

There's a whole lot more than just ticking the box. Maybe that would be another myth as well; wellbeing is a tick box situation. A little bit of explicit teaching around Te Whare Tapa Wha, tick! Or, "Oh, yeah we've been doing a bit of mindfulness." Tick! Done. But I'm learning that there's potential for so much more. I now think of wellbeing as a catalyst for positive organizational change. It's so much bigger.

Jimmy Bowens:

It seems to necessitate a more of a paradigm shift than just policy ticking and it's a lifestyle thing and it's much bigger than it appears.

Suskya Goodall:

I think we're right. I think there is a paradigm shift and I think one of the pieces of evidence to that is that we've got the first wellbeing budget in the world. We've got a completely different focus on "let's enhance this" rather than the sticky plaster approach. Watering the dam until it bursts. Actually looking at what's making this happen, what can we do, what's the practicals, evidence based policy and practice that we can actually implement? Just because you said paradigm shift I think we are in that place and it's really exciting.

Jimmy Bowens:

Yes. It is and just a recognition that something must be ingrained and not just layered on or added to. If you could put three policies into place today across all schools and you know what Suskya, probably this is a good place to ask you to unpack and to provide us if you can with some practical steps and advice about drivers for wellbeing.

Suskya Goodall:

So in terms of three policies, I don't know if I can stick to three but we'll try.

Jimmy Bowens:

It's an arbitrary number. You could have one or 10. It's completely up to you.

Suskya Goodall:

Thank you. I do appreciate that, Jimmy. At the moment I'm just currently working on a paper with my supervisor and we've done a document analysis of New Zealand educational policy documents and where wellbeing lies in that. I'm potentially a little bit more into this than I thought I'd even be into policy, but what we're finding is that education policy for wellbeing needs to support growth. That's the emergent, contingent and to contextualize. So it's not a doing to someone else or for someone else. It's a with. It's a different way of coming at that. I would champion wellbeing policies need to be for early childhood, primary and secondary sectors if we're going to make a difference, we need to be really inclusive with how we think of ourselves in terms of our sector, but also the policy for wellbeing around that.

Suskya Goodall:

The first thing I'd say is increased non-contact time, but I think that's probably something that most people would be aware of. The second thing would be a free restorative practice support and development for all schools, kura and centres. I think there's massive potential for us to be really explicit and meaningful, not only about wellbeing in terms of emotional and social learning, but also to through wellbeing. And I think restorative practice provides that avenue in a really, really powerful way.

Jimmy Bowens:

Could you ... I'm just wary of some of our listeners who may, who may not be completely familiar with what you mean by restorative practice.

Suskya Goodall:

Sure. There has been an international movement that started in the area of justice and law around creating a paradigm shift from a punitive stance towards change to a restorative stance. And that movement, when it came into an educational space, became known as restorative practice. It's about helping people to learn and grow while retaining and treasuring strong relationships. So rather than my three year old and me, he spilled some water or something and I yell at him and tell him off and tell him how inconvenient it was to me and whatever. I can say, "Hey, why do you think that happened? What was going on there? How does it make you feel? How do you think it makes me feel? What can we do to fix it? What can you do to fix it? Okay, cool".

Jimmy Bowens:

That's a perfect example.

Suskya Goodall:

It's not a right or wrong anymore, that's actually irrelevant. It's about what happened, what was the impact and what are we going to do about it? Some schools are embracing this as component of PB4L, Positive Behavior for Learning. It's an aspect of that. However, schools are still having to, most of them, are still having to fork out for any restorative practice supporting development. I think that would be massive if we could look at what that means and an early childhood context as well but also developing that for schools.

Jimmy Bowens:

Yes, and just to interject for a moment, I was a part of the PB4L program in my last school and that was kind of the PR programme for teachers to grasp how to be effective at restorative practice and we collaborated on what that might look like. And of course the deans would be involved as well but I couldn't agree more. I mean, if it was a thread running through the whole schooling system where teachers saw that as a very valuable part of what they did, that would be a wonderful policy of yours, Suskya.

Suskya Goodall:

It would also potentially alleviate some of the deficit data, let's call it, around the high levels of bullying and abuse. It could really make a difference, a sustainable difference to how we function as a society I believe. If we can get this happening throughout and free for schools rather than something you have to pay for because that's tricky. The next thing would be a free user-friendly tool to measure educator wellbeing, some sort of tool that was free so that schools could get a bit of a picture because at the moment schools are making them up. There are a couple of tools, but the wellbeing at schools tool has an educator component, but it's asking what about the student wellbeing.

Suskya Goodall:

It's actually not measuring educated wellbeing in any way and they do have a really old version, but there's a lot of discussion within literature that that things need to be updated. At the moment there isn't a really helpful user friendly tool to measure wellbeing of educators. I think that would be really context specific and driven by what things mean to us in Aoteroa as well. I think there's potential there. The next thing would be a teacher appreciation week. I think.

Jimmy Bowens:

[Laughs] Hear, hear.

Suskya Goodall:

It's interesting because we know in terms of the wellbeing thing, we've come at this a little bit later than other places. Wellbeing, if we think about it legislatively, it has come from that context. For example, in the UK, the Health, Safety and Welfare at Work Act was introduced in 2005 which drove the programme for educator wellbeing there. And in comparison, the New Zealand Health and Safety Work Act was introduced in 2015 so that's a decade of difference. So, legislation and wellbeing focus is a lot newer in perhaps that part of the world. That's one of the policies that they have put in place and they've had a massive amount of success with as educator appreciation went.

Suskya Goodall:

Even that the TV channels have, like all the networks have been putting programmes on about teachers and about wellbeing and they've really, really got into it in a really inclusive way. I think things like that could really pull different sectors together around education and also make a difference in our lives.

Jimmy Bowens:

Just improve the overall public perception I feel...

Suskya Goodall:

Yes.

Jimmy Bowens:

... Each time this becomes a media issue here it tends to be around negative things like strikes.

Suskya Goodall:

Agreed.

Jimmy Bowens:

We need more opportunity for positive public perception. Any more policies or have you got some wellbeing drivers and practices?

Suskya Goodall:

Yes. So drivers and practices. The five drivers have come from a systematic review of the international literature that I did as part of the first stage of my PhD and they=re were five drivers that came out of it. Five big things that made a difference in a practical way to wellbeing of educators. The criteria for it to be a driver was that it was effective not only at a micro level but also at an ecosystems level, so an organizational level for example.

Jimmy Bowens:

Yeah.

Suskya Goodall:

Also at a macro sort of system-wide level. Each of these drivers had practices in the literature at all of those levels. I'm trying to figure out the best sort of later to pin this, but maybe I'll just start. The biggest driver for educator wellbeing in terms of a practice was: continued professional learning. Continued professional learning is seen as ongoing professional growth and included all contexts we can think of that would impact educator growth really; instructions, meetings, PD, observations, coaching, mentoring, feedback, inquiry, anything else that you know.

Jimmy Bowens:

Support.

Suskya Goodall:

Yes, and that positive growth paved the way for the educators to flourish. That was what the literature sort of was saying. So in terms of practices, this looks like ongoing coaching or mentoring for every educator, or even every person within an educational institution including teacher aids and gardeners. That was one of the big practices that were encouraged. Another one was giving and receiving open and constructive feedback. That was one of the biggies. Timely reflection and in a way that really worked for educators as individuals but also as a collective. So, depending on how schools did that. In terms of leaders and what leaders could do to support that continued professional learning as well as developing, coaching, mentoring practices and feedback avenues, they could look at inquiry in terms of wellbeing.

Suskya Goodall:

Well, they could consider themselves as advocates and think about how they could do that. But it's also around how they support wellbeing curriculum development and wellbeing based interventions for full staff development as well and then at a governance level, Riley who did the New Zealand Principals Health and Wellbeing Survey endorsed the concept of professional leaning for principals to build social capital and collective wellbeing. They needed professional development and support in an ongoing way to actually build collective wellbeing.

Jimmy Bowens:

It's fascinating, just to interrupt for one second, that it's not necessarily leaders and principals saying, "Right, we need to do some work now on wellbeing". It's just some professional standards being prioritized in a way that will naturally lead to happier teachers and one of the things I thought about when you were talking about professional development support...

Suskya Goodall:

Mmm.

Jimmy Bowens:

... Is where that that is offered and when it's offered...

Suskya Goodall:

Mmm.

Jimmy Bowens:

... And how it's facilitated. If we looked at a random group of schools across the country and asked when in the year, what time of day, how is professional support implemented and facilitated? It'd be really fascinated to see what changes could be made to reemphasize, or to make it more authentic, or to make sure that teachers feel it isn't, like we mentioned before, it's not just an add on, it's a lived, ingrained part of their school life.

Suskya Goodall:

And a part of the school culture as well, just part of what we do around here. But it's interesting to see that there's practices for the teachers as well, you know, them being mentors and coaches and giving feedback and receiving feedback and developing their character strengths in afflictions and inquiry, focus, all that stuff all impacted positively on educator wellbeing.

Jimmy Bowens:

Yes, reciprocal, yeah.

Suskya Goodall:

That continued professional learning was number one. The second driver was relationships and this one was almost equal in the literature to continue professional learning and there's been interesting research coming out recently that's talking about how the leading factor in wellbeing enhancement is relationships. I think what's really exciting is that when it comes to relationships and even understanding how relational the idea of wellbeing is, we've already got some brilliant pearls of wisdom in our curricular. For example, in Te Whariki, which is a New Zealand early childhood curriculum, they've got a whole strand, which is wellbeing and it states the wellbeing of each child is interdependent with the wellbeing of their kaiako (their teachers), their parents and their whanau.

Suskya Goodall:

In terms of us understanding relationships, it's so much more than just, "Oh, we get to know them so we can teach them". This is where wellbeing becomes enhanced and this is how human beings interrelate and interact with each other and can ... we talked about to depleting those wellbeing tanks, if you will, or increasing it. What we do and put back in there. Relationships is key and adversely, things that damage relationships, whether they colleagial or their student-teacher or even governance level, those have a significantly detrimental impact on the other thing as well.

Suskya Goodall:

Some of those factors that we talked about, you know the burnout and things like that that can be driven most directly from this relationship driver.

Jimmy Bowens:

Of course, yeah.

Suskya Goodall:

So, it can drive you away, I guess, is what I'm trying to say here. For educators in terms of practices, this meant seeking regular help and support, sharing ideas, resources, valuing each other's perspectives and also seeking successes and really respecting each other in a positive way. Even healthy banter and stuff is about how individuals can work really explicitly to form and cultivate relationships with everyone else within the larger learning community.

Jimmy Bowens:

I have to say just anecdotally, I experienced quite a lot of working through, myself included but also my colleagues and in my teaching experience where people would work through their breaks during the day. They wouldn't stop and take a lunch break often. Also when there were breaks, when people did kind of gather and join a clique that they regularly did for a lunch break or a morning tea, there seemed to be an overriding negativity to the banter in terms of the easiest and the go to. And this is anecdotally as I said, but it was kind of the easy things to talk about were the things that depleted your tank as you've said, that were hard to deal with, that were causing stress.

Jimmy Bowens:

I often wondered if there was a bigger need for some more counseling support and I really need to upscale myself and do some more reading on this. I have a lot of policy that I need to read and to catch up on, but it doesn't seem that there is a lot of counseling support for teachers in general.

Suskya Goodall:

There is some that can be accessed but there is a process that needs to be followed through. For example, when my colleague committed suicide, there was people there within hours.

Jimmy Bowens:

Is that something that has to be sought out? It's not available by default or?

Suskya Goodall:

Yeah, it needs to be sought out. In the ERO wellbeing documents, they refer to a model of wellbeing and they talk about that bottom 5% being the critical issues place. They talk about, I can't remember exactly 5% to 10% maybe above that being of concern in terms of wellbeing and then they talk about the rest. And I think if you're thinking about counseling and things like that, perhaps the support that we have for educators in that way that's free is amazing when it's critical and can be accessed when it's of concern but if we think about how could we have really active, positive wellbeing promotion in terms of positive mental health things happening in staff rooms, it's another whole room.

Jimmy Bowens:

I'm also aware, like you mentioned before about things being Band-Aids and we don't want to propagate that way of dealing with this, but it's just interesting to me to hear the suggestions you're saying are so common sense, yet we feel like teachers really have to be told this and supported to make those decisions because of the natural way that they operate in a busy school day or a busy school week or a busy school term. It's just so hard to turn away from what you perceive as being your responsibilities. You know the decision that you make. I'm going to work through my lunch break. If I am sitting with the staff on the Friday after the last class, I've got so much I need to get off my chest. That's not positive. It's so good to have clear directions and instructions such as your providing.

Suskya Goodall:

I think one of the other things, I'm not saying the UK have got it sorted in any way, shape or form, or that we should be taking what they're doing and implementing it here necessarily. There are certain components that educator appreciation, which I thought was fabulous and could be quite practical here, but also they have a form of professional development that schools can choose to do that's free. Well, it's ministry funded and they go and support the school to do a full wellbeing inquiry. Instead of this being done to a staff or for them, it is a genuine width and I think there is potential for us to be cultivating.

Suskya Goodall:

I'm not sure exactly where it's going to come from, sort of educational psychologists or another avenue but I think there's potential for us to be supporting schools in a really different way in order for wellbeing to really flourish. I think there's potential for it to do that. Do you want me to get into what leaders can do?

Jimmy Bowens:

Yes, please. Yeah, absolutely.

Suskya Goodall:

In terms of relationships, the literature interventions that were effective were around building relationships on trusting actions, so that relational trust being core to what ever we do and how we do it in a school, they talked about pro social behaviors, positive communication and genuine interests and staff, they talked about organizing and protecting teacher collaboration time, creating class sizes for relational purposes.

Jimmy Bowens:

That's going to generate lots of ... "What about Hattie?" And ... we could perhaps have another podcast based on that Suskya.

Suskya Goodall:

Well, let's do that. Let's just park that one for now because if you come from wellbeing literature, it's a really different place than if you're looking at fostering learning and fostering wellbeing. There are different types of theoretical underpinnings that drive those and there are different types of relational underpinnings that drive those two things. Creating class sizes for relational purposes, providing opportunities for interest based social interaction then at a governance level, including that professional support for principals, but also looking at how we can improve the public relationship between educators in the media, which is something that you touched on earlier.

Jimmy Bowens:

It's certainly becoming more apparent that there is a skewed public perception of teachers. I suppose all of us as educators are used to it because we're on the other side of the conversation when we talk to our non-educator friends, family, members of public but social media I think is helping. It might be hindering in other ways, but it is helping and teachers all have a voice. Groups can conform. There's a lot more access to information which provides insight into the profession in a way that wasn't there before perhaps but I think still mainstream media could do with a bit of a boost.

Suskya Goodall:

If we think about this historically, I remember getting a flyer in the mail and in it, it said, "The teachers in this country are not teaching children in an overly effective way". They're not telling you about where your children are actually at and it had a whole lot of other delightful things. I remember as a someone who is relatively new to the profession, I read that and I was torn between feeling this overwhelming sort of sadness in my soul. Like, Oh my gosh, I don't know anyone that does that. In terms of any of the educators I know don't, nobody does that. And at the same time wanting to burn it on a bonfire somewhere. We've had a political agenda that has run that way for nine years and that is a long time.

Jimmy Bowens:

It's created a sort of a counter culture.

Suskya Goodall:

I think it has. I think that that's really sad but what's exciting is that now we've got a lot of opportunity in how things are changing now.

Jimmy Bowens:

I'm reminded of the cultural differences around the profession. I worked in South Korea for quite a while and just the view of the teacher there is so different to here and also in Ireland where I come from. It's changing, but when I was a student myself in secondary school, the teachers, and this might have something to do with the Catholic education system there, but they were perceived as being leaders in the community much more so than probably today or than teachers as seen in New Zealand. It's hard to know how to generate a cultural shift in perception, but I believe that that we can do it.

Jimmy Bowens:

It's great to hear some of your thoughts on it. So we've gone through drivers and practices for educators and leaders. Is there, is there anything else you want to add to this?

Suskya Goodall:

Well, we've done two of the five drivers. I'll just say that the other three are agency and autonomy. I think that this is actually, there's a lot of potential. So this is around self efficacy, appreciation, trust, voicing opinions and genuine advocacy and inclusion. At the moment there's a wonderful movement around student agency. Imagine if we had synonymous with this and movement around teacher agency.

Jimmy Bowens:

Yeah.

Suskya Goodall:

There's potential for that. I think we need to start thinking about what does this mean for our people, more than just what are we doing for the students, what are we doing for the students? Because what we're doing for us makes a difference too. In fact...

Jimmy Bowens:

Of course.

Suskya Goodall:

... It's the strongest causation of factors of student wellbeing and their academic achievement. We've really got to look at this. That's agency and autonomy and there's a whole lot of practice around it. Effective leadership and then the culture and values, those are the other three.

Jimmy Bowens:

When you say that the culture of values, firstly, could you expand on that a little bit more in terms of practices?

Suskya Goodall:

Sure. So if we think of culture in terms of shared understandings and ways of doing things, the practices and initiatives, the teachers are things like participating in collegial, random acts of kindness, promoting the staffroom as a place to share, modeling those shared values and goals that you have co-constructed but actually walking the talk on those. It looked like leaders promoting a culture of wellbeing by empowering the wellbeing team, incorporating restorative practices, modeling and expecting open communication and revisiting culture regularly with existing and new staff for refinements and sustainability. So that how we do things around here is something that's embedded in our practice.

Jimmy Bowens:

It just reminds me of a few little things that I'm sure my, my ex colleagues will grin when they hear this, but I'll give two specific examples of what you're talking about. One was, Friday flowers where in the staff room, there was a member of staff, it could be any educator or support staff awarded flowers with another person's relaying to the wider staff specifically why they deserved them and then that would be passed on and the following Friday. It was just a wonderful experience. And then another example, it was a good friend of mine actually started this initiative in the school, but there was a day where everybody would receive an anonymous gift in their cubby hole and it was very related to who they were and what they did and it was all very positive.

Jimmy Bowens:

There are just two things that were apart of those schools. When you worked there, you knew that was, that's what we do. I love how you have emphasized that. Like this is what we do around here. I would love to hear more examples like that. If anybody out there listening wants to contact us, please do let us know what other examples of that are like that you've experienced. Okay Suskya, we've gone way over time. I do apologize but there's just too many fascinating things to talk about and I really do mean it when I say it would be wonderful to have a part two at some point.

Suskya Goodall:

Oh cool. Yeah, sure.

Jimmy Bowens:

I do have a couple of just fun quickfire questions that we like to ask many guests and you up for another five or so minutes. Is that okay?

Suskya Goodall:

Sure.

Jimmy Bowens:

Okay. So what is your favorite word and why?

Suskya Goodall:

At the moment my favorite word is illuminate because ... I just love it because it's sort of bringing light to something or shine upon or shine from within. I know it sounds sort of maybe a little bit hippy or new age, but I really like it because I can use it in an academic sense to shed light on things that are already happening that are amazing and to sort of bring what we can do to the forefront.

Jimmy Bowens:

If you have a song playing as you walked into school to teach, what would that song be and why?

Suskya Goodall:

I think it would be "Happy" by Pharrell Williams.

Jimmy Bowens:

[Laughs] Great choice. What teaching related thought makes you happy?

Suskya Goodall:

There's probably two. The first one is, it's the, "Ah, Oh, I get it. Do you mean like blah, blah, blah?" It's that moment when you can see that there's been some sort of concept or something that's been grafted or developed through and someone who's growing in front of your eyes and that I think is...

Jimmy Bowens:

Yeah

Suskya Goodall:

... And the second one is when you get a parent or sometimes a colleague and they've noticed something about a student you've been working with and they've noticed something that's amazing that we either hadn't picked up on where you've been working so hard on or just when you get that feedback from someone else that, that, "You know what, what I'm doing is actually making a difference in these lives".

Jimmy Bowens:

What is your most cherished teaching anecdote?

Suskya Goodall:

It's basically like if you want me to learn rather than show me or tell me actually do this with me.

Jimmy Bowens:

That says it all. I'm really happy that this conversation for now has joined to close on those positive notes. I love your song choice. I think for me, there are many takeaways but the one that I'm thinking about is the idea of restorative practice. I just think that perhaps restorative practice could be broadened in its definition to encompass how we treat each other. Not just how we work with students and not just educators, but also the community around the schools where we constantly need to be mindful of being restorative and not just in a reactionary way but in a way that will promote positive relationships and wellbeing moving forward. And there's a lot more that you've said today, but to me that that seems to be something that comes across and you beautifully outlined the complexity of this issue and that there's so much to it that we need to consider.

Jimmy Bowens:

Then the wonderful positives like that we have the budget in this country for wellbeing and that there is a recognition that it is a need and something to look into. I'm just delighted there is someone like you doing this research and I can't wait to hear more. It's been an absolute pleasure chatting to Suskya.

Suskya Goodall:

Thank you.

Jimmy Bowens:

Thanks for taking the time and I know we went overboard, but I don't see how that would've been helped. There was just too much to talk about. Do you have anything you'd like to say to the listeners about where they might contact you or if they have any further questions that they could reach out maybe.

Suskya Goodall:

So if you go to www.wellbeingcollective.nz that's the business that I do my consultancy work through with schools at the moment and the clusters that I work with and I love discussing this and I love hearing people's ideas and questions and getting really into it. So feel free to get in contact to that.

Jimmy Bowens:

Okay. Well thank you so much Suskya it's been a pleasure talking to you.

Suskya Goodall:

You are very welcome. Thanks Jimmy have a great day.

Jimmy Bowens:

Thanks for listening to another EPisodes Podcast. If you enjoyed listening, please consider leaving us a review on the podcast service of your choice. We really appreciate all the reviews and ratings and we would love to continue providing these wide ranging discussions with educational experts across the globe to you, our fine listeners. If you'd like to participate in the discussion on any of our topics, please go to our LinkedIn group Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age. We post regular articles there and would love to hear from you. You can find me on Twitter. Just follow @EPjbownes. That's capital E, capital P, J-B-O-W-E-N-S all lowercase and I'm very excited to join you on the Twitter-verse. Thanks for listening and keep your ears open for our next podcast. Go well, be happy and keep learning.