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In recent times, much has been written about the alarming rate at which teachers in Australia are leaving their profession, citing a range of factors that contribute to low morale or even ‘burnout’.

In early August of this year, federal Education Minister, Jason Clare chaired a crisis meeting with State Education ministers to strategise around supporting Australian teachers to stay in the Education sector. In speaking with the media about the rationale for this meeting, Clare said “We don’t have enough teachers at the moment and part of the reason for that is burnout — people that are worn down by the job.”(ABC News)

The crisis meeting referred to modelling by the government in their Issues Paper: Teacher Workforce Shortages (2022) which indicates that demand for Secondary School teachers is predicted to significantly outweigh supply over the next three years. The report explores the reasons for this shortage and identifies that “The existing shortages have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, with teachers working in a challenging environment and education systems and schools having had to innovate to manage illness and absences. However, COVID-19 related shortages are just one part of a broader and systemic issue. Other factors impacting on shortages include the status of the profession, workload pressures and initial teacher education (ITE) participation.”

Teachers identify increasing workloads, administration requirements, and large class sizes as contributing to the stories of burnout and the sense of low morale which feels pervasive within the sector. In fact, the National President of the Australian Education Union (AEU) identifies that the attrition rate for teachers could be as high as 30 percent within the first five years in parts of Australia. (ABC News)

How, then, can leaders of schools seek to balance the demands of regulation  and compliance with the well-being of their staff? How can they manage financial realities and their accountability for the sound management of their schools with the sense that teachers feel increasingly overworked? How can schools foster a sense of belonging and engender higher levels of morale when teachers are still working through the ramifications of Covid-19 for their students, their colleagues and their profession in general?

Leaders in schools who demonstrate the ability to be adaptive in their practices, who are collaborative in their approach, who regularly seek feedback and relish the information which can come from regular evaluations give staff a sense of voice and agency. Strong communicators are comfortable with listening to the sentiments of their staff, and responding by either demonstrating a capacity for change, or explaining respectfully a rationale for the status quo.

More than ever, schools must commit to more creative and engaging opportunities to build culture and affirm a sense of belonging and well-being from their staff. At heart, teachers are people oriented and creative, yet
Covid-19 forced so many teachers to operate alone and distanced from their peers and their communities. This has led to an even greater likelihood of teachers leaving the profession. A Monash University study published
in 2022 found that among teachers who intended to leave the profession, 62 per cent felt that the impact on health and wellbeing was their main reason for them doing so.

Lead author of this study, Fiona Longmuir, said “If teachers feel that their work is appreciated and that the workload and emotional intensity of their work is being recognised, that might make them feel less inclined to walk away.” AITSLs Australian Professional Standards for Teachers requires all teachers in Australia to regularly engage in professional learning to improve practice. The design of vibrant, culture affirming and team building
professional learning opportunities can serve to improve well-being and affirm a teacher’s sense of being both valued and an integral part of a team, in turn driving better performance, and stronger teaching and learning outcomes.

To find out more about our approach to developing teacher and student programs, visit our school’s page here.

Lisa Kelliher
Be Challenged, General Manger, People and Culture

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