Seen, not heard: An interpretation of teacher wellbeing and the human need to be heard
conference contributionposted on 2022-07-25, 22:39 authored by Suskya GoodallSuskya Goodall, Joanna Higgins, Grant Zouch
Since the education reforms of the late twentieth century, the wellbeing of teachers across all sectors of the New Zealand education system remains a continuing focus for the profession and education agencies (Rashbrooke, 2013). The result of these reforms has been an increased workload for educators, competition between institutions and the breakdown of social networks across institutions. As a consequence, schools have become increasingly isolated and vulnerable, as have individual members of their community (Tomorrow’s Schools Independent Taskforce, 2018). It is therefore both critical and timely to consider how to ensure that schools are equitable and safe places to work. In this presentation, we explore the notion of teacher wellbeing through the lens of equity, which we suggest is connected to being human and hearing and seeing humanity in others. This paper draws on a study undertaken with educators in early 2020 that investigated the wellbeing practices of 735 teachers and leaders in New Zealand. We focus on the response to one question in the digital survey: What one practice currently does or potentially would enhance your wellbeing the most? Evident in participants’ responses were references to the schooling context such as funding, job security, workload, pay, etc. However, because this paper is more concerned with the human side of being a teacher, we chose to focus on human aspects of teaching and their potential impact on teacher wellbeing (Alexakos, 2015). To this end, common themes derived from the data included teachers’ desire to be respected, valued, acknowledged, appreciated, supported, and generally “to be heard” by their colleagues. Also highlighted were themes related to the collective setting of schools in which practices such as collaborative teaching, mentoring, and team building are situated. In addition to this respondents also referred to individually selected wellbeing practices, for example, physical exercise, yoga, self-care, massage, diet, and “mindfulness” - although the latter remained a nebulous reference. It is critical to disrupt current narratives that serve to obscure the true essence of wellbeing by simply championing discrete wellbeing practices. We were struck that when asked to list one practice, many respondents instead alluded to sociocultural aspects that impacted their wellbeing, both in their school/centre and more holistically. The situated nature of wellbeing provokes the idea that notions of wellbeing are integral to the collective. Schools/centres tend to have a monosemic way of looking at wellbeing: We view wellbeing in a more polysemic way (Tobin & Ritchie, 2012). We suggest that wellbeing practices of a centre/school emerge as social practices viewed as “culturally mediated contingent, emergent and fluid” (Alexakos, 2015, p. 14). Therefore, teacher wellbeing needs to be seen through a sociocultural lens incorporating its dynamic and holistic nature, rather than thinking of teacher wellbeing as a discrete list of practices to be adopted. We draw on the emotional residue of our collective experiences as former teachers to understand the innate need for some educators “to be heard” and feel valued as members of a centre or school community. This is a fundamental part of the human condition.