Beng Huat See, Durham University Evidence Centre for Education, UK
Leslie Blanchard, Leadership Development Institute, Louisiana State University, USA
Kulwinder Maude, Durham University Evidence Centre for Education, UK
David Kryštof, Institute of Lifelong Learning, Mendel University, Czech Republic
Christine Callender, University College London, IOE, UK
Samantha Wilkes, Leeds Trinity University, UK
One of the challenges facing many education systems in the world is a shortage of qualified teachers, partly the result of people leaving the profession prematurely. Teaching has often been characterised as an occupation with a high level of turnover, especially among new teachers (e.g. Department for Education - a ministerial department responsi... More, 2019b; Ingersoll and Perda, 2008; Ingersoll and Strong, 2011; Lortie, 1975). This is a global issue. In the USA, around 40 to 50 per cent of new teachers leave within the first five years of entry into teaching (Sutcher et al., 2016). In England, among the secondary teachers who qualified in 2010 to 2014, only around 66 per cent stayed on in state-funded schools in the fifth year (DfE, 2020). In the Czech Republic, 60 per cent of teacher education graduates do not become teachers (Hanušová et al., 2019). It is estimated that approximately 35 per cent of educators leave the profession in the first few years. High teacher turnover is also experienced in Norway (Tiplic et al., 2015), Sweden (Toropova et al., 2021), Australia (Weldon, 2018) and many other countries.
This paper addresses two related critical questions to solve a crucial problem in the future of the teaching workforce: teacher wellbeing and teacher attrition. High teacher attrition has serious implications for workforce stability, costs, teacher quality and, ultimately, student outcomes (Borman and Dowling, 2008; Craig, 2017; Ronfeldt et al., 2013).
The lack of adequate support from school administration and poor preparation for dealing with the stress and workload associated with teaching (e.g. European Commission, 2018; Ingersoll et al., 2021; Goldhaber et al., 2016; Sellen, 2016) are prime culprits for the early departure of teachers. Several studies have shown strong relationship between teachers’ self-efficacy, job satisfaction and mental wellbeing (e.g. Collie, Shapka and Perry, 2012; Viac and Fraser, 2020). Some have argued that the key to job satisfaction is a strong foundation in teacher preparation (Hulme and Wood, 2022). It therefore follows that preparing teachers well while they are in initial teacher education (ITE) and supporting teachers already in school could help to insulate them from the adverse effects of the challenging work environment.
The growing awareness of the challenging working conditions associated with teaching (Cooper-Gibson Research, 2018; DfE, 2019b; Toropova et al., 2021) has led to the development of strategies – as part of the wider teacher recruitment and retention strategies – to address these issues. These include induction programmes, access to professional development, enhancing leadership skills in schools and flexible working. The Early Career Framework (DfE, 2019a), rolled out in September 2020, is an example of a government strategy to support new teachers. While such initiatives have supported teachers’ development, they are not targeted at dealing with the fundamental issues of teacher stress, anxiety and burnout.
Why teacher wellbeing matters
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been increasing concerns about teacher wellbeing. Even before the pandemic, an OECD survey (2021) showed that one in six teachers reported feeling very stressed in school. A YouGov/Teacher Track survey reported that 82 per cent of teachers in England reported being stressed from work, and 46 per cent said that pressures on their mental health and wellbeing have made them think about leaving the profession (Education Support, 2021). An OECD analysis on teacher wellbeing indicates that in almost all countries and across phases of education, teachers who report a great deal of stress are more likely to report wanting to leave the profession (OECD, 2019).
Research evidence suggests that there is a strong correlation between teachers’ wellbeing and teacher attrition (Geiger and Pivovarova, 2018; Wang et al., 2015). Teacher attrition not only has economic repercussions, but it also has educational implications for students’ learning, achievement and health. Previous studies have also shown that there is a downstream effect of teacher wellbeing on student wellbeing and academic outcomes (Carroll et al., 2021). When teachers are functioning well, they benefit not only themselves but also their students. Despite these concerns, there have been few evidence-based interventions to address the issue.
An innovative approach
The Leadership Alphabet of Disposition Development Engagement and Reflection (LADDER) is an approach co-produced by teachers, parents and administrators. It uses principles of reflective practice and cognitive-behavioural approaches. Coaches/mentors use probing questions to facilitate the teacher through self-reflection to help teachers identify their strengths and stressors. The aim is to equip teachers with the effective dispositions to handle stress, and thus reduce their likelihood of leaving the profession.
While LADDER has been used in the business and corporate world, it has never been used with teachers outside the USA, and no robust evaluation has ever been conducted in education.
The pilot study
Our pilot study involved teacher trainees in one university in England and students on a teacher education programme in the Czech Republic. The aim of the pilot was to test the feasibility and efficacy of the approach. Coaching was first delivered as a group, where all the student participants attended a coaching session given by expert trainers from the Louisiana State University. This was followed by one-to-one sessions with the teacher trainer/mentor at the university.
Prior to receiving LADDER coaching, all students completed a questionnaire that assessed their self-efficacy, mental wellbeing and intention to stay in teaching. To estimate the impact of LADDER, we compared the outcomes of students who received LADDER coaching with a similar group who did not receive the training. Early results were promising. Both groups improved in self-efficacy, but the LADDER group showed bigger improvements (effect size = +0.93). For mental wellbeing, the comparison group showed a decline, while LADDER students showed improvements (effect size = +0.52). Excerpts from some students show how the training has supported them in handling the heavy workload during their school placement.
I have found the sessions useful in identifying my strengths and weaknesses. I found the knowledge of more use in dealing with the workload during the Year 3 placement. Since the first session I have only worked on two of the stressors but I have improved by prioritising my workload to enable myself to have a better balance to home and work life. I do feel that these stressors change from day to day but it is definitely something I would have found more useful to be part of earlier in the degree.
From this I have been able to improve my work balance and I feel confident incorporating these skills in September.
Students have also noted an unintentional benefit of the coaching. It not only enabled them to understand their own strengths, but it has also provided them with the vocabulary to describe those critical dispositions that they possess.
I have really appreciated the coaching sessions and feel that they have been very beneficial. The cards given were very useful in preparation for teaching interviews and I feel much more confident in my abilities as a teacher.
Among the students training to be school teachers, the LADDER group expressed greater intention to stay in teaching (effect size = +0.46) after coaching compared to the comparison group. These results suggest that LADDER can be a potential preventative and proactive measure for beginning teachers.
While this is only small pilot study, the results are reassuring. We are hoping to scale this up to include more institutions and teachers, using a more robust randomised control design.