As the proud daughter of a first-grade teacher, I can attest that educators work countless hours outside of the school day. My mother wrote lesson plans and graded papers every evening between making dinner and helping me with my homework.
Weekends were not off limits either. She often used that time to ensure the lessons for the coming week were properly planned. Even during the summer, the red pen used for grading and the lesson plan book were temporarily replaced with taking college classes to earn recertification points required to maintain her teaching license credentials. When not in school, she would often spend time planning units and designing award-winning bulletin boards to create a warm and welcoming environment for her students.
My mother was not unique; for many educators, there simply are not enough hours in the day to keep up with all the demands of the job. It is no surprise to me that educators are burned out and are leaving the profession, and that something must change to help educators and other workers thrive.
The educational landscape faces unprecedented challenges, and the well-being of educators has never been more crucial.
To tackle these challenges, Educators Thriving, a group focused on supporting educators to achieve well-being — in partnership with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and six local school districts across the country — embarked on a project with a two-pronged approach. The partners had the choice of participating in either 1) a personal development course to immediately address individual well-being or 2) a rigorous research process to develop an educator-generated well-being scale intended to measure and improve well-being system-wide.
1. Equipping Individual Educators
Over 200 educators completed a well-being professional development program during the summer and fall of 2022. They learned about strategies empirically proven to increase well-being, spent time connecting with fellow educators in small groups, and practiced applying new tools in their personal and professional lives.
The program made a difference: 92% of participants concluded that the program has made their job feel more sustainable, and 94% said that it helped improve their well-being.
2. Creating an Educator-Generated Definition of Well-Being
Additionally, a goal of the project was to create a definition of well-being — and an accompanying survey tool — generated by educators for educators. To that end, a series of focus groups with educators from across the country developed a preliminary measure based on key themes.
Once launched, 1,285 AFT members completed the pilot survey. Statistical analysis found that a 26-item scale composed of six key predictive factors reliably measured educator well-being. Districts across the nation are now using the scale to measure, prioritize, and improve staff experiences and worker engagement.
You can learn more about the project’s findings on individual and systemic solutions that enable educators to do their best work in the report, Beyond Burnout: A Roadmap to Improve Educator Well-Being.
The current challenges faced by educators and many other workers are not inevitable, or impossible to overcome. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Labor-Management Partnership Program can enhance cooperation in an intentional, holistic manner, enabling employers and workers to collaboratively address complex organizational issues. Learn more about how we can help workers and your organization thrive.
This blog originally appeared on the Department of Labor website on December 20, 2023.
About the Author: Darnice Marsh is the labor-management partnership coordinator in the Department of Labor’s Office of Labor-Management Standards.