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The Asia-Pacific Education Researcher

, Volume 26, Issue 3–4, pp 117–126 | Cite as

Teachers’ Priorities for Change in Australian Schools to Support Staff Well-Being

  • Adam Garrick
  • Anita S. Mak
  • Stuart Cathcart
  • Peter C. Winwood
  • Arnold B. Bakker
  • Kurt Lushington
Regular Article

Abstract

This study explored Australian school teachers’ priorities for change within schools in order to support staff psychological well-being. We began by holding a focus group and, in corroborating with the existing literature on stressors reported by school teachers, identified seven key areas for change in schools that teachers thought would most support their well-being at work. An online survey was then conducted with teachers from across Australia (N = 960), who ranked each of these suggestions in order of importance. Results found that the most important needs for change according to teachers were smaller class sizes and improved measures for student behaviour management. These results offer insight into areas for organisational change that teachers think are most important for their own well-being. We discuss the findings in relation to psychological research as well as current issues within the Australian education sector.

Keywords

Teachers Well-being Schools Education department Organisational change 

Teaching is recognised internationally as a high-stress occupation and teacher stress is linked to reduced staff performance (Yong and Yue 2007). In the Australian education sector, concerning trends have been identified by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) including student results consistently falling over the past decade (Tovey and Patty 2013). Recent governments have attempted to address this through measures such as national standardised testing and curricula (Donnelly 2011), but the OECD has found that the most important influences on student learning that are open to policy influence are teacher-related factors (OECD 2005). Teacher stress can have serious implications for the healthy functioning of the individual, the school, and the quality of education provided to students (Yong and Yue 2007). Hence, it is vital for educational researchers to explore ways to improve teacher mental well-being, and a potentially useful source of information are teachers’ own perceived priorities for change.

Australia has seen a consistent rise in the incidence of teacher stress, including workers’ compensation cases (ABCNews 2010a; Hiatt 2010). There is a significant body of psychological research exploring sources of stress for school teachers internationally, including managing student discipline, workload, poor working conditions, and lack of support from management (e.g. Timms et al. 2007; Yong and Yue 2007). For teachers working in Australia, some of the reasons for current increasing job stress include rapid curriculum change, extra tension caused by notional literacy and numeracy testing, and deteriorating student behaviour—including physical attacks on teachers (Hiatt 2010).

Making schools more attractive and supportive places to work for staff will likely impact student learning outcomes. A review by the Department of Education Queensland found that difficulties in attracting and retaining quality staff were impacting the state’s ability to meet its educational objectives for students (Masters 2010). Other research has also found that higher job resources help teachers to be more immersed in their teaching and this has positive flow-on effects for student performance (Bakker 2005).

While there is a large body of international and Australian research aimed at identifying work-related stressors for teachers (e.g. Easthope and Easthope 2007; Yong and Yue 2007), there is a dearth of published research exploring what types of interventions teachers themselves think will help improve their work-related well-being. This is a significant gap in the literature. With current nationwide reviews of Australia’s education system, it is timely to explore the opinions of teachers regarding what changes they feel are most needed to support their well-being at work.

Teachers’ priorities for change in schools may vary depending on demographic characteristics. For example, Smithers and Robinson (2005) found that turnover is concentrated in young teachers and older teachers approaching retirement; young teachers often cite low salary and personal circumstances as reasons for leaving, while older leavers cite workload. For a better understanding of the needs of different cohorts within the teaching workforce, it will be useful to compare teachers’ priorities for change based on such characteristics as gender, time spent working at their school, and the state or territory of their employment.

Preliminary Focus Group

We conducted a preliminary focus group with the aim of identifying key changes within Australian schools that teachers feel are most urgently required in order to support their well-being. These qualitative data, interpreted within the existing literature on teacher stressors, were then used to guide the second part of the study, a quantitative large-scale survey in which teachers ranked in order of importance the different areas for change identified in the focus group.

The focus group was conducted in Adelaide, South Australia. We used a purposive sampling method to select four teachers to participate in the focus group. The sample included two males and two females, with work experience levels of 2, 4, 11, and 28 years. All participants had worked in primary and secondary schools, as well as schools in both rural and metro environments (except for one participant who had only worked in rural schools). While this is too small to provide a representative sample of Australian teachers, the focus group allowed us to obtain perspectives from individuals with a variety of teaching experiences and ranging from early to relatively late in their teaching careers. The focus group followed a semi-structured format and lasted for 90 min. The discussion was audio recorded and later transcribed. The focus group identified a list of seven areas for change as being most important for improving teacher well-being: class sizes; funding for school resources; managing student behaviour; salaries; school-level management; training/professional development; and workload. We will briefly summarise the focus group’s comments and describe findings from the existing literature regarding these seven areas and why they are relevant as a means of promoting teacher mental well-being.

Class Sizes

The focus group discussed the need for smaller class sizes in order for teachers to feel more effective in their roles. Teachers expressed that with smaller classes they could gain a greater sense of mastery, such as through increased opportunities to tailor their lesson plans, pay individualised attention to students and check student learning during lessons. Participants acknowledged that smaller class sizes also had positive flow-on effects such as reduced workload (e.g. less marking and teacher–parent contact), as well as a greater ability to manage student behaviour.

Disputes between state education departments and teacher unions often centre on demands for smaller class sizes (e.g. ABCNews 2009). Research has found that in smaller classes, teachers can provide more focused and effective teaching strategies with individual students and that student behaviour problems are easier to contain (Wilson 2006). However, critics of the push for smaller class sizes say that there is little to no correlation between class size and student performance, except for certain student groups such as those with special needs (e.g. Chilcott 2012). It has also been suggested that a reduction in class sizes could lower the quality of teaching, because in the absence of extra financial investment governments would be forced to lower teacher salaries to fund the hiring of more teachers (Creighton 2013).

Funding for School Resources

The focus group identified lack of funding for class resources as a significant problem that can drain teacher motivation and satisfaction. Two participants said that they regularly pay for resources from their own salaries in order to feel better about the teaching activities they are offering students, but that this leads to a sense of resentment towards the school for not providing such resources.

This concern is consistent with reports that deficits in funding for school resources contribute to teacher stress around inability to provide adequate educational opportunities for students and reduction of teacher aide hours with associated increases in class disruption (Chilcott 2011). A large-scale survey of Australian schools found that over 80% of schools needed to engage in fundraising of some sort, with 61% of principals rating fundraising and voluntary contributions as “very important” to the school budget (AEU 2010).

Managing Student Behaviour

The focus group raised concerns around poor school-level support in managing difficult student behaviour, contributing to a reduced sense of efficacy and lowered mood that often carries over when the teacher returns home. Examples included being unable to remove problematic students from the classroom because no other staff are available to supervise the student/s, and teachers' complaints about students not being taken seriously by management.

Previous research has established that difficulties in managing student behaviour is a significant stressor for teachers. For example, teachers leave the profession at the highest rate within their first five years of teaching, with the most frequently cited reason being working with children who have “complex behaviour” (McMillen 2013). In QLD in 2012, state schools handed out approximately 20,000 student suspensions for physical misconduct and made almost 100 incident reports involving violence or threats of violence (Chilcott and Vogler 2013). Teachers report fear related to students with severe behaviour disorders threatening other students and staff not having training in how to manage such behaviour (McMillen 2013). Some states have seen recent legislative changes to attempt to manage this, such as giving rights to principals to keep students in detention on weekends or assign community service (Chilcott and Vogler). Unions have suggested the potential need for additional security features to be installed in schools, such as security cameras or protective glass for administration staff (Chilcott and Vogler).

Salaries

The focus group voiced concerns around teacher salaries, which were perceived as low relative to the amount of education, responsibility, and workload required for the job and that this impacted motivation. In recent years, there has been frequent industrial action taken by teachers across all Australian states and territories as teacher unions negotiate higher salaries for staff (e.g. ABCNews 2010b). Research has found that dissatisfaction with pay negatively impacts teachers’ perceptions of their own performance (Alam and Farid 2011). Low teacher salaries in Australia have also been criticised as a contributor to lower teacher quality, as higher-performing school graduates feel less incentivised to pursue a career in education (Ingvarson 2016). Starting salaries for teachers in Australia is relatively high compared to teachers in other countries, and is also comparable to starting salaries of Australian new graduates in other career fields of equivalent education (Jamieson 2013; McGaw 2016). However, Australian teacher salary progression is unfavourable compared to other professions (the top of the pay scale is only 1.4 times the starting salary) and is typically based on years of service rather than performance (McGaw). Australian teachers reach the maximum salary step within a decade, compared to other nations which might take up to 45 years, and this pay ceiling can dissuade teachers to stay in the profession (Ricci 2015).

School-Level Management

The focus group identified the importance of school management teams for staff morale and personal motivation at work. Concerns were raised around common problematic practices within school management, including lack of positive feedback to staff, difficulty in having direct access to speak with management, and a perceived priority on performance outcomes over staff well-being.

A report from the Grattan Institute stated that teachers think school management does not recognise or reward effective and innovative teaching (Jensen 2010). A study with Tasmanian teachers found that staff feel stronger pressure in recent years to conform to the values or ideas of principals due to fear of being marginalised, and a sense that school administration place their allegiance with the education department rather than their own school and staff (Easthope and Easthope 2007). Teachers have expressed a desire for administration to offer more care and support to staff, and to be more active in communicating staff feedback around issues such as rapid curriculum change to education departments (Easthope and Easthope). Teachers have also expressed dissatisfaction with school management creating unreasonable levels of work demands without providing the necessary resources for staff to effectively complete tasks, which may erode an individual’s sense of mastery and increase exhaustion (Timms et al. 2007).

Training/Professional Development

Focus group participants raised issues around training that they thought required change, including a lack of relevant training opportunities to choose from and needing to go to training on weekends or holidays because staff are unable to take time off from regular classes. Research findings show that opportunities for professional development are important for sustaining and improving levels of work engagement among staff (Bakker and Bal 2010). However, professional development for teachers in Australia has been described as inconsistent and “largely neglected”, particularly for new teachers adjusting to their role (Ferguson-Patrick 2011). It has been criticised as too prescriptive and not trusting teachers to identify their own professional training needs (Comber et al. 2004), which is problematic given the strong correlations between teacher self-efficacy and burnout (Skaalvik and Skaalvik 2010).

Workload

The focus group discussion commented on the unreasonably high workload required as a teacher, and expressed that this can leave them feeling exhausted, stressed, and time-pressured. The participants pointed out that their school days are often so tightly scheduled that they may not have time to eat lunch, and they regularly engage in unpaid work-related activity outside of work hours (e.g. lesson preparation and marking).

The literature indicates that Australian teachers report their workload to be increasing every year, which will likely lead to increasing burnout and health problems within the teaching workforce (AEU 2010; Dorman 2003). Over one-third of Australian teachers spend over 50 h per week on school-related activities (AEU 2010). A report by the Queensland Independent Education Union (QUIEU 2005) concluded that teachers are experiencing increased content of jobs, less time for rest breaks, deadline tightening, and the concept of working until the job is done (e.g. completing paperwork that is not factored into the hours of the school day). A study by Timms et al. (2007) found that teachers report workload to be the major source of dissatisfaction in their work environment and concluded that current workloads are unsustainable.

The Main Study

This paper’s overall aim is to identify the priorities that Australian teachers place on the areas most in need of change within schools, and how these priorities might differ based on teacher demographic characteristics. For our main study, we conducted a cross-sectional online survey study with a national sample of Australian school teachers. We asked participants to rank in order of importance each of the seven changes identified from the preliminary focus group study. The survey also measured participants’ gender, number of years spent teaching at their current school, and the Australian state or territory of their employment, as these factors may inform how changes can be tailored to address key concerns among different cohorts.

Method

Participants

The online survey was accessed 1136 times and completed 960 times. The sample included 237 males (25%) and 707 (75%) females, with mean age 46.0 years (SD = 11.0). Our sample appears representative of the national teaching workforce, as a previous representative national survey (N = 2335) of teachers in Australia found a mean age of 43.1, with 30% of respondents being male and 70% female (MCEETYA 2004). The mean length of employment at participants’ current school was 7.0 years (SD = 6.45). The participants were based in 5 different states within Australia: 594 from Western Australia (WA); 131 from the Australian Capital Territory (ACT); 119 from New South Wales (NSW); 79 from South Australia (SA); and 29 from Tasmania (Tas). Table 1 presents a summary of participant demographics according to state.
Table 1

Sample demographics according to state

State

Gender

Age (years)

Years at current school

Male (%)

Female (%)

M

SD

M

SD

Western Australia

25

75

45.95

0.44

7.39

0.26

Australian Capital Territory

24

76

43.12

0.96

4.69

0.47

New South Wales

19

81

47.50

1.06

6.56

2.23

South Australia

29

71

47.57

1.26

6.83

0.69

Tasmania

38

62

49.52

1.98

7.36

0.91

The majority of participants worked in government-owned schools (96.7%). Regarding job description, 75.7% classified themselves as Teachers, 20% as Coordinators/Executive Teachers, 2.9% as Deputy/Assistant Principals, and 1.4% as Other. Regarding employment condition, 86.8% were permanent, 11.7% were contract, and 1.3% were temporary relief teachers. Regarding work hours, 80.7% worked full-time, 15.7% worked at least half-time, and 2.7% worked less than half-time.

Measures

The survey asked participants to rank options from a list of seven changes that could be made in Australian schools, in order of importance for supporting teacher mental well-being. The survey question was developed by the authors and was worded: “Please rank the following options in order of which you believe would best assist in supporting teacher mental well-being”. Participants needed to drag-and-drop items from the list in descending order from “1st (most important)” to “7th (least important)”. The seven options presented included: “improved measures for managing student behaviour”, “reduced workload”, “improved school-level management”, “improved opportunities for professional development”, “higher salaries”, “smaller class sizes”, and “increased funding for school resources”. The survey also featured other measures including gender, state/territory, and years spent working at their current school. Following data collection, we categorised years of work at current school into three levels (<5, 5–15 and >15 years) for comparative purposes.

Procedure

We gained ethical clearance for this study through the relevant university procedures. We advertised the survey website with permission through several Australian teacher union newsletters and websites. Participants completed an online anonymous cross-sectional survey by visiting a website created by the authors. An information page was presented prior to the survey questions. Inclusion criteria were that participants were employed as a teacher or member of school leadership in an Australian school at the time of taking the survey. Another paper has previously analysed other variables measured in this survey, to explore teacher psychological injury (Garrick et al., 2014).

Results

Figure 1 presents the percentages of participants who ranked each of the seven suggested changes as first or second most important. “Smaller class sizes” was selected as the most important change overall, with over half of the sample (51.9%) ranking this option as the first or second most important change. “Improved measures for managing student behaviour” was the second most frequently chosen option, ranked first or second by just under half of the sample (47.2%). “Improved school-level management” and “reduced workload” were ranked first or second by approximately 30% of the sample. “Increased funding for school resources” and “higher salaries” were ranked first or second by 21.2 and 15.5% of the sample, respectively. The lowest ranked option was “improved opportunities for professional development”, with 5% of participants selecting it as the first or second most important change.
Fig. 1

Priorities for change—percentage of teachers who ranked each item of change as first or second most important (N = 939) [Each option ranked between 1 (most important) and 7 (least important). Mean ranks: Class Sizes 2.8; Student Behaviour 3.0; School Management 4.0; Workload 4.1; Resource Funding 4.0; Salaries 5.0; Professional Development 5.2]

Table 2 includes percentages of the seven changes ranked first or second most important, according to participants’ (a) gender, (b) years of teaching at current school, and (c) state or territory of their employment. We conducted Chi-squared tests to identify if gender, years of teaching experience, or state/territory were related to any of the seven proposed changes being ranked as first or second-highest priority. We used listwise deletion to handle missing data, i.e. cases with one or more missing values were removed from analyses. There was a significant association between gender and prioritising change in workload, χ 2 (1) = 9.19, p < .01, indicating that females were more likely than males to rank workload as the first or second priority for change. There was also a significant association between gender and prioritising change in salary χ 2 (1) = 4.70, p = 0.02, indicating that males were more likely than females to rank “salary” first or second. We did not find any significant association between priority for change and years of teaching at one’s current school.
Table 2

Priorities for change—percentage of teachers who ranked each option as first or second according to gender, years of teaching at current school, and state

 

Gender (N = 923)

Years teaching at current school (N = 939)

State/territory (N = 931)

Male

Female

<5years

5–15years

>15years

ACT

NSW

SA

Tas

WA

Class sizes mean ranka

51.3% 2.9

52.0% 2.8

49.7% 2.9

55.5% 2.6

49.1% 3.0

42.0% 3.1

49.1% 3.0

59.0% 2.6

48.3% 2.7

53.9% 2.8

Student behaviour mean ranka

50.4% 2.9

45.7% 3.0

46.3% 3.0

48.4% 2.9

47.2% 3.0

46.6% 3.1

53.4% 2.8

46.2% 3.3

37.9% 3.2

46.6% 3.0

School management mean ranka

30.6% 4.0

30.2% 4.0

30.8% 4.0

30.8% 3.9

28.7% 3.9

34.4% 3.9

39.7% 3.5

19.2% 4.4

27.6% 4.4

29.1% 4.0

Workload mean ranka

21.1% 4.6

31.5% 3.9

31.0% 4.0

26.4% 4.3

25.9% 4.2

29.8% 4.0

13.8% 5.0

21.8% 4.1

37.9% 3.6

31.9% 4.0

Resource funding mean ranka

20.3% 4.0

22.0% 3.9

19.7% 4.0

22.5% 3.9

23.1% 4.0

25.2% 3.8

20.7% 3.7

26.9% 3.9

24.1% 3.6

19.8% 4.1

Salaries mean ranka

19.8% 4.5

13.9% 5.2

16.9% 4.9

13.5% 5.1

16.7% 4.9

18.3% 4.8

15.5% 5.3

21.8% 4.5

17.2% 5.2

14.0% 5.0

Professional development mean ranka

6.5% 5.1

4.6% 5.2

5.6% 5.1

3.0% 5.2

9.3% 5.1

3.8% 5.4

7.8% 4.8

5.1% 5.3

6.9% 5.4

4.7% 5.1

aRange: 1 (most important) to 7 (least important)

There was a significant association between state/territory of employment and “workload” as a priority for change, χ 2 (4) = 18.57, p < .01, indicating that teachers from NSW were less likely than the other states/territories to rank workload as a first or second priority. There was also a significant association between state/territory of employment and “school-level management” as a change priority, χ 2 (4) = 10.84, p = 0.03. Regarding school-level management, none of the states/territories demonstrated a significant difference individually (no standardised residuals > ±1.96), although SA and NSW appeared to contribute the largest amount to the significant Chi-squared test (standardised residuals −1.7 and 1.8, respectively). This suggests that teachers from SA were less likely to prioritise school-level management change, while teachers from NSW were more likely to prioritise school-level management change.

Discussion

We conducted an online survey to measure Australian school teachers’ priorities for changes that could be made in schools to support staff mental well-being. Our results showed that Australian teachers’ priorities for change were relatively consistent across gender, years of experience, and state/territory. Overall, teachers perceive smaller class sizes as the most urgent change needed in schools, consistent with the frequent strike action taken by Australian teacher unions across the country pushing for fewer students in classrooms (Maslen 2014). While not statistically significant, our results indicate that this need for change is most frequently endorsed by teachers from SA, WA, and NSW (Table 2), which is in agreement with research reporting that these three states have the largest class sizes in Australia (AEU 2010). A large class may increase teacher stress in several ways, such as making it more difficult to manage student behaviour and provide adequate attention to all students, and increased assignment marking, parent interaction, and noise levels (French 1993). This result highlights the importance for education departments to reduce class sizes as a first priority in supporting their teachers’ mental well-being. A recent literature review has found that smaller class sizes are related to improved student learning outcomes (Zyngier 2014); given Australia’s current decline in student performance, policy changes targeting smaller classes appear timely. Unfortunately, the current government has indicated that it intends to increase class sizes (Maslen 2014), which is likely to increase teacher stress and negatively impact student learning outcomes.

Improved measures for managing student behaviour was the second most frequently selected priority for change, with almost one-half of participants choosing this option as first or second-highest priority. Previous research has found student behaviour difficulties to be an important factor in why some teachers choose to leave the profession (Barmby 2006). Behaviour management demands in Australian schools have increased over recent years (Smith 2014), which may be related to reductions in funding for teacher aides (Chilcott 2011), as well as a trend towards “inclusive” education. Inclusion policies are resulting in more children with significant intellectual, physical, and psychological difficulties being brought into mainstream classrooms, without providing necessary resources or professional development measures (McMillen 2013; Timms et al. 2007). Our finding emphasises the need for school management to support staff in managing student behaviour, such as by building behaviour management skills through initial and continuing teacher education. Improvements might also be achieved through investing in more teacher aides, school counsellors, security equipment, and cooperatively developing policies, support systems, and student placement strategies with staff.

The next two most highly ranked options were improved school-level management and reduced workload, which are likely related. Several factors have been identified as critical for effective school management, including placing reasonable demands on staff while providing sufficient resources for task completion, effective evaluation of staff performance, and recognition of quality teaching (Timms et al. 2007). Our findings indicate that there is a need to provide further training and potential assessment of school managers in Australia, given that a large proportion of our sample endorsed improved management as a high-priority change. School management/leadership also plays an important role in balancing teacher workload.

We found that almost one-third of our sample identified reduced workload as their first or second priority for change. Australian teachers face increasing workloads due to factors including understaffing, expanding student–teacher ratios, increased documentation, and more tasks (particularly administrative) being added to the teacher’s workday (Comber et al. 2004; Timms et al. 2007). The high levels of non-paid work that teachers are required to complete outside of work hours is detrimental to staff mental health by reducing opportunities to detach from the mental stress of work even after the school day has officially ended (Sonnentag and Kruel 2006; Timms et al. 2007). High workload is also related to decreased time available for teachers to interact with each other at work, in order to share ideas and support one another (Easthope and Easthope 2007). Teachers also report feeling pressure to engage in co-curricular work that is unpaid and time-consuming, with schools not taking these into consideration when allocating extra responsibilities such as yard duty (AEU 2010; Timms et al. 2007). Many teachers have expressed worry that if they do not “volunteer” for extra responsibilities, their opportunities for promotion would diminish (Timms et al. 2007). We also found that female teachers were more likely to identify workload as a high priority for change. While our data do not indicate the causal factors in this relationship, possible explanations include greater workloads being placed on female teachers or a tendency for female teachers to perceive workload as a more salient factor for well-being.

Approximately one-fifth of our sample ranked increased funding for school resources as the first or second priority for change, demonstrating that a large proportion of Australian teachers think that increased resource funding is vital in supporting their well-being at work. This is consistent with research that has found that 61% of Australian school principals identified fundraising and voluntary contributions to be “very important” to their school budget (AEU 2010). The issue of Australian school funding is complex and currently in a state of political uncertainty. The Gonski report on school funding reform (commissioned in 2010 and released in 2012) criticised the current school funding model as lacking coherency and transparency, and involving duplication of funding in some areas (Gonski et al. 2011; News 2013). The report recommendations included an increase of $5bn in federal funding to education and allocating additional resources to schools according to the number of disadvantaged students. These additional resources would have included hiring additional teacher aides, which would likely have benefited teacher well-being through greater support in student management. However, the current federal government has dismissed the recommendations made in the Gonski report and is proposing another review of school funding (Donnelly 2013). This will delay or cancel implementation of suggested improvements to school funding identified in the Gonski report, along with the potential benefits for teacher well-being.

The two least-often prioritised changes were increased salary and improved professional development. We found that male teachers prioritised salary higher than female teachers, which suggests that continuing to pursue higher salaries for teachers will be important to try and improve the current underrepresentation of male teachers in Australian schools (Tovey 2013). Only five percent of our sample ranked improved professional development as the first or second most important change needed in schools, although it is unclear whether this small number reflects relative satisfaction with current levels of training or if teachers feel it is less salient to their well-being. Previous studies have found that collaborative continuing professional development is linked to increased teacher self-esteem, motivation, and confidence as well as student learning outcomes (Bakker and Bal 2010; Cordingly et al. 2003). Hence, while efforts to continually develop and improve professional development opportunities for teachers will likely produce positive outcomes for staff and students, our findings indicate that there are others areas in teaching of greater priority with regards to school-level and policy change.

Limitations and Future Research

Our preliminary focus group was small (N = 4), although previous literature on focus group methodology has indicated that this is an acceptable size (Kitzinger 1995). Not all Australian states/territories were represented in our sample and those that were measured had uneven numbers of participants. In addition, we were also unable to locate any material that provided comprehensive comparisons between the teaching conditions of different Australian states, thus limiting our ability to make comparisons of state-level policies relating to teachers’ priorities for change. Owing to the method of advertisement used for the online survey, the majority of participants worked in government schools, and hence no meaningful comparisons can be drawn between the opinions of staff working in government and private schools. Finally, there is likely considerable overlap between the seven areas for change that participants were asked to rank. For example, larger class sizes likely increase issues related to student behaviour management, while school budget that is targeted at teaching resources may reduce the budget available for hiring more teachers to reduce class sizes.

Further qualitative research investigating specific areas where funding is currently allocated and how this might be shifted to address teachers’ concerns may help to elucidate the most appropriate use of available resources. Additionally, future research should investigate relationships between the seven areas for change measured in this study and psychological measures of work-related stress and motivation. This would help to identify if differences in these aspects of a teacher’s work environment produce actual differences according to validated measures of well-being. Our research identified broad areas for change that teachers would like prioritised, although it is beyond the scope of this paper to investigate specific ways in which these should be implemented as government policy. Further research is needed in each specific area of change to elucidate practical means by which change can be actioned, e.g. reviewing the current requirements and training for school management personnel and identifying deficits and methods to address these.

Research from Australia and internationally has identified similar relevant factors when exploring teacher stress and well-being (e.g. Barmby 2006; Easthope and Easthope 2007). Hence, there may be some generalisability of our findings to teachers working in countries other than Australia. However, further work with different samples would be needed to establish this, as the political, educational, and occupational context that Australian teachers operate in will presumably have many unique characteristics that may result in a different set of priorities for change compared to international samples.

Conclusion

Education outcomes in Australia have consistently fallen relative to other OECD countries but there has been a lack of attention paid to the potential strategy for improvement that is most open to policy change influence—teacher-related factors. This study identified areas of change that teachers themselves place the highest priority on when it comes to staff well-being and found that smaller class sizes and improved measures for student behaviour management are considered to need the most urgent change. Furthermore, we found relative consistency in the priorities of teachers across gender, years of experience, and location. Easthope and Easthope (2007) comment that over the last decade or so educational policy makers in Australia have tried to force the education system to serve the economy as its primary objective, which clashes with the ideology of teachers who are concerned with the support of their students. By considering the experiences and opinions of teachers when devising policies and objectives for change in Australian schools, education departments and school management teams may be able to minimise losses of investment in training due to stress-related staff turnover, sick leave, and reduced productivity. Teacher stress and well-being are subjective experiences, and so there is of course no guarantee that psychological outcomes will improve for the entire teaching workforce if organisational changes at schools are made in line with teacher self-reported priorities. However, this study adds to the literature investigating various factors that likely contribute to the overall mental well-being of the teacher population, and uniquely, from the perspective of teachers themselves around what types of interventions will be most helpful.

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Copyright information

© De La Salle University 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Adam Garrick
    • 1
  • Anita S. Mak
    • 1
  • Stuart Cathcart
    • 1
  • Peter C. Winwood
    • 2
  • Arnold B. Bakker
    • 3
  • Kurt Lushington
    • 2
  1. 1.Faculty of Health, Centre for Applied PsychologyUniversity of CanberraCanberraAustralia
  2. 2.Division of Education, Arts and Social SciencesUniversity of South AustraliaAdelaideAustralia
  3. 3.Department of Work and Organizational PsychologyErasmus University RotterdamRotterdamThe Netherlands

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