The closure of schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly challenged teachers in ensuring the continuity of teaching and learning. It is critical that teachers take care of themselves during this period. The well-being of teachers is not only a vital outcome in itself but also a means to other vital outcomes, such as the learning and well-being of their students.
The OECD TALIS (Teaching and Learning International Survey) reports that those who have good relationships with students and colleagues appear to display improved well-being at work and life in general. Therefore, efforts to establish and maintain strong social relations are crucial, especially in times when we are likely to experience less social interaction than usual. While it is important that we practise social distancing, maintaining social connectivity is also vital. Teachers should be given opportunities to communicate and demonstrate their work, using the same methods of communication that they use for online teaching. In this time of crisis, technology can help to intensify teacher collaboration, well beyond their school boundaries. Teachers should work together to pool open online learning tools and digital learning platforms. They can quickly enhance their digital learning opportunities, and encourage collaboration among teachers through online training resources or virtual professional networks.
The COVID-19 pandemic can certainly be described as a new situation for everyone as it is constantly evolving and unpredictable. Thus, it is safe to assume adaptability is much more important now than ever before. Teachers need to be adaptable in this crisis by managing their thoughts, actions and emotions to effectively navigate new, changing or uncertain situations.
Throughout the crisis, teachers must respond to their students' changing needs, adapt to manage unforeseen circumstances, and modify their teaching plans when changes occur. They need to strategically reduce their expectations and identify a few specific areas of syllabus they want their students to focus on. They also need to change their way of thinking and attitudes about how students learn digitally and how to use technology in teaching as never before. For those who are not technologically savvy, they need to seek help for any technological needs, and manage their emotions by reining in potential anxiety as they navigate emerging technologies and engage students in remote learning in various ways.
Research in the field of education has indicated that teachers with more adaptability report greater workplace well-being. Adaptable teachers also demonstrate greater dedication to their jobs and lower disengagement in the workplace. Disengagement at work happens when teachers reach a stage where they put very little or no effort into their work, mostly because of repeated job stress experiences. Considering the changing situation with COVID-19, adaptability is likely to be extremely necessary for teachers to handle these challenging times effectively in the coming weeks and months.
Support from school leaders
School leaders could also play an important role in helping teachers. TALIS reports that teachers who believe their school management is supportive tend to show greater buoyancy in the workplace. In the current situation, workplace buoyancy includes their ability to effectively handle problems, which can be especially valuable in addressing the challenges presented by COVID-19. Teachers experienced more positive relationships with students, greater work-related well-being and lower emotional stress when they consider their school administrators to be more supportive.
School leaders could provide support by listening to the needs of teachers, understanding their online teaching and learning limitations, providing teachers with opportunities to voice their challenges when teaching remotely during COVID-19 and access to technical and pedagogical support. Perhaps what this crisis really brings to the fore is the need for effective leadership at all levels of the system of education. These times require leaders focusing on resources, building capacity, and creating the right support designed to promote teachers well-being and development.
Assoc Prof Dr Juliana Othman is with the Department of Language and Literacy Education, Faculty of Education, University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur.