Exploring what keeps teachers cool under pressure

July 23, 2012

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A Murdoch University-led initiative is turning the growing issue of teacher attrition on its head by examining what makes long-term teachers stay in their jobs.

Led by Dr Caroline Mansfield and Dr Anne Price, the ALTC-funded Keeping Cool: Building Teachers’ Resilience offers hope to a profession that has an attrition rate of between 25 and 40 per cent in the first five years.

“Shifting from attrition to resilience offers the potential for more effective interventions. We’ve heard teachers explaining why they left; now we’re listening to them say, ‘this is what helped me stay’,” Dr Mansfield said.

Phrases like ‘don’t take it personally’, ‘find time to laugh’ and ‘take the dog for a run’ from 259 participants have helped create a four-dimensional framework for resilience. Emotional, social, motivational and professional-related aspects overlap and overarch to take into account the complexity of the issue.

“We didn’t want to develop a checklist for resilience, because so much depends on the interaction of the individual and the environment. Friends, family, fellow staff members and school community all contribute,” says Dr Price.

Keeping Cool is very much about making new teachers feel they are not alone and empowering them to find help. The project features a Facebook page and a website with a wealth of resources for both teachers and students.

Drs Mansfield and Price hope universities will consider their findings and incorporate them into undergraduate teacher education programs.

“The framework emphasises the importance of new teachers not only developing competence in curriculum and teaching and learning strategies, but also having the skills to manage the emotional aspects of teachers’ work,” Dr Mansfield said.

Drs Mansfield and Price said they were also interested in asking why classroom conditions are making teachers need to develop greater resilience skills to survive in the profession.

“We need to question increasing class sizes, standardised testing, performance pay schemes and other trends,” Dr Price said.

Keeping Cool involves researchers from Murdoch University, Curtin University and RWTH Aachen University, Germany. More information can be found at www.keepingcool.edu.au

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