Teacher workload and wellbeing during the lockdown in England - Insights from a teacher diary study

Teacher workload and wellbeing during the lockdown in England - Insights from a teacher diary study

14 Dec 2022 (22:07)

Teacher workload and wellbeing during the lockdown in England: Insights from a teacher diary study. Martin Johnson and Tori Coleman, BERA conference 6-8 September 2022.

Video transcript

[00:00:01] Hello, I'm Martin Johnson, and I want to talk to you about some research that I did with my colleague Tori Coleman, which was covering a five month period over the pandemic. And it was collecting data from teachers, principally using a diary method to understand their experiences of working during that very, very interesting time. We're going to reflect on the use of diary methods, their affordances and challenges, and then also share some insights into the relationship between workload and wellbeing. The study itself is principally a study of changes to teaching and assessment practices during the pandemic. That's what we were very clearly interested in. But wellbeing was a secondary concern and attached to the idea that workload we anticipated would be changing. So wellbeing might be something that would be affected by that. And the participants we worked with were 15 teachers who were working at a level where their students were going into an assessment period, so GCSE or A-level, and they were teachers of a variety of subjects which we felt might be affected adversely by the pandemic. For example, they had performance elements like PE or science, practicals, geography, field trips. And so we felt that they would be an interesting group of teachers to think about. Thinking about wellbeing and how we operationalise that concept because it's quite a complex area. We knew that there was prior research which showed that teacher wellbeing had been a concern even before the pandemic. And then when the pandemic arose and remote teaching started, some research started to emerge from people like Lisa Kim at York, where it was realised that socially distanced learning and assessment responsibilities were having a toll on teachers' wellbeing.

[00:02:17] There's also some very interesting work coming out of Australia, Melanie Brooks and her colleagues, where people are starting to make connections between the idea that teachers are involved in emotional labour. So well being has an interactional element and it's related to teachers' relationships with their own family, with their students, with other teachers at a professional level and so on. And so we need to think of it in a in a rounded way. So to operationalise teacher wellbeing, we drew on Rebecca Collie's work where she'd broken it into three aspects or three dimensions. She talks about workload wellbeing, which are the administrative marking work, after school work and so on the teachers would be engaged in. There's organisational wellbeing, which is really around involvement of the teacher in things like decisions, decision making within their organisation, how much support they get from their leaders. And then the student interaction wellbeing, which is all about the relationships that the teachers have with their students and aspects of student behaviour and so on. Forget the findings. Just a little reminder of the study context it was positioned in at the very start of 2021 where we collected our data over 19 week period. Literally, the teachers had just gone into a period of lockdown. The schools had pretty much closed at the start of January 2021.

[00:03:59] And so we collected data throughout that period and throughout the period where in school started to reopen. And teachers were having to start to collect and submit their assessment grades for their students. So prior to this study period, teachers were being led to expect that examinations would take place. But actually, during the period of our study, those arrangements were changing and teachers were having to adjust to teacher assessment grade submissions. So that was a new practice and different from the previous year of central assessed grades, which was a slightly different process. The design itself had probably three different forms of data gathering. So the diaries had the principle. They were the centre of the data gathering. We had six diaries over a 14 week period. And these solicited diaries were based on a set of prompts things which we would ask repeatedly. For example, how is your content and assessment work changing? How is your wellbeing? How is your workload? And some things changed. So our schools reopened. For example, we asked them about the experience of that. So we were able to tweak things over time to to respond to changes within the teaching environment. And there are also open spaces for teachers to respond in ways about things that they wanted to talk about. And around that diary period, we had a pre diary survey and a post diary survey where we asked them about their workload and wellbeing. And we also had an interview at the beginning, at the end of the process.

[00:05:56] The beginning was probably more about getting to know the teachers and letting them tell us about their context. And the post diary interview was much more about clarifying and mopping up and working out, you know, did we understand the diary data well enough to be able to report? A little bit about why we chose the methods we did and why did we choose diaries. There are a number of affordances that we wanted to capitalise on. So they're good diaries, a good reflection of encouraging reflection. Tony Kaye talks about inaction on practice so you can gather things in situ before you forget them. And while you're thinking about them and while they're recorded, they give you the potential opportunity to reflect on that later on. There's less of a chance of a problem of recall error, which is something that qualitative methods might sometimes fall down by. They have a longitudinal capacity, so it allows us to see patterns in behaviours. So are things worn off or do they repeat and, you know, are they long standing? And there's also a notion of habituation Zoe Baker talks about, which is the idea that it becomes a habitual practice when you're recording things and you soon forget or soon come to forget as a writer who the audience are, who you're writing for. So it becomes the agenda setter, if you like. Whoever sets the prompts becomes more background in the consciousness of the the writer.

[00:07:39] So therefore you get potentially more authentic responses over time. Theories are intuitive and accessible, so people don't need a lot of training to use them. And the participants have a good level of control and they can be flexible in when they want to submit things. So that works around schedules. A number of challenges. Lincoln and Cuba worry about the trustworthiness of qualitative data. Trustworthiness is the measure of quality, if you like, of the type of data that you're looking at. And one of the concerns is that you can have aspects of self censorship in diary work. Understandably, people might not want to tell you everything. And so one way around this is to have aspects of triangulation where you could capture data in other forms, which you can use to sort of support the diary outcomes and to help you to understand those diary outcomes. There's an issue of reactivity, which Zoe Baker talks about. The idea that people are responding to the agenda of somebody else when they are engaged in recording a solicited diary. And we're quite clear about that in that we think maybe that's not necessarily a weakness. We are clear that we were asking certain questions and focusing the attention of our teachers. So in a way, we were using reactivity in a very directed way. We wanted to harness that, but we have to be aware that we don't get everything. You know, there are things that we wouldn't have collected because we didn't ask the questions.

[00:09:21] And we have to be honest to say actually some things we allowed the teachers to just record in their own way. So we didn't set all of the agenda. Response variability is a thing that you have to think about when you're looking at diary work, because you have to be ready to pick up any types of responses that you might not anticipate. And your analytical framework has to be able to cope with that. And then there are issues of participant commitment in any form of data collection, which is longitudinal. So you might have drop out from participants. And so for ours, we didn't. In fact, the only drop out we had was before the diary started, and it was too late for us to recruit somebody else. But we also offered to donate to we paid our teachers for their time. We gave them a donation as a thank you to a small, small sum just to just to say thank you for their time, really, because it was a really busy and emotional time. I want to talk about the outcomes. So I'm going to talk about workload and wellbeing and actually some of the things that we found out which might have mediated that relationship of how wellbeing and workload interacted. Looking at the diary data itself, there are really four aspects of workload we could lift thematically. And these were to do with lockdown work. Health workers return to school work and assessment work. Lockdown work was really around the uncertainty of the change in practices and concerns about how long this was going to go on.

[00:11:07] So there was additional work to try and adjust to that new types of work. There were health concerns from teachers about themselves and others, maybe family and other professionals and students. But there was also a workload that related to having to carry other people's work because some people weren't around to do things at times and at very short notice. The return to school meant there were other changing practices, particularly around dealing with hybrid teaching, which teachers felt was probably the worst of both worlds and having to prepare for a very quick change. So if something happened and you had to return to remote teaching, you had to be ready for that. And then finally, assessment work. And some of this was about the changing roles of teachers from not just being the teacher of these students who they're very close to, to also being a judge of the performances and how this could leave teachers feeling slightly uneasy about this shift. When we looked at the workload balance overall, we asked to teach to describe their workload during each diary session and we could notice that a couple of things. So along the side here, you have all 15 teachers and at the top you have each diary and you can see over time that the teachers move. In terms of the perceptions to a point where they think they were working at a very high

[00:12:52] unmanageable level of workload. And that coincided with the time where they were moving towards assessment. So that is something of interest to look at. It wasn't universal. I mean, the fact that all teachers felt that they had a very high workload and Diary six was universal. But as we move towards that, some teachers actually claimed that they were having low or marginal manageable workload at times. For example, Teacher eight who was a PE teacher and they reflected on the fact that they weren't having to do outdoor games at that time so that they were doing slightly less than they would have otherwise been doing at this time in previous years. But there was a shift. Moving towards a different representation of this workload so that we can look at wellbeing on top of it. We present this as absolute. So the number of teachers who are reporting very high levels of workload, you can see it's all minus numbers which suggested that the workload was was high. That's what that means. And you can see over time the trend drifts towards the end period where everybody is reporting very, very high workload. A couple of interesting points here is that. Workload seems to become less pronounced during the break times half term and Easter. It doesn't become completely manageable, but it moves towards the more manageable end of the spectrum. And that doesn't mean that teachers weren't working. It meant that they were either, in some cases taking a break from work.

[00:14:30] But in most cases they were talking about catching up on other work that they hadn't done in advance. So it was a space to catch up rather than to do no work. And when we overlay this with the wellbeing. I would have anticipated that we'd have had a very similar. There's a decline over time towards Diary six, but not so. The wellbeing reflections are not quite as negative. There's still a negative, a fair degree of negative wellbeing. That's fair to be said, but it doesn't have a declining trend. It sort of stays relatively consistent and it has that similar pattern to workload where, you know, the break times suggest that wellbeing raised ever so slightly. So there's something going on which is breaking that relationship, which you might have thought would have been a direct relationship between workload and wellbeing. The harder you work, the less wellbeing you have. And so to look at that, we need to look at perhaps the survey data which helps us to position what wellbeing is and how it might be different. Using Rebecca Collie's dimensions. You can see these along the bottom of the graph. And these data were taken at the beginning, at the end of these of the diary period. Dark blue is at the beginning. Light blue at the end for was the medium point. So everything above that was contributing positively to wellbeing and, and dimensions that were being rated below that were contributing negatively to wellbeing. And you can see there see, there's a there's a stability about this.

[00:16:22] So those things which were positively contributing to wellbeing, like relations with students, the far left end, stay stable over time there, there's not much change. Similarly, at the far right end marking work, which was. Contributing negatively to wellbeing, you know, stays the same. It doesn't change. And when we look a bit more closely at these clusters and groupings, there are sort of two groups. There are four at one end and eight at the other, which are either consistently above or consistently below the four rating. And when we look even more closely at those things, we see that student interaction wellbeing stays positive in terms of its contribution to wellbeing. Whereas workload wellbeing actually contributes negatively consistently over the the diary period. So what that seems to suggest is that these aspects of wellbeing are mediating the relationship with workload. And actually, not all work is contributing negatively to wellbeing. So looking at those things, there are maybe five themes from the diary which support this suggestion. So we have in the first case organisational support, so support from managers and in schools, which is helping teachers to to cope and to thrive a bit more. We have social support from colleagues which is supporting wellbeing. Collie doesn't really consider this in her dimensions, but this is the idea of teacher interaction and that seems to have been something which supported teachers wellbeing. And then the last three areas are in the student interaction wellbeing area.

[00:18:22] So seeing students, the importance of chat and being back in face to face lessons was considered to be a positive. Student behaviour was considered generally positive. The idea of students even saying thank you at the end of a lesson. You know, that was something which teachers really thrived from. It contributes to their positive wellbeing. And then finally, stronger relationships with students, which might be a surprise. But even during lockdown, teachers were talking about the idea that they were able to get to know students in ways that they didn't when they were in face to face classes, so they were able to spend time with them. So it was harder work and there was much more work to be done. But actually they felt it was worthwhile and it contributed positively to their wellbeing. So a final reflection on on the method of solicited diaries. We felt that they really fell into three thematic areas. They really helped the teachers to document the events that they were experiencing. And these they were able to link to their emotions. So these events include the small things which they might have otherwise overlooked, but they were able then to reflect on those things afterwards. And that moves us into the second area, which is diaries were helping to structure thought. So with our prompts and with the consistent sort of way that we presented the diaries. The diaries were helping the teachers to focus attention. It gave them a framework to order their thinking, to set out their ideas.

[00:20:10] So it broke down some of the holistic nature of of experience so people could set them out. There's an idea that the audience was actually us as researchers, but it was also themselves. And this is an interesting area, I think, for reflection. And finally, there were wellbeing benefits for the teachers. Talked about the cathartic nature of diary writing. And there's been other work recently which has found the same, same thing where people are in areas are in times of of high stress. Getting it off your chest and sharing it with others is a real positive thing, so long as you're not burdening someone else with it. And that's one area where you might get back into the self censorship debate. But actually our teachers enjoyed and got something out of sharing their ideas. And finally, there's a transformative element of design. So our teachers were reflecting in action and then on their practice, and that meant that diary writing had a retrospective and also a prospective capacity because they were then talking about how they were going to change practice after thinking about what was happening in their classes, which they otherwise would have missed out thinking about. And so that leads into the concept of feedforward. So their reflections were leading into future actions and changing practice, which is which was interesting. And so finally, here are the references that I've used from my presentation and. Hopefully you've enjoyed it. Thank you very much.

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