As the number one in-classroom factor affecting student outcomes, teachers are the linchpin in our education system. Unfortunately, research shows that teachers are currently experiencing a higher level of burnout than professionals in other fields and are looking for opportunities to leave their teaching roles earlier than planned. These findings are reflected in the second annual Merrimack College Teachers Survey results, released last month. According to the findings, American K–12 teachers feel overworked, dissatisfied at work, and have diminished mental health and wellness support. Moreover, more than four in ten (42 percent) teachers say their mental health and wellness are having a negative impact on their work.

In releasing the survey, the researchers said that education administrators and policymakers can help create a healthier and happier school environment and retain more teachers by prioritizing mental health and well-being and building teacher morale.

A new guide from WestEd provides essential and actionable information to help education leaders achieve those goals. Creating a Culture of Care: A Guide for Education Leaders to Develop Systems and Structures That Support Educator Well-Being offers guidance for developing and implementing a systemwide approach to promoting educator well-being. It also offers a menu of systemwide practices that education leaders can implement in the short-term while they work on putting together a team or identifying an existing team to design, test and implement, and iterate and improve a comprehensive, integrated, systemwide approach to ensuring educator well-being.

According to the guide’s authors, “while many educator well-being efforts are well-intentioned, they may be overly focused on solutions that often do not work in isolation, rather than focused on a comprehensive and integrated approach.”

That sentiment is echoed in the results of the Merrimack survey, which found that teachers endorsed a mixture of solutions, including training for administrators on listening to teachers and valuing their input, pay raises, and smaller class sizes.

Strategies outlined in the guide are divided into three tiers: safety and security; connectedness and belonging; and meaning, agency, and growth. They include:

Safety and Security

  • Adjusting schedules and modifying spaces to help staff meet their physical and psychological regulation needs;
  • Improving pay, benefits, and access to services;
  • Modeling and promoting work-life balance or harmony; and
  • Designing for staff diversity and individuality.

Connectedness and Belonging

  • Creating systems for responsiveness and attunement;
  • Fostering collaboration and teamwork;
  • Cultivating “brave” spaces;
  • Creating structures for co-regulation; and
  • Creating and reinforcing commitment and purpose.

Meaning, Agency, and Growth

  • Establishing systemwide commitments and policies centering equity, well-being, and care;
  • Applying an asset frame;
  • Creating opportunities for bidirectional feedback and personal and professional growth;
  • Collecting human-centered data and engaging in meaning-making with staff and leaders; and
  • Viewing staff as experts and engaging in organizational practices and processes that prioritize their choice and expertise.

“The purpose of this guide is to help education leaders create the conditions that support learning, human development, and well-being for educators so that they, their students, and the systems they function in can thrive,” said lead author Christina Pate. “Our suggestions and strategies reflect WestEd’s whole person approach to our work which is based on our conviction that every child, youth, and adult should have success in school and the workplace, personal purpose, healthy relationships, a sense of civic engagement, and a sense of place in the community.”

Pate is a project director at WestEd and leads the organization’s Safe and Supportive Learning Environments body of work. Pate’s coauthors for Creating a Culture of Care: A Guide for Education Leaders to Develop Systems and Structures That Support Educator Well-Being are Theresa Pfister and Tye Ripma, both of whom are program associates at WestEd.