The effect of the pandemic on teacher wellbeing – Evaluating the impact and preparing for school reopening

This post is also available in: Español 

Foto de los panelistas y una profesora Main Photo: Universidad Técnica Particular de Loja / Flickr / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 / Adaptation to black and white with a blue wash

On June 17, the Education Program at the Inter-American Dialogue with the support of the Tinker Foundation hosted the third event in a series of Evaluation and Civil Society Seminars (summaries of the first and the second seminars are available in Spanish). These events are a product of the work done by the Civil Society Working Group. In addition, this seminar also included the collaboration of the Latin American Coalition for Teaching Excellence within the framework of its call with guidelines to support teachers during the reopening. 

This third event, titled "Impacts of the pandemic on teacher wellbeing – Understanding the effects and preparing for reopening," sought to highlight the experiences of Latin America’s teachers during the pandemic, as well as present existing strategies and varied alternatives to measure the emotional state and wellbeing of teachers. 

Sandra García Jaramillo, associate professor at the School of Government of the Universidad de los Andes and non-resident senior fellow in the Education Program of the Inter-American Dialogue moderated the event. Elena Duro, executive director of the Programa Presencia en Educación, Argentina; Joaquín Walker, executive director of Elige Educar, Chile; Marina Ferraz, research coordinator at the Peninsula Institute, Brazil; Claudia Romero, director of the Senior School Management Program at the Universidad Torcuato Di Tella (UTDT), Argentina; and Leandro Chernicoff, academic and research director at AtentaMente, Mexico, all presented. 

Elena Duro opened with a presentation about Programa Presencia en Educación in Argentina, which is a teacher-training program based on the relationship between neuroscience and wellbeing. Duro explained that scientific research shows that sustained attention, emotional regulation, self-reflection, and cultivation of prosocial attitudes have a huge impact on personal and collective wellbeing, greater meaning and purpose in life, better connections with others, increased brain integration, and improvements in immune function. Based on this, they designed the Programa Presencia to strengthen teachers’ emotional toolbox.  

Emotional development requires sustained and systematized practice; to address this, the Programa Presencia created nine modules with content lessons and exercises. Among other topics, the modules deal with: emotions, thoughts, attitudes, effective communication, and social awareness, all centered around four objectives: awareness, compassion, prosocial attitudes, and collective intelligence and committed action. The program was piloted with approximately 500 teachers through 15 sessions. Results from this initial experience, which measured depression, tiredness, anxiety, and mindfulness, showed that 97 percent of the participants considered that their emotional wellbeing improved. Additionally, 92 percent considered that after the program they had greater resources to manage their emotional state, and 87 percent were interested in continuing to practice the exercises they had learned. At the beginning of this year, the program added 1500 teachers, and in the second half of the year, they hope to add another 5000 and expand outside of Argentina, starting in Panama.  

Next up, Joaquín Walker shared the work and research done by Elige Educar, an NGO that aims to strengthen the teaching profession in Chile. During the pandemic, the Elige Educar team developed three surveys that they sent out to 7000 teachers in order to better understand teaching practices and the impact on mental health during the pandemic. The results showed high levels of stress and tiredness among Chilean educators. Walker explained that while these trends were likely seen across all professional settings during the pandemic, teachers, in particular, carry the weight of being students’ emotional support. He shared that, in the surveys, teachers classified student wellbeing as more important than meeting certain learning objectives, leading to the conclusion that "without wellbeing, there is no learning.” Finally, Walker concluded by acknowledging the great adaptability and innovation that took place during the pandemic, providing the example of teachers who used various platforms to communicate with students and continued teaching despite obstacles.  

Marina Ferraz shared research conducted by the Peninsula Institute in Brazil on teachers’ perceptions and emotions through the pandemic’s various stages. Ferraz presented the results of surveys that measured teachers' emotional state, showing strong feelings of burnout, anxiety, and tiredness. These results were very similar to those presented by Walker, shedding light on the shared experiences of teachers in the region during the pandemic. Both presentations also touched on questions of gender, with women, who make up the majority of the teacher workforce and typically fulfill the role of the family caregiver, being the most affected. 

Ferraz shared that teachers' biggest concern during the pandemic was their students’ mental and physical health—placing this concern above their own, also deteriorating, mental health. Surveys showed that 84 percent of teachers did not feel prepared for remote education, not least because 88 percent had never taught remotely before. Here, Ferraz noted differences among teachers according to their students’ age group; those who teach students 17 and older felt the most prepared, while those who teach younger children felt the least prepared. Teachers had an ongoing fear of students dropping out of school, and surveys showed that this concern was much more present in teachers than in the students' families (teacher perception: 61 percent, family perception: 33 percent). Finally, Ferraz mentioned some of the positive legacies that the pandemic will hopefully leave, for example, a greater appreciation for the teaching profession, recognition of the importance of technology in education, and the emergence of more dynamic ways of teaching and learning.  

Claudia Romero followed, presenting the preliminary results of research carried out by the Senior School Management Program of the Torcuato Di Tella University, which focused on the social-emotional wellbeing of school principals in Argentina during the pandemic. Principals were primarily responsible for upholding the institutional framework of education during the pandemic. They had additional challenges beyond those faced by teachers since they had to plan and manage school operations during periods of high uncertainty. The research involved 252 principals working with approximately 87,000 students (it should be noted that the sample was not representative, but instead drawn based on convenience). 

The surveys measured the emotional state of principals on the Burnout Scale, or MBI (measuring emotional fatigue, depersonalization, and personal fulfillment). Preliminary results showed that: more advanced age in principals correlated with less emotional fatigue; additional years of experience as a principal correlated with greater depersonalization; greater heterogeneity in school enrollment (for instance, students in homes with various degrees of connectivity) correlated with increased emotional fatigue and depersonalization among principals; and working at the high school level correlated with greater depersonalization. One of the preliminary conclusions drawn at the end of the research was the dual phenomenon of burnout and job satisfaction. For many principals, personal fulfillment was very high at the end of the school year, as they felt a sense of achievement. However, these same principals also had high levels of fatigue and burnout. Romero concluded by emphasizing that, in order to have strong and healthy schools, strong and healthy principals are needed.  

Leandro Chernicoff, of AtentaMente, was the last speaker on the panel. He spoke about socio-emotional education in Mexico before, during, and after the pandemic. Before the pandemic, Mexico's national curriculum included social-emotional education in 2016. During Covid-19, surveys conducted by AtentaMente showed a reality in Mexico very similar to those previously presented by Duro and Romero in Argentina, with high levels of anxiety, fatigue, and burnout in teachers. To help in these areas, AtentaMente conducted virtual courses during the pandemic to support teachers. Chernicoff concluded by talking about the "after," which entails preparing for a return to the classroom, recognizing and reaffirming the need for social-emotional education in school settings, and being alert to the consequences that the pandemic has had on mental health. 

The event ended with a conversation between all of the panelists, which highlighted that the pandemic shed light on the importance of the emotional component of education. The participants of the event asked about the research and data that different countries had before the pandemic in these topics. When answering this question, the panelists echoed one another, recounting similar experiences where they realized that there was not enough information about pre-pandemic social-emotional wellbeing. Here, they mentioned that this should be seen as a learning experience, and then posed the question: how can schools systematically incorporate assessments about the wellbeing of students and teachers into existing evaluation plans? Finally, the panelists concluded by giving recommendations for the reopening of schools, emphasizing the importance of trust and support among all parties—school, family, students, and government. 



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