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Teacher wellbeing and social support: a phenomenological study.

By Kristina Turner, Monica Thielking & Natalie Prochazka

Background: Internationally, teachers are increasingly reporting elevated levels of stress, anxiety, exhaustion and burnout. Although social support has been found to be a protective buffer against stress, depression and burnout, there have been limited strength-based studies examining the relationship between social support and teacher wellbeing. There is also a need for qualitative research to facilitate in-depth understanding of teachers' application of positive psychology strategies to improve wellbeing. Purpose: Using the positive psychology PERMA wellbeing framework, this strengths-based, qualitative study aimed to address this gap in knowledge by asking: what are teachers' experiences of consciously providing social support to their colleagues, and what are the reported effects on their wellbeing and teaching practice? Method: The study employed a phenomenological approach. In-depth interviews were held at three time points with a small sample of five Australian teachers, none of whom had previous experience with applying positive psychology strategies to support their wellbeing. The study required participants consciously to use the positive psychology strategy of providing social support to their colleagues for 15 working days. In addition, the teachers completed daily written reflections. Data from the interviews and written reflections were analysed thematically. Findings: The core themes emerging from the data were 'eudaimonia and altruism', 'friendship' and 'pedagogical practice and professional development'. Teachers reported providing social support at work by engaging in eudaimonic and altruistic behaviours, supporting their own wellbeing, collegial relationships, pedagogical practices, professional development and whole school operational practices. Conclusion: This study highlights the importance of understanding how teachers provide social support, and the flow-on effects of socially supportive behaviours in schools. Findings from this study may inform future research and changes to pedagogical practices and professional development that are supportive of teacher social support and teacher wellbeing.

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