'Australian research on educators' wellbeing' In Focus webinar presented by Dr Tamara Cumming and Sara Richardson on 13 June 2023.
Hello, everybody, and welcome to our In Focus Be You webinar, Australian research on educators' wellbeing, how it can help us sustain and retain staff. I'm Sara Richardson, and I'm a Be You National Manager, working for Early Childhood Australia, and I'm your facilitator for today's webinar. Just a little bit about Be You. If you don't know, some of you may not have heard much about Be You. It's a national initiative led by Beyond Blue in partnership with Early Childhood Australia and headspace. It's funded by the Australian Government. One of the things Be You aims to do is transform Australia's approach to supporting children and young people's mental health in early learning services and schools, so operating across the whole education system from birth right through to eighteen. And today's conversation is going to be really interesting to think about how wellbeing and mental health work together, and how we can talk about them and think about what that looks like in practice. Also, stay tuned to learn more about how you can register and participate and explore ways to use Be You to improve mental health and wellbeing in your service. I'm joining you today from Kaurna Country. So I'd like to say ‘Naa marni’, and pay respects to Kaurna elders, past and present. I also want to acknowledge any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people joining us today, and invite all of you to pay and acknowledge the lands that you're joining on in whatever way you would like to, and feels right for you, and you can do that in the chat.
Little bit of housekeeping, too. So we are going to have conversations, as I said about mental health, and consider, learn and reflect on our context of early childhood and the correlation between mental health and wellbeing. One of the things that's really important when we do have these conversations is that we feel safe to have the conversation, and it's a safe space to share and learn with each other. So please only share what you feel comfortable sharing in our polls or in the chat. Remember to maintain confidentiality: meaning anything you contribute, but also what you hear from others.
Also Help Lines will be posted throughout the webinar. So please access them if you need to, and talk to someone and take care of you of yourself as we talk about mental health today. A little bit more housekeeping and some tech tips, so you can maximise your learning together online today. Most people are probably pretty savvy nowadays. But if you want to, if you'd like to see on screen speaker view, you can select that up in the top corner. There is a zoom help centre, if you need any IT assistance, and that will be posted in the chat for you to access. Just reach out if you're having trouble and one of the facilitators in the background will help you too. We have a question opportunity and a chat function today. So make sure you use the Questions Box for any questions that you have, but share any comments that you have in the chat as well. We're hoping to respond to as many of your queries as possible during today's session, see how we go. And helping me do that today is the team in the background, setting up this webinar. So Dino and Nathan and Maria, and you also see Nikki and Kyle in the chat as well.
Just to let you know too, that any links to resources or references we use in the content will be posted in the chat, and there'll be a downloadable handout that you can access via the chat that kind of collates all of that in one space. There, also, we have some reflective questions to the handout. So that if you want to consider carrying on the learning in your own community with your team later on, after the webinar, you'll be able to use those reflective questions for any professional learning you want to do with your team, and these will be available post-webinar, with the recording. Anybody who's attending live today will get an automated email after the webinar with a link for access to the recording, and your certificate of attendance. Then there's also a link to conduct, complete a survey, and we really appreciate if you would fill that in to give us any feedback.
Just to note, we also are offering, just for people who are attending live today the opportunity to join a Be You Spotlight, which is a much more interactive kind of opportunity than a webinar where we tend to, you don't have opportunity to turn your camera on or ask questions out loud via your microphone. So you'll get links to the registration for that in the chat later on too. But let us know if you're interested in continuing that conversation in that format. And there are other Spotlights you can access on via the Be You website too if you're interested in learning more about Be You. So, I think that's probably all I need. As I said, if you've got any more questions please ask them in the chat in the Q&A. And any comments you've got in the chat Nikki and Kyle and Maria will be there.
I'm really pleased to welcome Tamara, Dr Tamara Cumming, Senior Lecturer in Early Childhood Education at Macquarie University, and co-lead of the Early Childhood Educators’ Wellbeing Project. So I'm sure Tamara will talk to you a little bit more about who she is and what she does. But her focus on the research of that project focuses on wellbeing of the early childhood workforce. And I think, really interesting to me, is the complexity of early childhood practice. It's a really complex sector, and I think it's not acknowledged enough, and we don't talk about it enough. And that is certainly part of this story as well. Tamara has worked in the early childhood sector for, I'd say 20 years Tamara, and as we do in the early childhood sector, we were both saying before, oh, I think I've met you before, and we possibly have. So we come across each other, and you've worked as a Preschool educator, Inclusion Support Manager, and researcher. And I think you know, something that all of us do but I really, you know, really want to acknowledge the advocacy work that you do, too. And I think there's a really strong piece of that work that you're doing as part of this research, too. So just to continue to talk about the focus of the webinar, and then I'll, we'll hear from Tamara, which I'm really looking forward to about the project and about her work.
One of the things in Be You is we use the term ‘educators’. So today, when you hear the word educator, we're really going to be talking about the workforce. So as a shortcut, I'm not sure if that's how you do it too Tamara, sometimes, we'll be talking about leaders as well as directors, maybe there's so many different terms people have for different roles, so we'll probably just use the term educator. So the wellbeing of educators, can be really hard to maintain. And I think, you know, we were talking about this before COVID, I think COVID and some of the other things that have been happening in recent times have kind of really brought wellbeing to the fore and people are really wanting to talk about it now, which is fantastic. And I think what we want to do now is move on to, well what are we going to do about that? Let's still keep talking about it. What does that look like in practice? What are the things we can do? And one of the things in Be You we've really moved on from is, I'm rushing myself ahead, is moving from self-care to wellbeing and looking at that. So we'll have a talk about that, too, and maybe we will click on to the next slide. So let's hear from Tamara. Do you want to say anything else before we jump into the poll?
Dr Tamara Cumming
I'm scared to come off mute because I start going, and I don't stop. But I just meant to say how delighted I am on behalf of our team, our educators’ wellbeing team, to have this opportunity to talk directly with you all. It's just fantastic. I'd really like to thank Be You for inviting me to talk about that work, and let you all know that I know it's the end of your day, and thanks for coming along.
Sara RichardsonGreat, thank you Tamara. So what we're going to ask you to do right now is a couple of things. First of all in the chat. Let us know what your role is. Remember before I mentioned we will have people from a whole range of different roles, we kept calling you all educators today, but we'd really love to hear who you are. At the same time, if you're able to, we're going to launch a poll and find out from you why you came along today, what you're interested in finding out about. So we'll launch that poll now.
So this will really help Tamara. And I guess, focus our conversation and maybe shape where we head little bit. So some people are, we're asking you to think about your personal wellbeing, your own wellbeing, the advocacy piece about the sector, that the pieces of work that you've been looking at in particular, Tamara around retention of staff, disengaged staff, improving the whole team's wellbeing, but if there's anything else, please let us know.
Dr Tamara CummingSo exciting. I see that poll and go *gasp* research! Even though it's not research, it's just a poll. But yes, it is exciting. And Sara if I just, can I just say something while we're polling, which is, I think that point about you know, we use this short hand of educators, but really, we're talking about teachers. We're talking about directors and other leaders in early childhood services. And we're certainly finding the more research that we conduct in educators wellbeing, the more that we realise, this might be a surprise to the audience, that there are particular wellbeing needs for particular groups of people in early childhood education. Not just according to qualifications, but also culturally and linguistically diverse, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander educators, all sorts of groups as well as those qualification groups.
So I think that's, sorry I've started into my points now, but that's one of my latest things, not latest things but latest findings, you know. It's really backed by research. And we're really beginning to hear more of those voices which is really important, because it's always going to help us, ourselves and yourselves and your role as well as everyone listening and watching in their roles, in how to support people as best they can, and as particularly as they can.
Yes, and I'm sure we will get into this later, too. I agree with you. I think that's part of the sophistication of understanding this is not just a thing we should talk about, but there's whole lot of nuances. And that gets back to the complexity, too, doesn't it? You know it's the complex sector and leadership’s really important, powerful and important. So, understanding those nuances is going to be really helpful. So Nikki, in the chat, has just collated and I think we’re not surprised. We have centre directors, we have educational leaders, we have teachers like you said, nominated supervisors, family day care coordinators, we have some room leaders, pedagogical leaders, got some social inclusion support people too, so I think, picking up on all those roles that you talked about. So it's great that you know everybody can come and contribute to this. And I think ,you know, having said that leadership is critical, I think everybody has a role to play. This is one of those things where everybody can contribute to the discussion and the practice of taking care of wellbeing and understanding, and knowing what it looks like, and those kind of things.
Dr Tamara Cumming
Sara I'm also just noticing, as people say where they from in the chat, that we've got people from family day care, from occasional care. I saw someone who was in a school counsellor role. And also, it's so delightful to see people where there's a few people. I imagine them all sitting together watching, and I, that's, I think that's fantastic, because you know, hopefully, you know those people are in an Action Team, maybe. And you know, that's part of the activity of an Action Team or something like that. It's just fantastic to see people of all kinds of levels and service types.
Yes, loving you using that Be You language too. Be You Action Team is what we call the group of people who lead the Be You activity in their team. And again, that's that notion of leadership isn't like, you can't just do that as one person, and often that's a trap we fall into, that you actually have to engage everybody, and you have to. It's much more effective if it's across the whole service, and you leverage who you can, and those people who are keen or able to help you makes, you can make much more of a difference.
Dr Tamara Cumming
And I think as well, It does the work of wellbeing, while you're doing the work of wellbeing for others, in that it's spreading the load. So it's not always up to the director, the 2IC, or the Educational Leader. And it's a really great way for people to get experience if they want to be stepping into kind of leading roles, and to work with others. You know what I mean. It does so many bits of work as well as you know, the content work of the Action Team.
Sara RichardsonAre we going to see the results of the poll? Oh, excellent! Thank you. Let's have a look.The other thing I was just going to say too, and this is what's going to happen, we're going to go down rabbit holes I think. I think the other bit that's really important about early childhood, and this is not going to be anything that is a surprise to anybody, but it's relational. And that sense of belonging, connectedness and doing things together is actually part of who we are and our professional identity. And this work shouldn't be any different. It shouldn't just sit with one person. So anyway, let's go and have a look. So it's a pretty even spread, except, oh, they're gone.
Wellbeing of the team was really interesting. So a lot of people looking at that. The rest of them a fairly, you know, looking at your own personal wellbeing, I think some people are really interested in. I think that's important too.
Dr Tamara Cumming
Is that consistent with the kind of things you've been noticing? Or is that?
Dr Tamara Cumming
Yes, I think so. I think It's interesting. Because with my research I had on, so I've been doing research to do with educators' practice really since 2010, and particularly to do with wellbeing since 2017, and this is one of the biggest things that people want to know, which again makes sense. And like, I just wanted to say, while I'm talking today, you might think, well, yes. But in a way, that's why we also need research. Because myself and my colleagues are really connected in with the sector, and we know what's happening. You know what's happening. But the way for it to make a difference is for it to be captured in really good quality evidence. And so that's part of why we do this work. And as I said, you'll quite often go, well, yes, I knew that. But now we've actually got the numbers to prove it. And so that's a really important role of research, for myself and the team.
But one of the interesting things about research to do with early childhood educator wellbeing, is that there's very little that evaluates or that records what people are doing to help improve the wellbeing of their team, and not a lot that evaluates it.So you might, you know, if you go for a bit of a look around the internet on resources to support the wellbeing of your team, forget early childhood. You could spend any amount of money on these programs. And really, how would you know if they're going to work, if they're going to work well for you? So, to be honest, it's an under-explored area, but it's certainly one that I think, now that we've got wellbeing for the ECE workforce on the agenda, and, in fact, in the national workforces strategy, which is really exciting. I think we're going to begin to move in that direction of being able to say, these are the kinds of things that will work.
Now I should have said, sorry Sara, of course, that and I'm not saying, I'm not being paid to present this today. I honestly do believe in what Be You does. Because I know how strongly backed it is by solid evidence, and absolutely, our evidence is very similar, you know it tells the same story.So I'm telling you that I think you can definitely depend on Be You and any of the great resources that are there, and especially again. Sorry to do the sell, but if you're new to experiencing Be You, make sure that you do the dig into all those links to see what's there, because there are a lot of great resources. And a lot of it comes down to you and your colleagues, regardless of your role, understanding what's going on and what aspects of wellbeing perhaps, aren't going so well. So that point, improving the wellbeing of my team. Sorry Sara, you just tell me when to stop.
So the way that we look at educator wellbeing in our research project is in a holistic way, and so we're looking at the individual. But we're also looking at what's going on in their work environment, what's going on in the sort of regulatory environment as well. So, and sort of in that, as well if you might belong to an organisation like one of the corporates, or a bigger, not for profit, you know, that kind of organisation, that's kind of service level, and there can be area level and corporate level and all of those things have an influence on your own wellbeing.So then, we also have within the individual level, we look at the psychological wellbeing as well as the physiological wellbeing. So that's why, you know, there's a couple of ways that we think of it holistically.
And I think that although that's like a conceptualisation, It's a definition or a, you know, a model for understanding wellbeing, it is actually very practical, because it gives you different levels that you can think about with the team in terms of what's the problem. So, for example, something that's kind of at that regulatory level that we hear, really often, as something that could compromise the team's wellbeing is paperwork. So I've only got to say that word, probably, and you know apologies, apologies If your heart rate is going. But that's an example of something from that regulatory level that actually comes down to the service level and the individual level that can really impact on wellbeing. So, what can you as a team do about that? You're not necessarily going to ACECQA and you know, say something, though there are often opportunities to do that, to give feedback.
But you can really understand what the NQS is asking you to look at and what it's not asking you to do. You know, you know, I know there's a lot. I'm not saying there's not a lot, but just make sure you're not making it into more than what the regulations and the NQS are telling you to do, because, you know, people will say, oh we have to do all these observations, well, where in the NQS does it actually say that? Anyway, that's just a small example.
I think that's fantastic. And what we were going to start off with, I'm going to go backwards, what you were just saying then is being really thoughtful and intentional. And that's one of the things we really want people to think about with, if they're going to access the Be You resources. I saw a comment pop up going, there's so many resources, and we don't have time. So I think it's about the plan and the doing it together. What is it you want to work on? Just do one bit at a time. Try not to do everything, and I think we can apply that beyond just thinking about our mental health as well. The other thing, oh, you go.
Dr Tamara CummingI was just going to say, Sara, I think you know, that might sound really frustrating because you go: I've got four people who've resigned in the last two months. You'd be lucky if it's only four. And we need to do something right now. And yes, you do. But I think you would know yourselves in pedagogy that when you take your time and think about it, and work as a group and be purposeful, you're going to get a better outcome. And it does take you being patient, and this is a time, where we all know how drastically critical the workforce shortages are. We know how terribly exhausted the workforce is after COVID. We know all of that.
So I think it's also about using your time wisely and finding ways to make it work. But taking the time to work through what's in the Be You resources. Because my experience of working with people who have put in particular intervention strategies is that they are well thought through. They've really identified what the problem is ,not just, so to give you an example. Okay, everybody's complaining. Let's get a weekly muffin break box. You know that's really lovely, and yes it is going to help people feel a bit more valued, and it's a lovely treat. But it's not necessarily addressing a bigger problem. So I think that's why it's worth taking the time to really think about what is the problem here with our wellbeing? Where is it coming from? What is it within our power to change? What is it we have a budget to change? You don't always need a budget, but sometimes you do. Could I share an example?
Yes, great go for it.
Dr Tamara CummingIn some work I do with another organisation we've been trying to record the wellbeing initiatives that services have used when they've identified a particular problem. So, in one service, for example, they had had death of another staff member in the service, and understandably that had caused an immediate kind of, you know, all kinds of psychological as well as practical distress for people. And so they had done a bit of research, found a local counsellor who came and worked with the team, but they there was much more to it than that. They really thought about how were people experiencing distress, how was that relieved by the action they took? So it is worth thinking about, what's the change you want to see? How will we know when it's happened?
So all of those things they really matter, because, although people are distressed and they need help now, realistically, sustained improvement in wellbeing is going to take a little bit of time, and careful planning. But then you know what, and maybe you can ask people, is there something we can do right now that's going to help you feel a bit better? I think that's a good way to go too.
And just even asking that question might be enough to start with. It's interesting, you're talking about what we would call a critical incident, because we do have some resources around that too, and it's about that being prepared and plan. The other thing I would say about Be You too is, all of the resources are funded, and so there isn't a cost implication in terms of accessing the resources, or, one of the, one of the most significant resources we have is a consultant. And so once you become participating/registered, you can have a consultant to help you guide you through those processes. So it's just an email going, I'm looking for something for this, can you help me with this planning? We're trying to unpick our data, those kind of things. I'm not sure everybody knows that that's another layer of what Be You can help you with, too.
We're going to keep going, because otherwise we could stay having a chat about this. One thing I did, I was thinking about in preparation for this, before we just move on, is that whole notion of, wellbeing that's defined, that you defined, the psychological and the, what's the, physiological? Is that what you would use?
Dr Tamara CummingWe say physiological, yep. I was going to say, did you want me to say why that is? Why we say physiological? (Yep). So physical wellbeing is the sort of things that you would, I guess, that are immediately obvious, and also things that are covered by Work Health and Safety.If I can just briefly say to kind of pack it all in, when we measure physiological wellbeing, we measure things like people's height, weight, blood pressure, that's actually physiological, height and weight are physical.And we measure flexibility, which is interesting, and educators by and large are above average for flexibility. And then other physiological measures we do, are, we are just starting to use hair, we test hair for cortisol levels. So the stress hormone cortisol and how that's working. We get a little sample of people's hair, and we also use this very cool self, sorry, wearable technology called a hexoskin vest. And that's like a rash vest. It's actually something designed for measuring cardio-respiratory activity in elite athletes, and we use it with educators. They wear it for a full work shift, and it gives a second by second read out of what's happening with your heart, what's happening with your breathing. But also, interestingly, how your body movement is working through the day. So it kind of has a tricky way of measuring effort and direction of movements. So it's absolutely incredible. So that's another physiological measure, because it's kind of about the way the body functions. And it's more systems working together rather than height is pretty, is just height, you know.
It's related to other things. But yes, we say physiological because we are thinking about the ways the body systems work as well as physical measures of the body.
I found that really fascinating when I was preparing for this. And because in Be You we tend to talk about, and this was one of the biggest things that happened to me when I came into this work. I come from an early childhood background; I've used the term wellbeing all the time. And then I learned about mental health. And so Be You tends to use the language of mental health, and it's so interesting about our comfort levels around using the language of mental health. But the interplay between our physical and mental health is really important, and so I think that even just having those conversations in your team, with your community, with the children is a really powerful thing to just to start with.
Dr Tamara CummingAbsolutely. And, Sara, if I could just make, and make a point as well. Part of our advocacy for educators' wellbeing is informing and reassuring and validating educators, leaders, directors that their wellbeing matters. It's something that's been silent, you know, for many years, you know. When we look at policy in Australia and overseas, there's almost nothing until very, very recently about the wellbeing of the workforce. But the research shows that educators have to be well in order to provide, you know, stable, stimulating, supportive work environments. And some of the other research that people have done, I'm just checking my notes here, so I'm really accurate: is children's better cognitive and academic outcomes, children's better self-regulation, more pro-social behaviours If educators are well and they can provide those high quality interactions.
So obviously, educator wellbeing's not the only thing that informs those high quality interactions, but that's kind of, you know, a really important reason for looking at it on its own, matters. The workforce matters, and what they do matters, and that's why it's worth attending to.
Yes, and I think you're right, I think that has been missing. Like we've looked at other elements and other aspects of what's described, perhaps quality. And this notion of educator wellbeing is something that really matters to Be You, too. So do you want to talk any more about your advocacy work? Because I picked that up at the beginning, too.
Dr Tamara CummingYes, look, yes, for sure. So part of, and I guess that's the thing about our research and the wonderful thing about having partnerships in the sector like we do with Be You, that it helps remind us. Although we're always motivated by the desire to make a difference to the sector, that's the whole reason we do the research, you know. And you know, we could just sit back and do these measurements of educators' wellbeing and write our academic papers, and whatever, go to our academic conferences, and it wouldn't really make a difference. But because of our particular research motivation is to use that research to make a difference, we do as much advocacy as we can. So that could be things like participating in government calls for contributions to the, the workforce strategy that we have now, we put in a paper on that. We put in a paper on the review of the National Quality Standard. We often do presentations like this. We also endeavour to publish our findings in accessible publications that people are actually going to be reading or flicking through in the lunchroom. You know, we're in ‘Every Child’. We're in quite a few publications of people like Gowrie, C&K, CCSA, so we really try to put our work out there so that it can make a difference to people in the sector as well as trying to use it to advocate at policy level.I guess one point I'd really like to make on that, Sara, to do with quality is, now that we've got this National Workforce Strategy that has wellbeing as one of its six focus areas, and the research to support that. The government seeking more research to support that area, is, I've just briefly lost track of what I was going to say. I know I was going to say, we, even before the National Workforce Strategy came out. We believe one of the ways that we could get more attention and sustained intervention for educators’ wellbeing is possibly saying, if we can get a stronger presence of educator wellbeing in the national quality system. Because it's there, it's in QA4. It's in QA7 in a couple of ways, but it's a bit unspecific.
I've got some interesting… we wrote a paper on some research a couple of years ago that was all about the ways that what's in the Quality Standard is not really enough to be supporting educators’ wellbeing. And we've got some numbers to support that that I can share with people if they're interested, or, you know, just some findings. But it's, I think we're beginning to go in the right direction at a policy level. But I don't want to get too much into that because people, what they want to hear about today is how they can help their educators and their teams being okay.
Thank you for that, and Be You would be supporting, you know. Be You's advocacy work is around embedding into the curriculum, the learning frameworks, the preschool reform funding agenda, you know, making sure that those wellbeing outcomes are really front and centre for children, and then also making sure that they're there for the educators who work with them as well because you're right. What you talked about before. You can't do that work well if you don't do the, you know, if you don't have, practice it for yourself.
Dr Tamara Cumming
But look, and not to go on, Sara too much. But I think you can't underestimate the importance of having a National Workforce Strategy, that the current government is actually rolling out, is not just sitting on the shelf and saying, oh, let's have another review, or whatever. They are actually doing something about it. In any previous workforce strategy you look at there's nothing about educator wellbeing. It's a big deal.
Sara RichardsonAgain we could keep talking about, because I think this segues probably into the next question, which is around evidence. Because I think the evidence is around informing those changes that I think some, I think I saw someone popped up in the chat there, who said, it's going to come in the future, and I think we can, and I think we need to, and I think we need to advocate, all of us can advocate, continue. And so, having that evidence base behind us which is part of the work you do, that really helps us.
So, it'd be interesting to hear about, you touched on it a little bit, about the research you're doing now and some of your early findings.
Dr Tamara CummingYes, sorry. Before we go on I just want to put a plug in as well that I'm involved in research with Macquarie University, on wages and conditions, which is another focus area of the workforce strategy.
In a couple of weeks we're going to be launching a national survey that we want to have as many people as possible. It's really, really important. If you get that email and you can spare the time, please contribute. Because what we find, because we're actually contracted by the government, what we find, goes directly to the policymakers' ears. So this is a way you can advocate for yourselves. Sorry to pop that promo in.
We can probably share the link later on too.
Dr Tamara CummingIf that's appropriate, no problem. But I just wanted to let people know, because that's kind of my advocacy, but it's yours as well.And you know, Vicki, I see you there. We know wages and conditions is the number one thing, and there's more I could say on that. But I think, Sara, sorry. This is all just slightly off, it's connected to the wellbeing track. But what I want to tell people is, I feel really hopeful that change is going to happen because it's not just about individual initiatives, but about a change in mindset that will probably take a while to roll out.But it's a new idea that seems to have been picked up and talked about, which is system stewardship. And if that is of interest to people, the Front Project has a fantastic paper available online for free, about systems thinking and system stewardship to do with the early childhood sector. And we're beginning, like myself, beginning to see that in the way that the government's communicating and contracting research. So because it's about a system, not just a like, one-off: let's you know, give all services some one-off resource, blah blah. It's, we've got to change the system level as well as the organisation level as well as the service level as well as ourselves. That's that kind of holistic perspective.In thinking about the system perspective, and in thinking about helping the wellbeing of your team. It's really important to think about individuals, but also the service setting. And consistently in our research, and it's showing up in other Australian research as well as overseas, is the importance of organisational climate. And that is something that people can do something about.
We found for example, that you know, we asked people. We gave them these ten aspects of organisational climate and the ones that they rated the highest, that they were the most important to the individuals, unfortunately, were done the most poorly by their services. And so, there can be a real mismatch between what really matters to people and what might really be the problem and what the service thinks is the thing that needs to be focused on.
And again, that's where I'd say the NQS comes in because it directs you to certain things that you have to attend to, but some of the things that matter to educators are not getting looked at. So what were they? So for educators, the top three were collegiality, so that's how things go in amongst the team, within rooms, but within the service as a whole. The reward system, which we know about, that's pay and conditions, and professional growth. And they were the top three, and they were the bottom four in how well their organisations are performing on those things.
Interestingly, supervisor support was number four, and that was rated as well by the participants. And I think that's interesting, because there's that leadership aspect in QA7. So to me, that shows if you put it up there, people will attend to it, and we resource it. That's the other bit. But just thinking about collegiality. And that's something we've written about, I think, in an ‘Every Child’ article, or it's in a practitioner publication, just really stopping and thinking about how you all get on, and where it is that you don't get on, and what you can do about that.So that might be your wellbeing problem, is that you've got, you know you might have, trying not to stereotype here, you might have a very experienced educator who's a certificate qualified person, working with a very new early childhood teacher who hierarchically is more senior. But you've got this person with heaps of experience, and this person, with more experience might feel oh, that person's not going to regard what I think, because they've got a, they've got a teaching degree, and they'll think they're better than me. And they don't necessarily, and so it's about really stopping and thinking about those micro level interactions.I guess that's the bit where all of us have to be aware and responsible for ourselves. But then I also wanted to say, in some of our research, we found that people's workplaces can be terribly under-resourced in terms of you know, there's no lunch room, or the lunch room is in the corner of the store room. I mean, this might be surprising to anybody, but it can really get people down in feeling like, look at these beautiful environments that we provide for children, and look at what we've got.Now, you don't have to have tons of money to do that. I'm a huge follower of the Kmart Instagram pages of how you can use storage. But you know, you're great at creating beautiful environments. Imagine how lovely it could be. This could be a quick fix. How could we make the space that we have for ourselves really inspiring for us in our terms? That might not be posters with, you know, cats and dogs, whatever that means to you in your setting in your community, amongst the families you've got.
And I guess, speaking of families, again, you wouldn't be surprised to hear in our research we asked about which of the following groups generally respect you as an early childhood professional, select all that apply. So the highest percent, 85% said families of children in their care do respect them, which is great. Other people in the field, their colleagues, respect them, same amount. Their own family a little bit lower, and then a drop to 58% for friends, professionals in other fields 26%, the public at large 10%. So that's the perception. I'm not saying that's necessarily real, because we haven't got that data, but I think anecdotally, you don't have to look very hard to understand why people feel that way.
So then, if you have the capacity in your service, how could you make visible the complexity of your practice, the skill and the beauty and the care and the respect in your practice? How can you make that more visible to the educators' own families? And people, what's somewhere they could share that? How could that be shared with other professionals or your community? How can you make that just a little bit more visible? And that's so contextual.
And that's, to me that's one of those things if you've got the capacity, and if maybe that is a big challenge of wellbeing for the team in your service, that could be something to really think about how you might do that. How you could be, you know, involved in things or share information. But in a way that really foregrounds the complexity and the skill of the work, because that's what's going to make a difference. I reckon, as well, don't underestimate the power of the grandparents. This is anecdotal, not data. But when my children were very little, you know, my in-laws would say to me repeatedly, gosh those educators are amazing, and I'm like, I know. And then they spread the word. So don't hesitate to work with whatever family you can, you're in contact with.
So that's a little bit of finding. Another thing that I think is much closer to Be You's remit is thinking about mental health and what can get us down in the sector. And Sara you mentioned relational, and how relational the work is, our relationships with the children, our relationship with the families, our relationships with ourselves. Like I said a little bit earlier, relationships amongst ourselves, don't underestimate them. How important it is, because, you know I think, you know children are like sponges, and you imagine them sitting there, well that example I gave of those two educators and they can feel the tension. The children can feel the tension. So even if it's got to be, because it's better for the children that we get along, if that's got to be your way in, then make that your way in. Ultimately, it'll be a good result for everybody.But something I wanted to talk about, this is like a personal interest of mine, is the kind of sense of being nice. You know, that we have to be nice, and we have to be happy, because that's what a good early childhood educator is all the time, no matter what happens. No matter if someone throws a shoe in your face, no matter if you barely got any sleep, no matter if I'm stressed about my prac coming up and how I'm going to manage that. So we ask a question in the survey part of our research. And the question is: Rate how often you feel the need to be nice, no matter how you really feel? And 37% said at least once a week they feel that way. 6% said once a week, 8% a few days a week, and 23%. Oh, that 37 was made up of 23% saying every day they feel I've got to be nice, I've got to be nice, I've got to be nice. And that is a pathway to emotional exhaustion, because it's not human to always, we know this, you know, you can't be nice all the time. But you know I was just thinking earlier about some kind of critically reflective questions around that. What does it mean to be nice? Who are you being nice to? And who does it help? Who is it really helping for you to be nice rather than politely honest? Is it, are you using that to hide feelings that otherwise there just isn't space for? And what happens with those feelings for each other? You know, that's a really big thing and it's a really easy pathway to chronic stress and burnout and things like that.
And I think it's a, it's a difficult question to be honest about. But are there limits to niceness? And why are we being nice? And I do also think niceness is quite an Anglo thing. It's almost like a dominant culture in early childhood education in Australia. And so it doesn't necessarily, It's not necessarily everybody's way of being either, but if you're not being nice, you're going to get pulled into line. And so I think it's things like that, things that are these kind of nitty gritty bits of the complexity of practice, are things that can really make a difference to people's mental health, and their wellbeing.I just wanted to quickly also talk about burnout, if that's okay, Sara. So you know burnout is real. It's a psychological concept. It's got three parts. One of them is emotional exhaustion, which is pretty much what it sounds like, feeling emotionally drained and fatigued and quite frustrated. The second part is depersonalisation, and what that means is that you're getting, you're being very impersonal towards the people who are receiving, like it's in a service industry role, clients. Well in early childhood of course that's the children. So it means you become a bit kind of unfeeling or impersonal towards the children, which, of course, is the total opposite of what we want. And then the last part is a positive aspect. It's self-efficacy or accomplishment, that feeling that you're competent and that you're doing well in your work.So what we found, and this is completely consistent with other people's research, that educators, the educators who answered us, 86% felt they were accomplished, that they had good self-efficacy. But 60% had said, a feeling of emotional exhaustion at least once a month, and 20% once a week. Now this was before COVID, so you can only imagine what that is now. And then that third aspect of depersonalisation, only 5.8% said that they never feel it, they never ever feel it. So 84% were like once a month or less.
So the majority of people reasonably often know that they're feeling a bit impersonal towards children. And that, you know, if you need a flag for why you need to attend to mental health as well as broader wellbeing, that's got to be it because like I said before, if you think about like, a little, this plus that equals this. If you've got educator burnout plus other stuff, better educator wellbeing means you're going to have, likely, as well as other things, likely to have good interactions, means better outcomes for children and families. So that's sort of a little selection of findings.
There's two other things I could talk about, Sara, but did you want to go in a different direction?
No, I was just thinking we've got about fifteen minutes left. So I'm thinking, if you keep talking about that, because I was actually thinking when you were talking, you know all of the things you are describing are in that system. So there are things we can be responsible for ourselves that really help us to understand, regulate our own feelings. You have language to, you know, the words to use, all these things we are trying to support children to do, actually, sometimes we need to do that for ourselves. And then, there's that whole of service, you know, and the leadership involved in that. And then there's that system wide stuff. So I think all of what you're talking about relates at all of those levels. But yes, no, I think the only other things we've got to do are maybe another poll to think about what people are going to start putting into place. So do you want to talk a little bit longer?
Dr Tamara CummingI will, because so what I did, you know, in preparing for this is just to think about what we found, and then what's helpful to do something practical and to really think about the real stuff. What is, what does this really look like in practice? So the next one is bullying. And this is another aspect of educator wellbeing that everybody would know about, but that there is very little research.So we included questions about bullying in our survey, and we found that 25% of our participants had experienced bullying. It was a few times for the majority of people, nearly 82% a few times. Some people, a smaller percentage is experiencing it daily or weekly, under 10% thankfully, but predominantly who they were being bullied by was their colleagues. 51% of the people who had experienced bullying being bullied by their colleagues. Next highest was by the manager. You know whether that was the room, or the service, or someone more senior, you have 40%. Families 21%, and for 18 and a half percent it was more than one of those categories. So it's a pretty intensive problem, you know, and multifaceted.It tended, yes, it was really troubling to read about, and we also had some very powerful qualitative data. And the stuff I mean, particularly about families, I think I mean colleagues is one thing, and you know we can talk about that, but the bullying from families was just, the examples that people shared were just dreadful. You know, you just can't believe that people go on like this. And I know in my teaching at Macquarie University with the students, they're quite regularly reporting the ways that families are bullying and intimidating them over the phone or in person. And I think it's a sign in a lot of cases of frustration or strain.So there are three kind of theoretical approaches to bullying. One of them is that bullying is because of the bully's frustration or strain, and I think that's often the case within workplaces. I mean again, this is one of those things where I think you can use these three theoretical approaches to think about, is it this, Is it this, is it this, Is it a combination or is there something else?
So the other two, so there's frustration or strain. Interpersonal conflict. So that could be a bit like what I described between the two people working in a room together where there's that conflict. Or it could be within the group. It could be some people ganging up or mobbing someone, or another group, and that can be the director, you know. It's not necessarily the least qualified, or you know, that sort of person. It can be a group of people bullying the director because they've got frustration or strain, for example. So it's useful to think about those reasons. And then to think about what to do about them. I'm imagining Be You's got some resources around that kind of thing, Sara, do you? Or if not, then Safe Work, I think Safe Work Australia in New South Wales are very good, or if anyone else has come up with, you know, if you've got a good, how to address bullying, but don't underestimate its prevalence nor it's effects, I guess, and that's it's a tricky one to deal with, but it's very important.
It's interesting when you were talking, it's a fine line isn't it, between blaming other people for us feeling uncomfortable, and we have to be really mindful, and respect needs to be the undercurrent for all of this. It needs to be at play everywhere, you know, regardless.
And then back to your points before about, what's the problem we want to address? You know hearing all your research and evidence is so powerful and so important. And I don't want us to leave this feeling like, oh, no, this is all these things which actually you're right, people already know. But, what are the things we're going to do about it? And what's the issue in our context that we want to address and we want to deal with?So you know, if bullying is the thing, then you need to look for your examples. And so I know some people are sharing some suggestions in the chat, I think going to Safe Work. Thinking about EAP, GPs, so those kind of things as well. But what's your plan? So if we've identified that bullying's an issue here, what are we going to do about it? And then what, making a plan?Just to pop a policy in is actually not going to fix the issue, because that might not be the problem.
So you know it might help, but that really, I think, really getting to the trouble with it of, you know, what is the problem here? And how do we know that that's the problem, and who's it a problem for? Those kind of things before you think about your solution. I think sometimes we jump into a solution first, and then it doesn't actually fix the problem. It kind of masks over. And Be You can help you with that, actually accessing the consultant, working through that, maybe. And that collegiality is probably really important and helpful. And sometimes outside of our own space, sometimes going into, you know, networking and asking each other, and wouldn't it be great if we, you know how we're so good at sharing on Pinterest all our hacks and ideas and environments. What about this physical or this psychological environment? Just imagine if we start being, you know, creating an environment where it's okay to share some of these suggestions and ideas and really support each other to make, you know you talked about beautiful, creative, powerful, psychological environments. That would be so, you know, it would be great if we could start heading in that direction.
Dr Tamara CummingIt would, that's really exciting, like I feel excited to even hear that. But what that reminds me of as well Sara, and I know this is part of Be You's thinking, is the idea of a psychologically safe workplace, and that, or a psychosocially safe workplace. And what that means is not just that it is psychologically safe, but it's psychologically safe for that to be part of the discussion, to be okay for you to say I need to take three days off, or I'm just not going to be able to stay in this job. I mean, you probably need longer than that. But you know what I mean, that it's okay, and that you feel that that will be taken seriously. That you won't be stigmatised or teased or criticised by other people, whether that's your manager or it's other people in your room, and that's one of those things that takes time, but is almost like the stuff that's going to help sustain a healthy workplace.So maybe in thinking about how do we help support the wellbeing of our teams, there's kind of what do we need to do right now, because we've got a massive, this is, we got to do something. But then also, what are the conditions and the environment, that, how can we improve that to help that, but also to stop it continuing to happen?
And I can see a number of really great comments here in the chat about, you know, zero tolerance policy that doesn't go far enough. So interestingly through the wonders of statistics, that is not my part of the research, we asked what predicts lower chances of being bullied? So what helps a better work environment? So 55% was positive teamwork. So that just underlies this thing, don't underestimate the basics. And I think at this time where everybody's low on energy, low on staff, low on everything. Go back to basics and really think about how can we get the team we've got working well together. And if you're having to rely on casuals from outside, how can you try to make that as positive as possible without having to stretch yourselves further. I completely get that.
Also really important in decreasing bullying, was greater influence in workplace decisions. So that can, you know I mean, I don't want to labour the point about Action Teams, I just think it's a great model, but that gives people an avenue that they can be more influential. But maybe just even asking people, is there something you're interested in? Or would you like to have more of a say in that where you can. Because, as a leader, obviously, you can't do everything by committee. But that could be a reason that people are a bit unhappy. They, you know, they just feel, I'd like to have more of a say.Then there are things like trying to decrease the stressors in the workplace. So that could be the interactions with parents, for example, that could be a big stressor. Another stressor could be, it's very, very difficult to have enough staff. So what can you do? Think about that, that's the biggest challenge. What can you do? And that one I have to say I don't have an immediate answer for, others might. But what else is creating stress in the environment that maybe at the moment we have to put down. Maybe now is not the time to go for Excellent. And that's okay, you know, because the conditions aren't there to help you do it, but give yourself a break. And then the 16% said better supervisor relations, but that depends on a lot of things as well.
So I also wanted to pick up on something, I can see Fiona has commented on. Clinical supervision for centre leadership teams. So last year Sandy Wong, who's the other co-lead of our project for the last couple of years, has been doing some really exciting research into the benefits of clinical supervision.
So if you think about clinical supervision, is not about come into the office and tell me how you're going with your programming and that sort of thing. It's about having someone you can work with to talk about what the work is like for you. What's going well, what's causing you stress? Do you know what I mean? It's almost like work-related counselling with a skilled person who can support you, and that can be especially useful if you're working in an area where you're finding there are more complex family and child needs. It might just be the same area you've always been in, but the families are increasingly more stressed, you need more support, or you could be working in an area of disadvantage, of low resources. That can be a fantastic way to support a centre leader who is otherwise, you know, could be very drained. So our research has found that it makes a massive difference, and it is well worth the money. It's not even necessarily that expensive. So you know, Sandy and myself, this is something we have long dreamed of, that there would be clinical supervision available.
And then, it was funny, there was three comments in a row, last one, last one! Malini is saying, I work for a family owned business, we don't have an HR department, and I think this is a big issue. That for companies that have got an HR department, that's one thing, they've got resources, they can support people. But as we know, the majority of services are sole owner. And so, you know, this is really difficult in the situation that Malini is talking about, and I'd encourage you to, if you can't find what you need from Be You, I would look at an organisation like CCSA. There are others depending on which state you're in. That can help you work more positively in those relationships. Or you might even find resources for free on their website. So all sorts of things I could go on to there. I'm having to look away from the chat because there's so many interesting things.
Sara RichardsonSo maybe what we'll do is, we do need to finish up this formal part of the webinar, and I just want to say thank you so much. I think we went on a big circle around in terms of some of the real challenges the evidence is telling us about. And I think it's really important that we acknowledge that, and say that out loud to people and tell the people who it matters to. And you know that's the advocacy piece that you've been talking to, and that Be You also thinks is important. But also then, thinking about, what can I do that makes a difference where I am? And you will have seen some links in the chat.
What we're going to do now is finish off this formal part. I really want to thank you so much, Tamara, for coming and sharing your insight. We could have probably had two hours. So just letting people know there's a Spotlight that you can join in the conversation later on that's only for people who have come to this webinar. So we'll continue the conversation there. Nikki will host that. But also we're going to stay on screen online later and we will respond to some of the questions that people had that we didn't get to. So just want to say, thank you, everybody for joining us for, especially thank you to you, Tamara. And we'll finish the formal part of the webinar now, and see you all soon at our next webinar. Thanks everyone.
Dr Tamara Cumming
Thank you so much for your wonderful work everybody.
End of transcript.
Australian research on educators' wellbeing
Last updated: July, 2023