How to use technology to prevent burnout among teachers

Head of psychology at Unmind Dr Heather Bolton explores how we can use technology to avoid stress in school teachers

It’s already been an incredibly tough two years for teachers. The pandemic has caused significant disruption and additional pressure, from the introduction of home-based learning to the need for safety management measures, and uncertainty around appraisals. Job-related stress, burnout and symptoms of depression are becoming increasingly common, and it’s almost (unfortunately) unsurprising that the 2020 Teacher Wellbeing Index found that 51% considered quitting the profession, with 68% citing uncertainty and increased workloads as significant stressors.

Though education secretary Nadhim Zahawi has reaffirmed that continuing with in-person teaching is still his priority, December has so far seen an 111% increase in new cases as a result of the Omicron outbreak. Now, with infection rates creeping up, colder weather kicking in, and schools making contingency plans for January closures, Covid-19 once again brings untold stress.

Teachers have faced the same difficulties as all of us in this pandemic, from increased uncertainty leading to worry and anxiety, to the loss of loved ones, illness, and more. But they’ve experienced these difficulties in addition to increased workloads as they continue to plan for both in-person and at-home learning for those who are forced to self-isolate.

Educational bodies need to build impactful and holistic mental wellbeing strategies that approach each employee as a ‘whole-person’, rather than just a teacher. This means supporting their psychological wellbeing, as well as their social and physical health.

There is a vital role that technology, in conjunction with traditional forms of support, can play in these strategies.

Tackle the mental health crisis with technology

A new report from ORCHA, the Organisation for the Review of Care and Health Apps, gives insight into the country’s national mood during lockdown, revealing that app searches for key mental health issues rose dramatically in that time.

Along with increases in searches for anger, anxiety and fear, searches for depression rose by 156%, OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) by 422%, and stress by 113%. This reflects the fact that mental health issues are not uncommon: one in four adults will experience a mental health problem each year.

But it also reflects that mental healthcare has undergone a ‘digital revolution’. People are increasingly turning to technology for answers to support their mental health and wellbeing. The booming market for business and consumer mental health apps is the most visible aspect of this transformation, and proof that data-driven mental health support is in demand.

The reasons for this growth are fairly obvious. Technology’s scalability empowers heads of organisations to give entire workforces access to proactive support at a relatively low cost. This lowering of the barrier to accessing mental health services enables anyone in possession of a phone to proactively manage, measure and improve their mental wellbeing, anywhere at any time.

For educational roles in particular it could be a significant boom, especially considering the fact that many teachers could find themselves continuing to work from home this winter.

Implement a proactive, preventative and ‘always-on’ wellbeing strategy

Traditionally, employees have only been given support at crisis-point through Employee Assistance Programmes. But as educational bodies look at new ways to support their staff, build resilience within schools and prevent a flurry of burnt out teachers, they are realising the need to take a proactive, preventative and ‘always-on’ approach to supporting and nurturing teachers’ mental health.

So how can they do this? We recommend a wellbeing measurement strategy operated by a third party which acts as an in-between for the app user and the employer. There are three reasons for this.

1. Autonomy: Teachers get the tools to measure and manage each part of their own mental wellbeing – the psychological, social, and physical – at all times.

2. Always-on feedback: Anonymised and aggregated wellbeing insights would get fed back to the employer to take a pulse check of a workforce’s mental health, spot trends and make informed choices about how to prioritise wellbeing at work.

3. Wider social benefits: As a result of supporting healthier workplaces, educational bodies can improve performance, inspire cultures of openness, and bolster their external reputations.

Provide the right in-person care with data-driven insights

Mental health apps could be an essential tool in building more resilience amongst teachers. However, it’s important that traditional forms of support, such as ensuring healthy organisational practices and providing employee assistance programmes, are offered alongside digital platforms.

The good news is that always-on feedback lets employers draw wellbeing insights to inform offline strategies that can be put in place to further support employees. This means that traditional forms of support can be offered in a more insightful way.

For example, if data suggested that employees were finding something particularly difficult at any given time – like connecting with others – an employer could act on this information and arrange a social event for all teaching staff. Or, if teachers were experiencing increased stress and reduced coping, a school might wish to review competing workload demands and staffing levels.

For many reasons, technology has a leading role to play in helping educational bodies to build impactful and holistic mental wellbeing strategies, but they’re not enough on their own. It’s vital that employers provide data-driven mental health support offline, whilst third party apps continue to provide it online. This will help teachers navigate the increased demands of teaching through a pandemic.

You might also like: Reduce educational materials, increase pastoral care to reduce e-learning stress, say psychologists

How edtech can support wellbeing in schools

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