IRIS Connect Professional Development Blog - North America

7 principles that improve teacher wellbeing

Posted by Alexandra Spalding on 9/3/19 3:19 PM

Teacher wellbeing is the key to school success. A research study into the links between staff wellbeing and school performance concluded that:

• How teachers feel on a daily basis is likely to affect their performance and, in turn, the performance of the pupils they teach

• Happier, motivated teachers may make pupils feel happier, motivated and more confident

• Happier teachers may also be able to concentrate better on the job of teaching and experience more motivation to help pupils in need of special attention

Teacher workload is a significant ongoing issue that needs addressing at policy level. But, there are some things that school leaders can do to reduce strain on their staff, as well as actions teachers can take to protect their own health and wellbeing.

Here are 7 principles that improve teacher wellbeing.  If you like them, why not check out our extensive FREE guide to 'Imporving teacher happiness and wellbeing' >

improve teacher wellbeing


1. Your brain is biologically hardwired to perform better when you’re happy

When we are positive, our brains are flooded with dopamine and serotonin. These chemicals help us become more engaged, creative, motivated, energetic,
resilient and productive.

Ways to feel more positive:

• Finding something to look forward to

• Committing conscious acts of kindness

• Infusing positivity into your surroundings

• Exercising

• Spending money on experiences rather than objects


2. The power of your mindset

“Reality is relative.” - Shawn Achor

We cannot change the world, but we can change how we react to the world.

The ancient Greek mathematician, Archimedes, said: ‘Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.’ In this metaphor, the fulcrum is your mindset and the length of the lever is the potential you believe you have. If you move your fulcrum in the right direction by adopting a more positive mindset, your lever of possibility lengthens, which research shows leads to positive outcomes.


3. Train your brain to scan the world for ideas and possibilities

A Harvard study into the effects of 27 people who played Tetris for multiple hours a day, three days in a row, found they started to see everyday objects as Tetris shapes. The Tetris effect is when your brain becomes stuck in ‘cognitive afterimage’, triggered by repeated activity. It’s when you’re unable to break a pattern of thinking or behaving.

The problem is we can get stuck in the pattern of seeking out the negative. Principle 3 is about training your brain to habitually scan the world for ideas and possibilities, so that you can see and seize opportunities everywhere you look.

Ways to get started:

• Increasing your gratitude (write down something you are grateful for everyday)

• Actively looking for the positives in every situation


4. Make the best of every situation

“Things do not necessarily happen for the best, but some people are able to make the best out of things that happen.” - Tal Ben-Shahar

Research shows, if you are able to think of failure as an opportunity for growth, you are more likely to experience that growth. Similarly, if you think of a fall as the worst thing that could happen, then it becomes so. This principle is all about using downward momentum to propel yourself in the opposite direction; instead of falling down, you’re falling up.

4 steps to finding the positive path:

Adversity – the event itself, it is what it is and can’t be changed

Belief – your reaction to the event, either optimistic or pessimistic

Consequence – either positive or negative, depending on your reaction. If negative, then you need to put step 4 in place

Disputation – challenge yourself: is it really that bad? What advice would you give to a friend?


5. Focus on what you can achieve

“Don’t write a book, write a page.” - Peter Bregman

Feeling that we are in control of our own fate at work and home is one of the strongest drivers of wellbeing and performance.

But, Zorro didn’t become a heroic swordsman overnight. This principle teaches you about the ‘Zorro circle’. It’s not about reaching for the stars but about starting small; it’s actually more effective to focus on step-by-step, manageable goals as these will add up to major achievements. Master the first circle and then widen your circle of control.

Tips for regaining control:

• Being self-aware and recognising your knee jerk reactions

• Identifying areas of control and ticking those off your list that you can’t change

• Finding your quick wins and doing them first

• Prioritising the areas that matter most


6. Create good habits and break bad ones

Common sense is not always common practice. Relying on willpower alone to create good habits or kick bad ones fails as our willpower weakens the more we use it. The key to creating new habits is ritual, repeated practice to ingrain the actions in your brain’s neural chemistry.

Principle 6 is about turning bad habits into good ones by minimising any barriers to change. To create habits that will spark positive change, you need to minimise choice, make your decision ahead of time and ensure the good habit uses as little energy as possible. Another tactic is putting as little as a 20 second distance between yourself and the bad habit.


7. Make social investments

Social support is your single greatest asset and the biggest investment you can make in your happiness. Human beings have evolved an innate need for social relationships; our brain needs interaction to release oxytocin, necessary for counteracting the stress-inducing hormone of cortisol.

It’s easy to withdraw, bury yourself in work and choose to be alone when times are hard, but this is the opposite of what you actually need.

Ways to develop one-to-one relationships and increase your happiness at work:

• Making eye contact

• Having face-to-face meetings instead of emails

• Initiating non-task related conversations

• Not multi-tasking during communication


These principles are taken from the best-selling book, The Happiness Advantage by Harvard lecturer, Shawn Achor. In a world of increasing workloads, stress and negativity, Shawn shares how we can become more positive and gain a competitive edge.

A common belief is that success is the precursor to happiness, but science has proven this formula is backward. It’s actually the other way around. Shawn’s 7 core principles of positive psychology will help you improve your performance, grow your career and gain competitive edge at work.

Not got time to read the book? Watch Shawn’s TED talk here.


This is an extract from our practical guide to ‘Imporving teacher happiness and wellbeing'. Download the entire guide for FREE here > 

improving teacher happiness and wellbeing
improving teacher happiness and wellbeing

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