While the role of educators has always extended far beyond teaching traditional academic subjects, as the world becomes more challenging and communities face increasing pressures linked to violence and mental health issues in young people, societies must find ways to help children develop practical skills for positive mental health and relationships.
Most educators entered their profession driven by a genuine passion to make a difference in the lives of young people. They recognise the transformative power of education and the potential to support young people to achieve an inspiring future. A 2004 study published in the Journal of Teacher Education supported the primary motivation of educators is to inspire and empower students, cultivate their talents, and contribute to society (Beijaard et al., 2004).
Educators therefore are dedicated to supporting all aspects of their students' development, including their mental health, and we know that without social and emotional competence, young people will not have the chance to reach their full potential and become contributing citizens as part of thriving communities.
Just as educators teach young people practical skills like problem-solving, critical thinking, and collaboration, they must also cultivate skills that promote positive mental health, such as emotional intelligence, resilience, self-care, mindfulness, and effective communication at the same time. A study published in the Journal of Applied School Psychology highlights the positive impact of social-emotional learning programs on students' mental health and academic outcomes (Durlak et al., 2011).
A sector in crisis.
While the educators we speak to agree with all of this, the sector is in crisis. Almost half of Australia’s working teachers say they are overworked, underappreciated and would quit if offered a more satisfying career option.
They cite unmanageable workloads and staff shortages as some of their top reasons, as well as having to take on classes outside their expertise, and educators have told us that they can spend up to 70% of their teaching time some days working to support or intervene in behavioural issues.
“The data suggests we are looking at a profession in crisis,” said Associate Professor Aliza Werner-Seidler, Head of Population Mental Health at Black Dog Institute, UNSW Sydney.
The early learning sector is also struggling with 65% of early learning centres turning families away due to staff shortages and not enough new educators are being attracted to the industry.
So if educators are working longer hours with less support and experiencing more stress and burn out, and student mental health is a bigger challenge than ever before, what is the answer?
Many agree that a more holistic approach is needed within educational communities to support educators, students and communities.
Educators need support for their own mental health, and to feel safe in their working environment, and to feel confident and connected when communicating with students, families and peers. They need a chance to fulfill the vision they set out when entering the field of education. And communities cannot exist without education.
Educators need pre-planned mental health resources that they know can support them to meet their outcomes, AND help them confidently lead conversations with children, peers and families around building positive mental health skills.
Over the last eight years, three driving desires have been the pillars underpinning the development, research and distribution of the Positive Living Skills programs:
To support educators to build confidence when communicating about and teaching common language daily mental health skills
To see educators reach the goals they set for themselves when they first sought out teaching as their profession, and
To support an environment where young people can learn life-saving skills for social and emotional fitness so they can move toward their unique potential and become kind and competent members of communities
These three desires if all supported have the capacity to positively influence the growing and alarming statistics for violence and mental illness that is breaking families and communities, and we are relieved to see some Australian State Government Education Departments and Health Networks recognising the Positive Living Skills programs as positively contributing to the building of resilience, a sense of belonging and positive behaviour skills in children 3-12 years.
The PLS programs have been reviewed by Be You (Beyond Blue), featured by the NSW Mental Health Commission, and feature on the NSW Education's Quality panel for Wellbeing programs and the South Australian Dept for Education's External program Wellbeing Directory.
If you're an educator, school principal, wellbeing coordinator or early learning stakeholder and you want to learn more about what we do, we encourage you to attend one of our upcoming online Information sessions, where you can meet our team, see live tours of the curriculum mapped content and have all your questions answered.
If you have questions, please reach out to us at email@example.com
We look forward to the opportunity to support more communities.
Until next time,
The PLS team.