Teacher wellbeing: how to thrive in the face of stress

Ever-growing workload has led to greater stress and anxiety for teachers

Educational wellness coach Wendy Kenbeek talks to Jarvis Ryan about how her teacher wellbeing courses can help educators thrive in the face of stress.

Can you start by telling us a bit about your background as an educator?
I’ve been teaching for 23 years in Dutch, International and Australian schools as a PE/Health/Outdoor Education teacher. While enjoying the interaction with students during my classes, it has been implementing mindfulness and positive psychology in the last 6 years that has given me the greatest joy.

I’ve also gained several adult and kids yoga qualifications and absolutely love the transformation in students in a 1-hour yoga class. It’s the only class where, without fail, I get a “thank you Ms, I really needed that” from at least one student every time.

This inward journey seemed to make a profound and instant impact on the students. Looking back, it was part of the catalyst to move into coaching.

Wendy says coaching is a missing piece in education 

What motivated you to want to go into the area of coaching?
Coaching is a missing piece in education when it comes to thriving! Coaching is very common outside the education sector, including in leadership, business, wellness and others, but we don’t see coaching for teachers as a way to help them better navigate their challenges.

Seeing the transformation in teachers who move from feeling “stuck” to having clarity is very rewarding.

I naturally look at what’s going well and seek to make it even better. So, when I came across coaching four years ago, I knew that it could complement other wellbeing services in schools to help teachers. I find it heart-breaking when I see passionate teachers leave this profession within an estimated average of five years.

I was fortunate enough to represent Australia at world championship level in korfball in 2007 and this amazing experience gave me an in-depth understanding of mindset, mindfulness and the importance of mental and emotional wellbeing for success.

At the time, I also had a full-time teaching load whilst training six days a week. This made setting boundaries much easier which is a topic that comes back in coaching teachers.

You call yourself an “educational wellness coach”. What do you mean by that?
Firstly, you can’t just call yourself a coach, or the next question someone asks is: “In what sport?” I’ve always had a passion for wellness and wellbeing, so that has always been my jam.

Secondly, the teacher in me is always looking to sneak in some education in my programs. I’ve always loved learning, so chances are that my fellow colleagues are not that dissimilar.

Lastly, when we think of wellbeing, generally the thought will go to student wellbeing. However, my focus is on teachers and their wellbeing.

So now, as a qualified Professional Coach (ICF), I’m passionate about making a difference to the wellbeing of teachers in Australia, so they can regain their energy, passion and enthusiasm for teaching, without compromising their wellbeing.

In your experience talking to teachers, what are the themes in terms of the big problems they’re grappling with at work?
There is no denying that the teaching workload has kept increasing over the years, leading to increased stress and anxiety. The workload is unlikely to change significantly and quickly, but the response can – by teachers and by schools.

Many schools do not address teacher wellbeing at all or well enough, but teachers should also not wait for schools to be proactive on the matter.

There is so much exhaustion amongst teachers that many teachers work simply from holiday to holiday. Work-leisure boundaries for many teachers are also very blurry-and they do not need to be.

Lastly, many teachers don’t feel psychologically safe at their school or feel fulfilled in a profession that should be extremely rewarding.

How do the programs you offer seek to change the paradigm for teachers?
One-on-one coaching is a very powerful avenue to create faster transformation as it provides instant support and a coach in your corner to help keep you on track with your wellbeing goals.

The Teacher Wellbeing courses I’ve created equip teachers with stress management strategies, mindset training to shift perspective on matters important to them, and to create healthy work-leisure boundaries.

In addition, I love working with a strength-based approach to find greater meaning and fulfillment. Your best teacher self does not lie in the external factors.

What is some of the positive feedback you’ve had on how your programs have helped teachers?
Recently, after three Teacher Wellbeing webinars with the AEU NT Branch, I noticed that some teachers had participated in all of them. One teacher said how helpful the worksheets were as a guide. That’s exactly what I hope to achieve, as I aim to have teachers remember a workshop or webinar with ongoing tools to support them.

One testimonial that I love: “I have seen other people try to do what you have but have missed the mark. You are spot on. So, thank you. I left wanting to continue my career with gusto.”

That is why I love what I do. To deliver meaningful PD to educate and inspire teachers with practical and actionable steps to create lasting change.

Wendy has just run a series of teacher wellbeing webinars for AEU NT members. For more information on her programs, visit her website, inwellness.com.au.

This is an extended version of an article published in the Semester 1, 2021 edition of the Territory Educator.