Better Learning Conference 2019: Cultivating wellbeing in English language teaching

Christina Gkonou

At this year’s Better Learning Conference, Dr. Christina Gkonou shared insights into teacher wellbeing, with particular consideration to the specific challenges faced by language teachers. This blog post talks you through key themes of her talk, as well as detailing some of the practical strategies which can help support the wellbeing of teachers in schools.

Dr. Christina Gkonou is Associate Professor of TESOL and MA TESOL Programme Leader in the Department of Language and Linguistics at the University of Essex, UK. She works with many new teachers who are in their first roles within the sector.

“There is no precise definition of wellbeing”

In the dictionary wellbeing is referred to as a state of being healthy and happy, but Christina argues it is much more complex than that.

There are four core aspects of wellbeing:

  • physical wellbeing – being physically healthy
  • emotional wellbeing – when our mental health is in a good state so we can manage stress and anxiety
  • intellectual wellbeing – this refers to our cognition and the way we think and keep our brain engaged
  • spiritual wellbeing – the process of being in a good mental state by being connected to ourselves and the relationships we have around us.

These four core aspects create a wellbeing system. When they are not all in place at once, the whole wellbeing system can collapse.

Teacher wellbeing

Teachers lead very busy lives and their wellbeing has become an issue of increasing focus over recent years. Research has shown that “everyone is likely to be affected by low levels of wellbeing at some point in their careers”.

The aim is not only to prevent stress and mental health problems in the teaching workforce, but also to promote high levels of flourishing and thriving for all members of the school community.

There are many factors that can affect the wellbeing of a teacher. For example, if you are teaching disengaged students then there is an additional effort needed in order to motivate and control the classroom. In many parts of the world, language classes are usually quite large, which can mean a class is much harder to manage.

As well as this, new non-native teachers can also get anxious about delivering lessons in the classroom, in fear of their native accent. This is often caused by a pressure to meet certain expectations.

Teachers are the central hub in the classroom and can easily influence students’ learning and psychologies. This is because our emotions are easily transferred, or “contagious”. At times, this can mean individuals are not only dealing with their own wellbeing, but that of their learners too.

Strategies to overcome these issues

Coping strategies include ideas such as an individual writing a list of those that they could turn to for help, or mapping out the things that trigger anxiety in the classroom.

These activities can be worked on together with other colleagues to help figure out ways to eradicate the problem or at least to help avoid the situation recurring.

If you would like to discover more coping strategies and suggestions to help teachers improve their wellbeing, you’ll find the link to the full Better Learning Conference below.

If you enjoyed reading this blog post, why not take a look at some other Better Learning talks from this year’s conference such as Nancy Zhou’s talk on developing future ready learners.

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