Organisational interventions for teacher wellbeing: intervention development and piloting (2014)

DSPI PI: Paul Montgomery

Funded by: John Fell OUP Fund


There is ample evidence on the causal effects of work stress on chronic mental and physical disease. Teaching has the highest levels of work-related stress. Effective action to reduce teacher stress may positively impact on the health and wellbeing of teachers, and potentially the health, wellbeing and educational attainment of the children they teach. There may also be a positive contribution to recruitment and retention levels of teachers, as well as reduction in the financial burden of sickness absence in schools. Interventions at the organisational level to improve wellbeing and reduce work-related stress will aim to address the root causes, rather than the predominant outlook of treating the symptoms of stress.

The aim of the interdisciplinary project was to conduct a pilot trial of an action research methodology (the Change Laboratory) with a focus on organisational change in four schools, in order to improve wellbeing and reduce work-related stress in teachers. The Change Laboratory method has been used successfully to co-design new work systems in areas such as the public and private sectors. It develops new work practices by the participants in dialogue and debate among themselves, their management, and facilitated by researchers/consultants. The approach works with local actors to co-produce practices that can address problems locally. The Change Lab is adapted here for school settings to improve working conditions and enhance staff wellbeing.

The idea is to arrange, in the work setting, a room or space in which there is a rich set of conceptual and representational tools available for analysis of contradictions and disturbances within the workplace and for constructing new ways of working. Around 10 representatives of the teaching and management teams within the school participate in the Change Laboratory, who then negotiate and implement the designed solutions in the work setting. Implementation is usually initiated in the form of pilot experiments while the Change Laboratory sessions are running, the progress of which is reported in subsequent sessions in order to fine-tune and enhance the intervention. This knowledge exchange cycle typically requires 10-12 weekly sessions as well as follow-up sessions. The modified and developed version of the Change Laboratory as a result of this innovative pilot trial will subsequently be tested in a large-scale cluster randomized trial, with funding from the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR). Each school within the larger trial would utilise this process-oriented intervention to develop their own local solutions.