By Mandy Pare-Court, PhD
Dr. Mandy Pare-Court has decades of experience in organizational development and change management including expertise in instructional design, leadership development, recruitment, and data analysis. Her formal education is in psychology and neuroscience, with a master’s degree in education and a doctorate in leadership, organizational development, and change management. This unique combination has been applied to a career of teaching and leading analysts as well as large agencies through change and professional growth in the US intelligence community. Dr. Pare-Court is currently a Psychology Adjunct at Anne Arundel Community College and CEO/Founder of Magic Feather Consulting, where her business guides organizations through the process of building psychologically safe environments and relationships.
Health is increasingly recognized as an important performance driver. HERO research supports the link between robust wellness initiatives and organizational success. This includes educational organizations. Therefore, health should be an integral part of teacher, student and staff training. Many of the nation’s school systems spend time educating students on positive health decisions and behaviors, but what about the educators those students look up to and see five days of the week? Given that students spend on average 7.5 hours a day focused on academic endeavors and educators are said to spend more than 10 hours daily on school-related activities, it would be of the utmost importance to ensure that both students and educators are given the time and resources to be their healthiest.
Research conducted using data from the HERO Health and Well-being Best Practices Scorecard in Collaboration with Mercer© (HERO Scorecard) shows that primary and secondary schools are lagging in supporting their employees when compared to universities and nearly every other sector. Addressing this gap should be a high priority since, if today’s teachers are not themselves healthy, how can we expect our future leaders, engineers, CEOs, teachers and doctors to have a solid foundation and understanding of well-being?
The HERO Scorecard Benchmark Database supports comparisons by industry and a recent analysis compares higher education organizations (colleges and universities) to other sectors. When examining the differences in health and well-being initiatives between higher education and Other Educational Organizations (largely comprised of primary and secondary schools) as well as between these educational settings and other sectors, findings showed that colleges and universities self-reported implementing many HERO Scorecard best practices, while Other Educational Organizations lagged considerably behind in implementing best practices.
A detailed examination of HERO Scorecard data compared practices implemented by Higher Education (colleges and universities, n=46) to Other Educational Organizations (primary and secondary school districts, n=87) and 11 other sectors (n=784), particularly in the areas of strategic planning and organizational support. A comparatively impressive 80% of colleges and universities reported having policies that supported work/life balance (such as with flextime or job share options), the highest of any sector tracked in the HERO Scorecard database. In contrast, only 22% of Other Educational Organizations reported implementing such policies, the lowest across all sectors. The gap between the two educational groups also exists in positive policy support for employee physical activity, with a 34-percentage point difference between the two groups (48% for Higher Education vs. 14% for Other Educational Organizations). There was also a large discrepancy between the two educational groups in terms of offering policies supporting the use of work time for stress management and rejuvenation (48% for Higher Education vs. 20% for Other Education). In an era where students aged 5 to 24 years are reporting higher rates of mental illness and higher suicide rates, this finding is particularly disconcerting. Educators need to be at their best in order to adequately assess and help students facing difficult times. A similar gap between Higher Education and Other Educational Organizations was found across every question on the HERO Scorecard related to policies, strategies and senior level support for health and well-being.
In research by the American Federation of Teachers,1 58% of teachers surveyed reported often feeling emotionally and physically exhausted at the end of the day for more than seven days in a row. The educators cited new initiatives, mandated curriculum, standardized tests and taking work home as the main sources of stress. Regardless of how educated and academically prepared teachers are, educational goals will be hard to achieve if teachers are not well. While some school districts are offering employee assistance services and wellness programs for employees, it is important they also ensure teachers have time to participate. Educators need to emulate good behavior in order to positively influence students. It has been reported that students who have highly anxious teachers do not perform as well on standardized tests and have more trouble socially adjusting than those students with more mentally stable teachers. With increased indicators of poor health in both educators and students, it is more important than ever to make boosting well-being in our educational systems a national priority in order to help improve health.
What can be done? In 2017, Congressman Tim Ryan introduced HR 2544-Teacher Health and Wellness Act to “…to require the Director of the National Institutes of Health to carry out a study to add to the scientific knowledge on reducing teacher stress and increasing teacher retention and well-being…”.2 Yet, this bill has made little progress toward becoming law since its introduction in May 2017. In the meantime, what can local districts do? Some of the most innovative districts are teaming with healthcare companies to use and create programs such as the “Hallways to Health,” program that creates a schoolwide culture of health encompassing students, teachers and administrators alike. Programs like these are associated with improved test scores and higher retention rates in employees.3
This problem will not be solved by one group with one answer. A good start is completing the HERO Scorecard over a number of years to garner time-over-time data about where your organization’s health and well-being initiatives can be improved. The route to healthier educators and students, one that improves health and performance as well as the future well-being of Americans, requires the whole community to embrace and embody a change towards healthier living.
1. American Federation of Teachers. 2017 Quality of Work Life Survey. Available at: https://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/2017_eqwl_survey_web.pdf
2. Teacher Health and Wellness Act. H.R.2544 No. 115, 115th Congress. (2017-2018).
3. Bradley B, Green AC. Do health and education agencies in the United States share responsibility for academic achievement and health? A review of 25 years of evidence about the relationship of adolescents’ academic achievement and health behaviors. Journal of Adolescent Health. 2013; 52(5):523–532.