December 2, 2021

Research findings directly benefit wellbeing for ECE student teachers

Prioritising the hauora and wellbeing of student teachers while in tertiary education and embedding self-care practices early in their kaiako (teacher) journey is critical for their long-term wellness, and that of the children with whom they work. 

This is the focus of findings just released from phase one of a research project entitled ‘Senses of Hauora and Wellbeing in Early Childhood Initial Teacher Education (ITE)’, a collaborative study from researchers at Auckland University of Technology, Unitec Institute of Technology, The University of Auckland and Open Polytechnic.

Last year, in response to concerns around negative impacts on kaiako hauora from working in ECE settings, Healthy Families Waitākere led the formation of a sector-wide Kaiako Hauora Strategic Working Group, which subsequently transitioned into the Kaiako Hauora Innovation Team.  Research into ECE student teacher wellbeing was identified as a key priority for the sector by the working group.

“Through this research, our focus is on better understanding the ways in which student teachers navigate their studies. We are wanting a better understanding of how student teachers’ journeys contribute to their professional learning, identity and overall experience, and how these factors impact on their hauora and wellbeing,” explains Healthy Families Waitākere Lead Systems Innovator, Cathie Powell.

Phase one of the research project began in October 2020, with student teachers invited to respond to an online anonymous questionnaire.

The extensive findings showed that there is clearly no one-size-fits-all solution to supporting student teacher hauora and wellbeing, and that children’s wellbeing is by far the most common motivation for studying, so the experiences of study should therefore better reflect this motivation.

Also evident was that student teachers currently appear less likely to seek support from lecturers and tutors than other sources, with most support for student hauora and wellbeing coming from family. Positively, student teachers recognise the importance of taking time to care for their hauora and wellbeing and having a support network around them.

Student teachers did not often point to benefits of wellbeing practices such as meditation and other well studied approaches to self-care. Learning such techniques may contribute to personal and professional hauora and wellbeing.

“These findings play a really important role in positively influencing tomorrow’s early childhood educators.  Ultimately, promoting the inclusion of student ECE kaiako hauora and wellbeing in tertiary education will positively impact the wellbeing of student kaiako – now, and well into their teaching lives,” says Cathie.

Going forward, this research will inform recommendations to policy makers and other stakeholders regarding best practice for enhancing kaiako hauora and is intended to underpin associated strategies, policies and curriculum adaptations.

The findings have already influenced how the ITEs are working.  Unitec has added a new course EDUC5000 Hauora to the Bachelor of Teaching (ECE).

“The Bachelor programme has been rewritten and submitted for re-approval from the Teaching Council and this is a direct result of the collective drive through this project to pursue better long term outcomes for early childhood education teachers,” says Pauline Bishop, Senior Lecturer at Unitec.

At AUT, the findings have resulted in a greater appreciation of the complexity and interconnectedness of students’ learning and wellbeing, and a focus on increasing opportunities for student teachers to connect with leaders in the field of teacher wellbeing.  AUT’s Professor Andrew Gibbons comments: “This has led to a much stronger emphasis on connecting students to the support services available and staff understanding those supports in a holistic way.”

Findings from the research continue to inform conversations at the University of Auckland about pastoral care and course development.  The ECE ITE team continue to work on strengthening content across courses to better support understanding of the importance of teacher wellbeing and its relationship to the wellbeing of children, families and communities. 

This has included introducing students to practical resources and strategies for self-care, examining teacher wellbeing from different perspectives and working with students to build confidence in advocating for change.

Mary-Liz Broadley, a senior lecturer at Open Polytechnic says: “The findings have already directly influenced the ways ITE personnel interact with students, including use of wellbeing check-ins and tutorials, and teaching mindfulness exercises, gratitude practices and other wellbeing tools.”

In another significant move, NZQA is introducing a new code for pastoral support for tertiary and international learners that requires all tertiary providers (from January 2022) to foster safe and inclusive learning environments, and support learner participation and engagement.

“This is another exciting shift in the system that will support this work moving forward and ultimately help pave the way for real and tangible benefits for student teachers and the ECE Kaiako of tomorrow,” adds Cathie.

Phase two of the project has been delayed due to this year’s Auckland lockdown and will now start in 2022 and include focus groups with a selection of students.  These will explore the themes that emerged in Phase 1 with the view of identifying suggestions for how ITE providers might incorporate a focus on kaiako hauora throughout the students’ time with them.

Link to poem ‘A student teacher’s promise’ by Jacoba Matapo, on YouTube here.