Restoring Teacher and Principal Well-Being Is an Essential Step for Rebuilding Schools

Findings from the State of the American Teacher and State of the American Principal Surveys

by Elizabeth D. Steiner, Sy Doan, Ashley Woo, Allyson D. Gittens, Rebecca Ann Lawrence, Lisa Berdie, Rebecca L. Wolfe, Lucas Greer, Heather L. Schwartz

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Research Questions

  1. What is the state of kindergarten through 12th grade (K–12) public school teacher and principal well-being, and how does is it compare with the general population of employed adults?
  2. What are the connections among teacher and principal well-being, job-related stressors, working conditions, and intentions to remain in their jobs?
  3. How do the responses and experiences of teachers and principals of color compare with those of their White counterparts?

Principal and teacher well-being is a matter of immediate concern for principals and teachers themselves and for the students they teach. Stress on the job can negatively affect educators' physical health, and poor teacher wellness and mental health are linked with lower-quality student learning environments and with poorer academic and nonacademic student outcomes. Furthermore, previous research suggests that principals and teachers of color are more likely than their White peers to experience poor well-being and are more likely to leave their jobs. Understanding the relationships among teacher and principal well-being, perceived working conditions, and teachers' and principals' intentions to leave their current position is critical for pandemic recovery and for the long-term health of the principal and teacher workforce.

In this report, researchers present selected findings from the 2022 State of the American Teacher (SoT) and State of the American Principal (SoP) surveys. These findings are related to teacher and principal well-being, working conditions, and intentions to leave their jobs. The authors focus specifically on the well-being and working conditions of educators of color.

Key Findings

Teacher and principal well-being in the third school year of the COVID-19 pandemic was poor

  • Teachers and principals reported worse well-being than other working adults.
  • Well-being was especially poor among Hispanic/Latinx teachers, mid-career teachers, and female teachers and principals.

Teachers and principals of color reported sources of job-related stress that were similar to those of White teachers and principals but were more likely to experience racial discrimination

  • Supporting students' academic learning was a top-ranked source of job-related stress for teachers; staffing was a top source of stress for principals.
  • Nearly half of principals of color and one-third of teachers of color experienced racial discrimination. Family members of students and fellow staff were often the source.
  • Poor well-being and adverse working conditions were associated with teachers' and principals' intentions to leave their jobs. Supportive school environments were linked to better well-being and a decreased likelihood of intentions to leave.

Addressing the working conditions linked to poor well-being could improve educator retention

  • Majorities of teachers and principals reported coping well with their job-related stress and intended to stay in their current jobs.
  • To reduce the stress of pandemic-era teaching, teachers and principals reported wanting to focus on core job responsibilities and build positive adult relationships.

Recommendations

  • District leaders should alleviate educators' sources of job-related stress, for example, by expanding tutoring programs, investing in summer school, or hiring additional staff to address student behavior and mental health concerns and provide more adult support in the classroom.
  • Districts that offer mental health and well-being supports should (1) ensure that teachers and principals know about them and (2) address barriers to access that are relevant in their districts, such as long wait times for counseling sessions. Districts that do not offer mental health or well-being supports should consider doing so. District leaders should also avoid the appearance of treating wellness as a superficial or short-term problem.
  • Many district and school leaders already work hard to build supportive environments and should build on their success. Leaders who have not made adult relationships a priority could consider transferring the strategies they use to build positive student-staff relationships to focus on adults. Leaders might also consider actions that could foster camaraderie among staff—such as intentional opportunities for social interactions—to build positive relationships among different groups of staff. They could also consider actions to support positive relationships among staff and family members of students—such as parent volunteering—that might have been suspended during the pandemic.

Research conducted by

Funding for the State of the American Teacher survey was provided by the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, and unrestricted gifts from RAND supporters. Funding for the teacher interviews was provided by the National Education Association and unrestricted gifts from RAND supporters. Funding for the State of the American Principal survey was provided by The Wallace Foundation. Funding for the American Life Panel survey was provided by the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association. This study was undertaken by RAND Education and Labor.

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