Putting teachers’ well-being and empowerment at the center of learning recovery and acceleration

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Teachers have experienced heightened stress and burnout during the COVID-19 pandemic, but focused policies and programs can help support teacher well-being. Teachers have experienced heightened stress and burnout during the COVID-19 pandemic, but focused policies and programs can help support teacher well-being. Copyright: Shutterstock

Last Wednesday, we celebrated 85 million teachers globally on World Teachers’ Day. This marked the first time since the onset of the pandemic that students and teachers in almost every corner of the globe are starting their academic year through a return to fully in-person instruction. Yet as they return to school, there is no return to normalcy.

The world continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic and multiple other crises. Teachers and students are no exception. While we have an emerging picture of how students have been severely affected by the pandemic, far less attention has been given to an equally essential consideration—what about our teachers?

There is some evidence that teachers have experienced heightened stress and burnout. Last year with UNESCO and UNICEF, the World Bank called attention to the importance of ensuring teacher well-being in learning recovery efforts. For World Teachers’ Day 2022, we convened an exceptional group of education leaders to reflect on the experience and lessons so far with efforts to ensure teacher well-being, drawing on their perspectives—from the classroom, research, and policy. We would like to share four takeaways from the discussion on the importance of supporting teachers’ well-being and empowerment holistically in this critical period of building back better:

1. There will be no learning recovery without well prepared, appreciated, and empowered teachers

As Andreas Schleicher, Director for Education and Skills at the OECD, put it: “The most important predictor for learning loss was not the hours of homework you got or the access to technology, it was actually that student-teacher relationship.” Many teachers may have suffered trauma from pandemic-related issues, and they have experienced burnout from the stressful tasks of ensuring learning continuity during school closures and dealing with learning losses as schools reopened. More than ever, effective teachers are the single most important factor to ensure that students learn. Learning recovery is simply not possible without supporting teachers. “Teachers are students’ greatest resource. Not the building, not the computers,” said Keishia Thorpe, winner of the Global Teacher Prize 2021.

2. Teacher well-being depends not only on their working conditions but also their own sense of self-efficacy

Adequate remunerations and working conditions are of course key to teachers’ well-being. But teachers also need to feel effective and empowered in their job. Chris Henderson, Chair for Teachers in Crisis Contexts at the Inter-Agency for Education in Emergencies, described teacher well-being as “what a teacher is able to do, and what a teacher is free from. And particularly in crisis contexts, it’s their ability to teach effectively … where children and teachers themselves are contending with a high level of trauma and stress.” As school systems reopen for a new academic year, return-to-business as usual will not be sufficient. Teachers need to be well-prepared, supported, and empowered to recover learning losses in the context of more heterogeneous classrooms. Their sense of self-efficacy is as important as their actual readiness to tackle this challenge. Speaking from her experience as Program Leader for Human Development in East Asia at the World Bank, Tara Béteille remarked that even now: “In my conversations with ministries … the words I hear often are teacher professional development and teacher accountability. I don’t hear the word motivation that much.” Systematic investments to support teacher well-being, resilience, and feelings of self-efficacy are needed.

3. There are cost-effective, focused interventions to enhance teachers’ well-being.

There is a monumental task ahead to support the learning recovery efforts of the 1.6 billion schoolchildren who were shut out of schools globally at the height of the pandemic. Yet, the size of the task need not be paralyzing. Daniela Labra Cardero, Director of Atentamente, shared the experience of a program to support teachers in Mexico to strengthen their socio-emotional well-being and manage the stress and anxiety arising from the impacts of the pandemic in their lives. She said: “We cannot stop the challenges in life, but we help teachers have a broader perspective, connect to their purpose as educators.” She said that before the program, teachers felt unable to deal with the pandemic and post-pandemic challenges, but the program helped them feel “more excited, more reconnected, and more capable of dealing with what’s happening.” Focused programs like Atentamente can be important tools to improve teachers well-being that complement investments and policy reforms to make teaching an attractive profession, such as improving selection and deployment policies, and provision of effective teacher professional development.

4. Teachers’ well-being and their voice should be front and center of efforts to recover learning and build back resilient, equitable and effective education systems

For decades, many education systems have failed to appropriately attract, recruit, prepare, support, and motivate teachers throughout their careers. The pandemic has propelled teacher retention and motivation to a front-and-center issue. Eleonora Villegas-Reimers, Chair of the Teaching & Learning Department at Boston University, underscored that: “It was not that the pandemic created an issue of lack of respect to the teachers, or a need for stronger professional development, or paying more attention to teachers’ well-being. The pandemic … brought more in focus what was going on.” It is clearer now that a respectful social environment in which teachers are deeply respected and valued is necessary for education systems to work.

The design and implementation of learning recovery plans should actively seek and build in the perspectives of teachers. Teachers cannot be only seen as the subject of these policies—their perspectives are essential in the policy making process itself. “A lot of times these discussions are had without teachers … it’s really important that teachers get a space to really talk about these issues that we are experiencing firsthand,” Thorpe said. This will ensure that the impacts on teachers’ well-being, empowerment, and professional respect, are factored in and pave the way for the success of policies aimed at recovering and accelerating learning.


ICYMI: You can find the event recording on our YouTube channel and our social media platform. We want to hear your thoughts on how we can foster programs that best support teachers. Write to us to the World Bank Teachers Team at teach@worldbank.org!


Elaine Ding

Analyst, Education Global Practice

Omar Arias

Deputy Chief Economist

Ana Teresa Del Toro Mijares

Consultant, World Bank Group

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