A study of 321 educators (teachers and staff) conducted after the first three months of remote instruction in 2020, found that despite respondents having varying degrees of either feeling effective in their online teaching or fatigued (stress, burnout), nearly all (93%) indicated that they themselves would need social/emotional support from their school upon the return to in-person instruction.
The study, "Online teaching self-efficacy, social-emotional learning (SEL) competencies, and compassion fatigue among educators during the COVID-19 Pandemic," conducted by Professor Chunyan Yang, offers a glimpse into how educators were feeling about their own well-being and efficacy in online teaching, and makes recommendations on what districts can do to support them.
“The reality is that besides teaching and trying to figure out the new technologies of remote instruction, these teachers are feeling the weight of their students’ emotions, too, and that’s what we call compassion fatigue. Compassion fatigue has been found to be associated with higher turnover and attrition rates of educators and many other helping professions, such as healthcare workers, mental health professionals, and social workers,” Yang said.
Asked about their level of compassion fatigue (how much stress, burnout, and secondary trauma teachers are experiencing), 59% of respondents strongly or somewhat agreed feeling compassion fatigue. A lower level of compassion fatigue translated to better teacher well-being.
Related to compassion fatigue, Yang noted, is how educators feel about their own level of social and emotional competencies. Strong social and emotional competencies allow educators to recognize and manage emotions; develop care and concern for others; make responsible decisions; establish positive relationships; and handle challenging situations effectively.
The study found that teachers with feelings of lower teaching efficacy and higher social and emotional SEC competencies were more vulnerable to the risk of compassion fatigue. Teachers with both higher teaching efficacy and higher social and emotional competencies had lower risk of compassion fatigue.
“Our survey is an important window into the challenges educators are experiencing and what is impacting their teaching efficacy and psychological wellbeing,” Yang said, adding that a larger survey is being conducted in another local metropolitan district.
“The big theme here is connectedness. What makes us feel more, or less, connected, and how does that impact what we do? There is existing research that also tells us there are things we can do, practical actions schools can take right now, to support educators."
Although Yang’s study was conducted during distance learning, the compassion fatigue, SEL competencies, and feelings of teaching efficacy will be important to assess when classes resume in-person.
While COVID-19 has magnified the challenges faced by educators, it has also built resilience among educators. Many educators experience the feeling of empowerment and feel that they are able to learn and teach in many ways they never imagined and collaborate with colleagues and families in creative ways after being able to manage the steep digital learning curve. They will carry the resilience they have gained to be ready to support students when they are back in the classroom.