A symposium on the well-being and mental health of school staff

This text is part of the special brochure of the Acfas Congress

“It is a problem that persists over time. We were already talking about it in the 1980s ”, observes Simon Viviers, organizer of the symposium Mental health and occupational well-being of school staff in Quebec at the next Acfas Congress. At the end of a pandemic that hit schools, which also had to build the plane in full flight, the symposium wants to take stock of the situation.

“It’s like we can’t do prevention,” remarks Simon Viviers, professor in the Department of Educational Foundations and Practices at the Faculty of Education at Laval University. He has been interested in occupational mental health problems in this industry for several years. The mental health of teachers has particularly deteriorated over the past two decades. Consequence: teachers, especially at the beginning of their careers, desert the profession.

Furthermore, “many endure the suffering they have experienced and we are left with all sorts of undocumented troubles; it has consequences for the family, the spouse, the quality of education, ”he adds. Teachers thus take the stress on their shoulders to give their students their best, but at the expense of their mental health, and in the long term impacting their ability to fully deliver what they have to offer.

A symposium to take stock

The pandemic has exacerbated and brought mental health problems to the fore in all sectors, including education: the Superior Council of Education also produced a report on the issue, and the Ministry of Education organized a symposium on well-being at school. The interview Mental health and occupational well-being of school staff in Quebecwhich will take place on 12 and 13 May, aims to take stock of the state of mental health of school staff.

The symposium will begin with the presentation of the preliminary results of a large epidemiological survey on the mental health of teaching staff conducted by INSPQ among 10,000 respondents. International experts will also shed light on the debate.

In addition to focusing on teachers’ mental health, the symposium will focus on management and support staff. “This is what makes the interview original,” says Viviers. “Personnel from the professional sector and adult education will not be excluded. It is important to have the most inclusive perspective possible, “she insists.

A role taken for granted

The pandemic has had a significant impact on school principals, whose crucial role is often underestimated, explains Emmanuel Poirel, co-leader of the symposium and professor in the Department of Administration and Fundamentals of Education at the University of Montreal. .

“We knew it was difficult work, but the challenges multiplied in times of pandemics.” While a business executive is responsible for 10 or 15 employees, secondary school principals, for example, are made up of a very small management team (one executive position and a few assistants) of 200 employees. “They don’t have an accountant, a communications manager … The departments have to do everything,” continues Poirel.

Trapped in their school and constantly engaged in emergency and crisis management, principals find little time to be pedagogical leaders, “what they are hired for,” notes Poirel.

Professor Poirel also notes a marked loss of interest in executive positions. “This, we hadn’t foreseen it,” he says. Principals are mostly former teachers who rise to executive positions; But right now teachers are no longer interested and some principals want to go back to teaching, summarizes Poirel, who will present preliminary data from a large survey on the mental health and well-being of school leaders. crisis.

Launched shortly before the pandemic, this survey collected data from over 1,000 departments, which revealed that they were already weakened by the enormous workload, despite their resilience. “They develop good strategies for not running out and make sure they distance themselves from their emotions. But that’s the risk, ”he believes. In-depth interviews were also conducted in March 2021, to provide an update on their mental health in the midst of the pandemic, and the investigation is ongoing; another measurement will be carried out in October 2022 to follow its evolution.

A critical perspective

The second objective of the symposium is to open the scientific debate and reflect on theoretical concepts, in particular by examining the approaches used.

“Some are very individual responsibility oriented, while it is much more complex than that, we cannot limit ourselves to that,” says Emmanuel Poirel. Asking people to improve their ability to better manage stress ignores collective dynamics. “We have to change the organization of work,” he says.

In fact, over the past twenty years we have witnessed the arrival of a new type of management in the public sector, modeled on the private sector. The emphasis is on academic achievement and quantified indicators. “However, not everything is quantifiable; the sense of work is absent from the manager’s dashboard, ”Viviers points out. This loss of meaning has an impact on employee well-being.

Symposium organizers hope this inventory will fuel prevention practices and policies. “We hope that there will be representatives of school services, trade unions and the Ministry of Education, so that they broaden their horizons and take full measure of what is a problem for the people who take care of our children every day”, concludes Mr. Viviers.

This first symposium will hopefully be the first in a series of symposia that will present the positive effects of interventions inspired by this state of affairs.

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