This text is part of the special Acfas Congress booklet
“It’s a problem that persists over time. We were already talking about it in the 1980s”, comments Simon Viviers, organizer of the symposium Mental health and well-being at work for school staff in Quebec at the next Acfas conference. 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.
“It’s as if we can’t do prevention,” comments Simon Viviers, professor in the Department of Fundamentals and Practices in Education of the Faculty of Educational Sciences of the Université Laval. He has been interested in the issues of mental health at work in this sector for several years now. Teachers’ mental health, in particular, has deteriorated over the past two decades. Result: teachers leave the profession, especially at the beginning of their career.
In addition, “many carry the perceived suffering and end up with all sorts of undocumented problems; it affects the family, the spouse, the quality of education,” he adds. So teachers take the pressure to give the best to students, but this comes at the cost of their mental health, and in the long run affects their ability to fully provide what they have to offer.
A symposium to take stock
The pandemic has exacerbated mental health problems and pushed them to the fore in all areas, including education: the Supreme Education Council has also prepared a report on the matter and the Ministry of Education organized a symposium on well-being at school . the colloquium Mental health and well-being at work for school staff in Quebecwhich will take place on May 12 and 13, aims to take stock of the mental health of school staff.
The symposium begins with the presentation of preliminary results of a comprehensive epidemiological survey of educational staff mental health conducted by the INSPQ among 10,000 respondents. International experts will also shed light on the debate.
In addition to paying attention to the mental health of teachers, the symposium will focus on management and support staff. “This makes the colloquium original,” says Mr. Viviers. “The staff in the professional sector and adult education will not be missing. It’s important to have as inclusive a perspective as possible,” he emphasizes.
A natural role
The pandemic has had a significant impact on school principals, whose critical role is often underestimated, explains Emmanuel Poirel, symposium co-leader and professor in the Department of Administration and Foundations of Education at the University of Montreal.
“We knew it was a difficult job, but the challenges have multiplied in times of pandemic.” Where a business manager is responsible for 10 or 15 employees, for example, a director of secondary education consists of a very small management team (one management position and a few assistants) for 200 employees. “They have no accountant, no communication manager… The departments have to do everything”, continues Mr. Poirel.
Trapped in their schools and constantly dealing with emergency and crisis management, principals find little time to be pedagogical leaders, “what they were hired to do,” notes Mr. Poirel up.
Professor Poirel also notes a clear loss of interest in management positions. “We didn’t expect that,” he says. Principals are usually former teachers who move up to management positions; but at this point, teachers are no longer interested, and some principals want to teach again, summarizes Mr. Poirel, who will present preliminary data from a major study of school principals’ mental health and well-being. crisis.
This study, launched just before the pandemic, collected data from more than 1,000 departments, showing that despite their resilience, they were already weakened by the enormous workload. “They develop good strategies not to burn out and make sure they distance themselves from their emotions. But that’s the risk,” he says. In-depth interviews were also conducted in March 2021 to provide an update on their mental health amid the pandemic, and the investigation is ongoing; another measurement will be taken in October 2022 to monitor the evolution.
A critical perspective
The second objective of the symposium is to open the scientific debate and reflect on the theoretical concepts, in particular by examining the approaches used.
“Some are very focused on individual responsibility, although it’s much more complex than that, we can’t limit ourselves to that,” says Emmanuel Poirel. Asking individuals to improve their ability to better cope with stress ignores the collective dynamics. “We need to change the organization of work,” he says.
Indeed, in the last twenty years we have observed the emergence of a new type of management in the public sector, modeled after the private sector. Emphasis is placed on academic success and on quantified indicators. “Not everything is measurable, however; the sense of work is missing in the dashboard of the managers”, emphasizes mr. Viviers. This loss of meaning has an impact on the well-being of employees.
The organizers of the symposium hope that this inventory will contribute to prevention practices and policies. “We hope that representatives of school services, trade unions and the Ministry of Education will be present, so that they can broaden their horizons and fully assess the problem for the people who care for our children every day,” concludes Mr Viviers.
It is hoped that this first symposium will be the first in a series of symposia demonstrating the positive effects of interventions inspired by this state of affairs.