Dr Helen Logan: Examining the links between work environments and staff wellbeing
Dr Helen Logan is an Adjunct Senior Lecturer in Early Childhood Education at Charles Sturt University. With educator wellbeing a key focus of her research, Dr Logan shares her thoughts and tips on Quality Area 4 and how to implement staffing arrangements that prioritise staff wellbeing.
31 October 2022
With more than 30 years of experience leading early childhood programs and services, Dr Logan has recently turned her focus to examining the wellbeing of early childhood educators and its links to factors such as educators’ work environments.
The importance of staff wellbeing
Dr Logan observed that while Quality Area 4 addresses issues such as rostering, continuity of staffing, collaboration, and professional standards, there is less detail about how staff wellbeing should be considered in relation to their work practices with young children – an equally crucial aspect of staffing.
"Educators need support for professional growth and their work-related well-being for them to provide responsive interactions with children because when an educator’s wellbeing is compromised, it has implications for children’s learning," she shared.
"Effective strategies and practices to maintain and improve staff wellbeing must take into account the emotional demands of working with young children, support from service leaders to develop a positive work climate and ongoing learning to develop professional practice."
Another key consideration is the substantial amounts of emotional energy educators use in their daily interactions with children and families.
"Educators need environments that support them to manage daily demands with children and families that are multi-dimensional," Dr Logan said.
"Supervisory staff who are attuned to the emotional load experienced by their educators, such as directors and service managers, are instrumental in developing emotionally sensitive and trusting relationships that provide strong mental health and well-being supports."
"Resources that promote and provide emotional competence training are useful tools for directors and educators alike."
Strategies to support staff wellbeing and quality practice
Educator wellbeing has predominantly focused on individual educators, with less attention to the broader systems that support staff wellbeing.
Dr Logan recommended several strategies services can investigate to address workplace challenges and support professional knowledge and skill development.
"One useful strategy that is gaining traction for supporting educators as well as Centre Directors is clinical supervision, which is used widely in other professions," said Dr Logan.
Dr Logan shared a recent study by Wong and colleagues, the Early Childhood Educators’ Well-being project (ECEWP), which outlines that professional supervision offers multiple benefits for staff, including leading to greater levels of staff resilience.
"Professional supervision offers relationship-based, reflective, and strengths-based sessions that provide a formal process to assist staff in managing and coping with difficult and stressful work-related situations," she said.
"Programs of professional supervision offer much needed opportunities for reflection and debriefing in a supervised environment, usually facilitated by specialist staff with an objective perspective."
Another worthwhile strategy is mentoring, which encourages all staff to challenge and learn from each other’s strengths and skills, in line with Element 4.2.1 (Professional collaboration).
"Mentoring relationships encourage the development of professional growth and identity," Dr Logan shared.
"Working with external consultants or critical friends in this way can be useful in improving and sustaining quality pedagogical practice."
To support the benefits of these programs, Dr Logan explains they must be implemented alongside professional learning.
"By engaging in continual professional learning, both educators and Centre Directors continue to translate their extensive knowledge of child development, play, pedagogy, health, safety, and nutrition into meaningful programs to support children’s learning," she said.
Establishing healthy and productive work environments
"For educators to enhance children’s learning, they need work environments that are well resourced, healthy, and safe," Dr Logan said.
"Increased attention to educator work environments improves an educator’s ability to provide high-quality early education for children."
Dr Logan shared that a recent study by Cummings and colleagues explains greater attention to quality work environments supports educators to enhance children’s learning, whereas inadequate or limited workspaces can have negative effects on educators’ well-being
"Well-designed work environments are characterised by meeting rooms for educators that are separate and private from rooms used by children and provide opportunities for non-contact planning time, as well as a much-needed break space."
Attending to these features of work environments provides staffing arrangements that lead to greater continuity of staff (Element 4.1.2) and higher levels of staff morale and motivation.
"Improving these conditions for staff also allows them to enhance the quality of their practice, and also supports opportunities for professional conversations between teams of educators," Dr Logan explained.
Cumming, T., Wong, S., & Logan, H. (2021). Early childhood educators’ well-being, work environments and “quality”: Possibilities for changing policy and practice. Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, 46(1), 50-65.
Logan, H., Cumming, T., & Wong, S. (2020). Sustaining the work-related wellbeing of early childhood educators: Perspectives from key stakeholders in early childhood organisations. International Journal of Early Childhood, 52(1), 95–113.