Teaching has always been among the most isolating professions, but rarely have we explored the consequences of a lonely workforce.
A survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation and The Economist explored the effects of isolation on employees spanning a variety of industries in the United States, United Kingdom, and Japan, and found nearly a quarter (22 percent) of all surveyed workers said they always or often feel lonely or isolated.
The effects of feeling isolated on these individuals are not insignificant. Of the 22 percent of respondents who said they consistently feel lonely:
- 55 percent reported having physical health issues
- 49 percent said it affected their personal relationships
- 58 percent reported having mental health issues
- 33 percent said it affected the ability to do their job
If the numbers are this staggering for the general workforce, we can only imagine what the statistics might look like for educators who often experience fewer than 10 minutes of interaction with other adults each workday.
District HR administrators may be able to help balance the time teachers spend working with kids and working with each other by encouraging more teacher collaboration, which can be done by:
- Establishing professional learning communities (PLCs)
- Conduct professional development for teachers around a specific problem or goal at their respective schools. You can learn more about how to set up a PLC the right way on the Start Here Go Places website
- Holding weekly grade-level or content-area meetings
- Teachers can collaborate, set up observations, and provide feedback to one another
- Creating a comfortable environment in staff break rooms
- Conversations between teachers in the teachers’ lounge often lead to colleagues becoming interested in what’s being done in other classrooms. Put some effort into making your break rooms a desirable place to interact
- Designating a model classroom for key subjects
- Instructional coaches can work closely with the classroom teacher to help him/her implement new strategies and provide support and feedback
Ultimately, combatting teacher isolation starts with fostering a culture of collaboration. This can be a lengthy process and results will come with patience. It’s something districts must consistently put effort into because the effects of a lonely workforce can be catastrophic for teachers and subsequently their students.
For more information on building a collaborative work environment in schools, visit the Association for Middle Level Education website. We’ve also written about ways districts can resist teacher isolation in a 2018 post on the HRX website.
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