Improving principals' wellbeing

The Australian Principal Occupational Health, Safety and Wellbeing Research Team has been recognised with the Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Research and Research Partnership for their work to improve school principals’ wellbeing.

The team comprises Professor Herb Marsh, Deputy Director, Institute for Positive Psychology and Education Dr Theresa Dicke, Senior Lecturer, Education Leadership Dr Paul Kidson, Senior Lecturer (Science) Professor Philip Parker, Senior Research Fellow Associate Professor Jiesi Guo, Research Fellow Dr Geetanjali Basarkod, Research Fellow Dr Taren Sanders, Research Project Coordinator Dr HeeRa Ko, Research Project Officer Sioau-mai See and Casual Professional Tim Kent.

More than a decade of research

The team works in partnership with peak body principal associations across Australia to deliver the annual Principal Occupational Health, Safety and Wellbeing Survey, which assesses the wellbeing of Australian school principals.

What began as an annual survey in 2011 has now evolved to include a broad program of work including monitoring and influencing government policies, providing targeted reports to industry partners and stakeholders, and giving individualised feedback to survey participants.

As Herb explained, around 50 per cent of Australian principals now complete the survey each year.

“Having that kind of response rate with a group that’s in as high demand and as overworked as school principals is quite remarkable,” Herb said.

“It says something amazing about how valuable principals find the feedback provided by the survey.”

Research with impact

The findings of the Australian Principal Occupational Health, Safety and Wellbeing Research Program have led to significant real-world impacts. As a result of the program, all Australian states have implemented substantial evidence-based changes or policies.

For example, Victoria has applied substantial changes to work practices, leading to Victorian principals now reporting higher job satisfaction and fewer principals identifying as at risk of psychological harm in subsequent surveys.

“Victoria, which was the first state to implement policy or strategy changes based on our recommendations, has shown the most promising results with regard to improved principal health and wellbeing,” Theresa explained.

Based on the team’s research, Victoria also introduced the School Community Safety Orders 2021, where principals can ban violent parents from schools to protect students and staff.

Paul said the project was significant because it covered all states and territories in a comprehensive way.

“It is able to speak into every jurisdictional policy development space in ways that other research projects can’t,” Paul said.

A collaborative approach

The team said it was an honour to receive the Vice-Chancellor's Staff Excellence Award, particularly because it acknowledged the importance of partnership and collaboration.

The research program team is a cross-functional group that includes research, academic and professional staff from the Institute for Positive Psychology and Education and the Faculty of Education and Arts.

“The fact that our research has been recognised for good partnerships is really important because we are a collaborative team and it has taken the collective efforts of professional and academic staff to achieve these outcomes,” HeeRa said.

The team also attributed their success to the strong relationships they have built with external partners, particularly the peak body principal associations which help to promote the survey to principals across Australia.

The impact of the program has also garnered both domestic and international interest, with a similar survey being done with teachers in the Northern Territory and other school leaders surveys in New Zealand, Ireland and Finland.

 Man with glasses and grey hair holding certificate beside another man in dark suit wearing glasses
Professor Herb Marsh with Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Zlatko Skrbis

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