The well network: supporting remote teachers’ wellbeing in an online community

Year: 2014

Author: Sue, Smith, Jon, Mason

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper provides an overview of preliminary findings associated with the Well Network, a research project located in the Northern Territory (NT), and outlines particular challenges to teacher wellbeing in remote and very remote settings. The project was conceived as an initial response to a lack of dedicated services and professional learning available to support teachers in remote locations, particularly with respect to supporting personal and intra-personal aspects of wellbeing and resilience. Apart from identifying the scope of wellbeing issues involved, the project also investigated mindfulness training as an effective strategy to promote and support teacher wellbeing. Given the remote context of the NT - as well as a highly mobile population - a private, online peer-supported community was designed as an appropriate platform that could serve the dual function of both a research space and a supportive environment. Because access to this online community was available to self-recruited teachers throughout 2014, the Well Network also functioned as a pilot service that might also inform more formal responses from the NT Department of Education at the conclusion of the project. In recruiting teachers into participating a face-to-face seminar was conducted early in the year at Charles Darwin University. As an early indicator of interest, this event was over-subscribed within one week of advertising. This seminar followed a number of small teacher focus groups and together these activities were instrumental in shaping two broad themes to be accommodated in the web space design - personal resilience and positive connections. As a further response to the particularities of NT life, the imperatives of country, indigeneity and spirit, have also informed the discussion of teachers connecting with the Well Network. The efficacy of building an online community that aims to support and sustain wellbeing is further discussed as well as a range of technical issues that needed to be addressed in the launch and fine-tuning of the platform. Preliminary findings suggest an enthusiastic response from teachers for continuity of a peer-supported online community. Likewise, the positive response to engaging in mindfulness training suggests that professional learning focused on the intra-personal domain has benefits for professional performance.