Teachers Mental Health

Create a Positive and Compassionate Culture in Schools

By: Janet Pun

Last updated: May 10, 2024

Teacher Safe School Climate

Educators have one of the most important jobs within their communities, and it’s essential to safeguard their mental health. Almost 50% of teachers are experiencing burnout, while 40% are considering leaving the profession which is an alarming teacher attrition rate.

Several factors contributed to teacher attrition and burnout that have only magnified in recent years. They include:

  • Overwhelming and unrealistic workload
  • Poor work/life balance  
  • Constant organizational regulations and changes
  • Lack of resources  
  • Unreasonable demands from managers  
  • Not feeling valued or appreciated  

Did you know? The top reasons educators leave their jobs are feeling insecure, overworked, and undervalued. They feel powerless. Leaders are at the center of fostering a positive and compassionate workplace culture. It is essential that school leaders find healthy ways to support their staff, students, and larger school communities.

Building a Positive Staff Culture

School culture can be hard to see but something educators can feel. It is the atmosphere of a school – the beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours within a school staff.

Here are steps you can take to build a more positive school culture:

  • Vision and Mission: School leaders often have many competing priorities. With so many ideas and initiatives thrown at them, it can be hard for leaders to determine what problems they should focus on. Therefore, it is important for leaders to come up with a vision and mission to tackle key problems and stay laser-like focused on clear goals and clearly defined problems the staff is working on.
  • Co-Created Core Values: Does your school have core values and will your educators be able to list them off by heart? Odds are, schools do not have clear core values that really resonate with staff. But, when schools co-create these values with their staff, they provide alignment and consistency to anchor all other behaviour rules and expectations. Core values can include trust, happiness, curiosity, and care. 
  • Positive-Focused: It may sound obvious, but many schools fail to learn and apply this simple lesson. In order to create a positive culture within your schools, you need to focus more on positives than negatives. It’s the law of attraction. Many staff believe that when their schools focused on their strengths, they felt more motivated, safer to be themselves, happier and healthier overall at school. A healthier, happier staff who feel safe and motivated can accomplish so much more with their students and for the school community.
  • Collaborative Planning: The smartest person in the room is the room itself. No one person has the solution to solve big problems, not even the Principal or Leadership. It takes the input of people with different perspectives coming together. The level of collaboration among staff in a school is a major determinant of whether the culture of that school is positive or negative. Schools with high levels of collaboration among staff tend to promote higher behavioural and academic standards as it allows teachers to share best practices responsive to student needs. Thus, school leaders can positively influence their school culture through the use of strategies that encourage collaboration.

Building Compassionate in Your Schools

The truth is that compassionate school cultures create psychological safety. Therefore, it would be even more important to create a psychologically safe culture that provides staff and members with the safety and compassion they need to share their perspectives, vulnerabilities, boundaries, and ideas without fear of judgment or retribution. 

“No one can do their best at work if they are mentally and emotionally depleted. Psychological Safety gives us an environment for people to reduce their stress, feel valued, have open and honest discussions, be able to say ‘no’ without fear of retribution and ultimately, do their jobs well.” – School Leader

Programs, policies, and procedures with high psychological safety is positively correlated with well-being, creativity, innovation, and effectiveness. 

Build psychological health and safety into your schools

Here are some strategies on how to build psychological health and safety in your schools.

Assess the level of psychological safety among staff using the seven questions below. 

    Note: Endorsing the first four statements would indicate a sense of psychological safety, and the last three indicate the opposite.

    • Teachers at this school are able to bring up problems and tough issues.
    • Teachers at this school feel it is safe to take a risk (e.g. trying something new in the classroom).
    • No teachers at this school would deliberately act in a way that would undermine my teaching.
    • Working with teachers at this school, my unique skills and talents are valued and used.
    • If you make a mistake at this school, it is often held against you.
    • People who work at this school sometimes reject others for being different.
    • It is difficult to ask other people who work at this school for help. 

    Identify strategies for increasing psychological safety relevant to your staff’s feedback, and ensure leaders model those strategies. Leaders have a significant influence on the organizational culture and on staff member well-being. Staff members must feel supported by their leaders. Some actions leaders can take to facilitate psychological safety among their staff members are:

    • Show your humanity and be willing to be vulnerable: name when you don’t have the answers or when you feel challenged and motivated.
    • Acknowledge the reality of workplace challenges and demonstrate commitment to working through them together. Invite team members to share their perspectives and ideas for navigating common challenges.
    • Talk about mental health and well-being regularly in whole groups and one-on-one chats.
    • Actively discourage habits which harm staff mental health – working excessive hours, cancelling vacations, etc. 

    Show appreciation and gratitude:

    • Have a human moment in each of your meetings with school leaders and/or teachers and ask them what they need (and task for instructional coaches and VPs to do the same).
    • Ask your school to organize ongoing celebrations for staff and members. These could include coffee and donuts but also non-monetary actions like thank you notes.
    • Give and invite feedback regularly in the moment and in intentional, structured processes.

    Promote mental health supports: Making mental health resources readily available demonstrates that your school is committed to supporting the well-being of its staff. Accessible resources can include counselling services, support groups, educational materials, and online tools like Starling Minds. Knowing that help is available when needed can alleviate stress and promote a sense of security and belonging.


      The well-being of educators is vital for a thriving educational environment. To address high rates of burnout and attrition, schools must tackle factors like overwhelming workloads and a lack of appreciation. Building a positive staff culture involves setting clear goals, co-creating values, and fostering a positive-focused approach. Additionally, creating a compassionate school culture promotes psychological safety and enhances well-being, creativity, and effectiveness. Leaders must model vulnerability, acknowledge challenges, and prioritize mental health initiatives. By implementing strategies like regular feedback, appreciation gestures, and access to mental health resources like Starling Minds, schools can create a supportive and resilient community that benefits everyone involved.

      Janet Pun

      Janet is an energetic and passionate lover of all things related to marketing and brand strategy. With her background in tech, digital media, and mental health advocacy, she hopes to make the world and the people who live in it a bit happier and healthier.

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