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Study Snapshot: Workplace Violence: Risk for Teacher Exhaustion and Disengagement Through Relationships with Students and Colleagues
 
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For Immediate Release: May 22, 2019

Tony Pals, tpals@aera.net
(202) 238-3235, (202) 288-9333 (cell)

Collin Boylin, cboylin@aera.net
(202) 238-3233, (860) 490-8326 (cell)

Study Snapshot: Workplace Violence: Risk for Teacher Exhaustion and Disengagement Through Relationships with Students and Colleagues

Study: "Workplace Violence: Risk for Teacher Exhaustion and Disengagement Through Relationships with Students and Colleagues”
Authors: Elizabeth Olivier (Université catholique de Louvain), Michel Janosz (Université de Montréal), Isabelle Archambault (Université de Montréal), Sophie Pascal (School Environment Research Group), Steve Geoffrion (Université de Montréal), Alain Marchand (Université de Montréal), Julie Goulet (Université de Montréal), and Linda S. Pagani (Université de Montréal)

This study was presented at the AERA 2019 Annual Meeting, April 5-9, Toronto, Canada. (Session: School Safety, Bullying, and Workplace Violence.) A copy of the working paper is available to journalists upon request from the AERA communications team.

Main Finding:

  • For teachers, being a victim of aggression or being a witness of verbal or physical violence against a student or a colleague leads to a decrease in work engagement and an increase in exhaustion over the course of five school years. Being a direct victim of violence affects teachers’ perceptions of their relationships with colleagues and students and their levels of engagement and exhaustion, but in different ways for males and females.

Details:

  • Using data from 79 high schools and 2,072 teachers throughout the province of Quebec, Canada, between 2002 and 2007, the authors found that being a direct victim­—and also being a witness of verbal or physical violence against a student or a colleague—leads to a decrease in teacher work engagement and an increase in exhaustion over the course of five school years.
     
  • In their study, the authors examined three measures—violence exposure, relationships with students and colleagues, and exhaustion and engagement—to assess how violence exposure impacts teacher exhaustion and engagement over time. The authors noted that there is a critical shortage of longitudinal studies investigating how violence exposure may lead teachers to exhaustion and disengagement.
     
  • The study is among the first to assess how being a witness of violence can be a risk factor of its own for negative outcomes for teachers.
     
  • Among the 2,072 teachers who participated in the study, 99.5 percent reported having witnessed at least one event over the course of the school year, while 61.5 percent of teachers reported having been victims.
     
  • The authors found that teachers who witnessed verbal or physical harassment in school were increasingly tired, irritated, and unable to teach, while reporting less passion and dedication for their work.
     
  • Contrary to the authors’ expectations, teachers’ perceptions of the quality of their relationships with students and colleagues did not play a role in how witnessing violence affected their exhaustion or engagement. Witnessing violence did not lead to a lower perception of the quality of relationships.
     
  • Being a direct victim of violence decreased teachers’ perceptions of warm, close, respectful, and mutual relationships with students and colleagues. This, in turn, led to decreased work engagement and an increased feeling of exhaustion.
     
  • “The consequences of being a direct victim may not be noticeable, as they operate through teachers’ perception of the quality of their relationships,” said study coauthor Elizabeth Olivier, a postdoctoral fellow at the Université catholique de Louvain in Belgium. “School leaders should be sensitive to the relational climate within the school as a possible precursor of teacher exhaustion and disengagement.”
     
  • “The consequences for teachers exposed to workplace aggression, as a witness or a direct victim, are still visible five years later,” Olivier said. “These events should be considered key threats to teacher well-being and possibly to work retention.”
     
  • The authors suggested that, like some provinces in Canada where it is mandatory for schools to have an action plan to support students who are victims of aggression or bullying, extending these plans to teachers and witnesses of aggressive events may help alleviate exhaustion and disengagement.
     
  • Overall, results indicated that for both genders, direct victimization was associated with negative changes in relationships to students and colleagues, though the mechanism differed between genders. For female teachers, a decreased perception of the quality of relationships with colleagues was associated with emotional exhaustion. For males, perceived lower quality relationships with students explained less work engagement.
     
  • The authors noted that prior research indicates that when facing a work-related stressful event, women appeal to emotion-focused strategies and men to problem-focused strategies.
     
  • “When facing violent acts, females more often fall back on social support especially from colleagues,” said Olivier. “In contrast, men tend to want to tackle the problem directly at the source.”
     
  • “As students are the origin of many of the violent acts in school, it may explain why, for male teachers, it resulted in lower perception of the quality of the relationships with students, and, in turn, to disengagement,” Olivier said. “It is important that school supports for teachers who have been exposed to violence take into account how male and female teachers employ different coping mechanisms.”  

To talk to the study authors, please contact AERA Communications: Tony Pals, Director of Communications, tpals@aera.net, (202) 238-3235, (202) 288-9333 (cell); Collin Boylin, Communications Associate, cboylin@aera.net, (202) 238-3233, (860) 490-8326 (cell).

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The American Educational Research Association (AERA) is the largest national interdisciplinary research association devoted to the scientific study of education and learning. Founded in 1916, AERA advances knowledge about education, encourages scholarly inquiry related to education, and promotes the use of research to improve education and serve the public good. Find AERA on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

 
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