Wellbeing is a topic firmly at the top of the 2018 national agenda, and remains a buzz word for teachers too against a backdrop of poor retention and low recruitment levels. Whilst the word itself may get used a lot, it’s actually quite tricky to define. This year, as the Institute for Teaching teams up with Big Change to embark on a new project to develop approaches to wellbeing, it’s important we come to an understanding about what we actually mean by it.

Attempts at definitions range from dictionary references to feeling happy and contented, to principles from psychological research. In fact, it’s something psychologists and philosophers have been attempting to pin down since the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle presented the idea of Eudaimonia back in the 3rd century B.C. So, it’s helpful to look to the field of psychology for more concrete definitions.

While many psychologists discuss and research wellbeing widely, an actual definition is still hotly debated. Dodge et al. (2012) weigh up the varying thinking and research in this field and suggest a definition that they argue offers psychologists and laymen alike a simple, optimistic definition that can be universally applied, and offer a basis for measurement. They propose that wellbeing is ‘the balance point between an individual’s resource pool and the challenges faced’:


Ultimately, when you are equipped with the right psychological, social and physical resources to tackle any psychological, social and physical challenge you may face, you’re able to achieve a balance or equilibrium which equates to the experience of wellbeing.

This definition feels helpful, providing us with a concrete basis from which we can begin to think about what the psychological, social and physical challenges a teacher, for example, might face. In turn, it allows us to explore what psychological, social and physical strategies, approaches and processes we might employ to allow us to reach that state of equilibrium. If we take this as a definition for wellbeing, we are then able to start to pin down the things we can do to tackle the challenges being faced by teachers. It is this understanding that will provide the framework for the Institute for Teaching’s work on teacher wellbeing.