“What About Me?”
: Teachers’ Psychological Wellbeing and How It Can Be Supported When Teaching Pupils Experiencing Vulnerabilities and/or Trauma

  • Rachel Briggs

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Education (EdD)


Compassion stress injury (CSI) describes the negative psychological consequences of exposure to others’ suffering when helping or wanting to help. This phenomenon is largely unacknowledged in the compulsory education sector, as is the need for support to buffer against it, which is not the case in other helping sectors, e.g. health and social care. As teachers are being expected to do more to meet pupils’ welfare needs, this thesis explores the relevance to teachers of CSI and the more positive concept of compassion satisfaction (CSat). It does so in the broader context of their work and psychological wellbeing when teaching pupils experiencing vulnerabilities and/or trauma (PEV&Ts). Reflecting a critical constructivist perspective, data was gathered from ten experienced female teachers from mainstream state primary schools. Questionnaires and semi-structured interviews (which included discussion of vignettes) were used. Data was thematically analysed, applying both inductive and deductive approaches. Findings indicate that key to achieving psychological wellbeing when teaching PEV&Ts was a complex balance between stressors and psychological need satisfaction. Of critical importance was the need for self-acceptance, evaluated against a personal moral code. This code stimulated altruistic motivation but was frequently violated when demands outweighed resources/support and high-stakes accountability practices, perceived to unfairly penalise those teaching PEV&Ts, meant that self-protection rather than meeting others’ welfare needs became the primary motivator. Such lack of psychological safety and moral code violation, added to dosage effects from exposure to suffering and lack of social support, increased the risk of experiencing CSI, moral injury and burnout symptoms. The thesis concludes that whilst social support may buffer against CSI, moral injury and burnout symptoms, more opportunities to experience CSat and other psychological needs satisfaction are required when teaching PEV&Ts. Thus, psychological wellbeing when teaching PEV&Ts is unlikely to improve until an adequately resourced, fair system, which values both teachers and pupils holistically, is given precedence over a socially unjust performative culture. The thesis contributes to knowledge by viewing teacher stress/wellbeing from an alternative perspective and provides a conceptual framework for understanding the psychological, workplace and systemic factors impacting on psychological wellbeing when teaching PEV&Ts. Implications for future research, policy and practice are given.
Date of Award24 Jun 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorLucy A Kelly (Supervisor) & Jo Rose (Supervisor)


  • psychological wellbeing
  • work-related stress
  • compassion stress injury
  • compassion satisfaction
  • moral injury
  • psychological need satisfaction
  • dialectics
  • culture
  • performativity
  • justice
  • self-acceptance
  • supervision

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