Lifting the silence: Peer voices to enhance education students’ self-care strategies for coping with the stress of professional experience placements
Narelle Lemon
Department of Education

Education students are unfamiliar with self-care, especially in relation to stress associated to professional experience placements undertaken in schools and educational contexts. If a self-care routine has not been established, issues with stress impact the student experience and transfer into the teaching profession. By leveraging an established Instagram community via the hashtag #swinprofexp, this project introduces a yet undiscovered topic – teacher wellbeing. Final year education students use Adobe Spark to create and curate content for Instagram allowing students to see themselves in digital content focusing on productive coping strategies to build self-care.
These resources can be downloaded here and include:
1. Critical Literacy Guidelines
2. Project Instructions
3. Professional Use of Instagram Engagement
This project aimed to build multiple literacies in final year education students (see Figure 1). Utilising an existing community on Instagram facilitated via #swinprofexp (established in 2018), professional profiles would be used to continue to communicate with audiences – peers within a unit, and across units, cohorts, and degrees. One difference would be the addition of content that specifically addressed the need to add productive coping strategies to the online conversations. The intention was set for education students to create and curate content for peers and become leaders in the Department of Education regarding practical advice and tips for self-care for professional experience (the WIL component of the degree). Specific training in wellbeing theory was undertaken influenced by the field of positive psychology. Adobe Spark (post, video, presentation) was integrated into curriculum including specific teachable moments of training, modelling and use. Focus was also drawn to how new skills in Adobe Spark could be transferred to the WIL placement to address external accreditation requirements in initial teacher education whereby of 3 of 37 focus areas specifically are aimed at technology integration.  
Over 12 weeks curriculum was integrated (see Figure 2) to build a digital and wellbeing literacy in education students. Building capacity underpinned by empowerment was critical in building a language, confidence, skills, and knowledge whereby all lived experiences were embraced as building blocks to new knowledge.  Empowerment was central to a) supporting education students to feel they could act in a way that is proactive for oneself; that they could support others and respect their right to health and wellbeing; and b) addressing self-efficacy in relation to digital literacy specifically how skills can be transferred across contexts and content. Week 1 to 6 were taught in alternating weeks of online and face-to-face as aligned to covid return to campus guidelines for semester 1 2021. This enabled us to leverage technology to model, screen share and record our learnings across time for reflective and metacognitive thinking. Face-to-face classes enabled enhanced relationship and community building focused on wellbeing and building self-care understanding of the science and how this related to personal  and professional needs.  

Figure 2: Weekly curriculum focus and summary of education student engagement/feedback
[created by Narelle Lemon] 

One variable that emerged was the education students’ confidence and willingness to share on Instagram with a project variable occurring whereby we co-curated content and this was shared via the educators Instagram account. Highlighted was that digital, media, visual, critical and information literacies were not at the assumed level for final year students, nor had they had the presumed capacity to build these skills in units proceeding, as was expected.  The ‘Reminder to self’ series was generated from a face-to-face workshop whereby we built from self-care practices and strategies that energise, empower and do work currently to support stress. Reflection occurred as a class about critical stress points related to WIL in the past, and anticipated stress points for the upcoming final WIL placement. Variables were discussed in relation to expectations and anticipations. Emerged was that for a wellbeing literacy to continue to grow and be maintained during WIL assistance with reminders of what self-care could look like integrating theory and practical tips would be beneficial. These reminders formed the basis for the series generated via Adobe Spark Page.  Critical stress moments across WIL were identified for when posts on Instagram would be made.  

Figure 3: ‘Reminder to self’ Series samples [co-created by Narelle Lemon with education students] 

Education students entered 4 weeks of a WIL block situated in primary schools for Week 7 to 10 of the semester. Entering WIL, the education students were confident in their self-care action plan, specific goals, practical strategies, and a language to talk about their wellbeing needs and pressure points for both WIL and the profession. A digital literacy centred on Adobe Spark as a new platform that could be utilised within schools had also been established. Some examples of practice included using Adobe Spark to develop the “introduction to me” information tile.

Figure 4: An example of an “introduction to me” information tile used within the primary classroom as a part of WIL [created on Adobe Spark by an education student, shared with permission/ethics] 

During WIL a significant skill verses capacity clash occurred, that specifically hampered wellbeing literacy & digital literacy being embodied and envisaged (Figure 5).  
Despite skill and capacity shifts post evaluation (67% response rate) revealed growth for the education students across digital and wellbeing literacy. This quote from an education student summarises the impact on growth: 

“My new Adobe skills helped me create a short video clip that I shared with peers. Creating the video helped me feel gratitude for my knowledge as I reflected on where I had been and where I am going.” 

Figure 5: Skill and capacity clash findings [created by Narelle Lemon] 

Figure 6: Digital literacy growth – education student quotes [created by Narelle Lemon]
Figure 6: Digital literacy growth – education student quotes [created by Narelle Lemon]
Figure 7: Wellbeing literacy growth – education student quotes [created by Narelle Lemon]
Figure 7: Wellbeing literacy growth – education student quotes [created by Narelle Lemon]
What was identified was that: 
   •  Final year education students were overwhelmed with requirements of unit, changes in assessment as aligned to external accreditation requirements, impact of covid and limited access to schools in the 12 months leading into final WIL placement, mentor teacher capacity to work with technology innovations, mentor teacher capacity to consider different ways of working including both digital and wellbeing, and confidence to be able to discuss new ways of working in systems that are indoctrinated with “how things have always been done” rhetoric.  
   •   Education students had not been thought of as leaders before, and couldn’t see themselves like this until week 11 of semester after being nourished this way. 
   •   Education students approached the unit with “tell me what to do and when attitude”, revealing the tension between overwhelm v scaffolding that has led to this approach in the previous three years of study. 
   •   Presumed digital literacy in year 4 was not at expected levels 
           - Invites the question: How do we address this moving forward? 
           - Invites consideration about: How do we build capacity of teacher mentors in their own practice in partnership while leveraging education students as possible leaders, innovators, and co-learners? 
   •   Presumed a developing wellbeing literacy 
           - Invites the question: How do we address this when we know these education students are entering a profession that already has issues with teacher attrition and high levels of stress, burnout, and low attention to wellbeing/self-care?  

Some solutions moving forward have been created for the macro level in the higher education initial teacher education context. These include the outcomes: 
   1.   Student and Teacher Rubric: PST meaningful engagement with a #swinprofexp on Instagram across duration of a degree 
   2.   Teacher Curriculum Literacy Guidelines: What to watch out for in integrating of Instagram in professional experience 

   •   Ethics approval (Ref: 20215463-6030) 
   •   Student and Teacher Rubric: PST meaningful engagement with a #swinprofexp on Instagram across duration of a degree 
   •   Teacher Curriculum Literacy Guidelines: What to watch out for in integrating of Instagram in professional experience 
   •   ‘Reminder to self’: Self-care intentions [Teacher Resource]
   •   ‘Reminder to self': Series co-designed with education students [Website Resource]
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