Underlying Mechanisms of Resilience in Trainee and Newly Qualified School Teachers

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


High stress in the teaching sector may be a contributing factor to teacher turnover and low retention. Across different populations, research has found that resilience can buffer against stress, anxiety, and depression. However, there is a lack of understanding about the psychological mechanisms that maintain and predict resilience based on theoretical frameworks. The first aim of this thesis was to examine the underlying mechanisms of trainee teachers’ resilience at a given time, and whether affective-cognitive mechanisms predict resilience later in teacher training and when working as newly qualified teachers (NQTs).

A limitation of existing resilience interventions is that they are often not theoretically driven and do not target on the key processes of resilience. Therefore, resilience interventions have been inconsistent in yielding positive outcomes. The second aim of this thesis was to evaluate whether a mechanism-based resilience intervention is feasible and acceptable to trainee teachers during teacher training.

A series of studies were conducted to examine what mechanisms are associated with teachers’ resilience. First, a pilot study confirmed the assumption that interpretation bias is associated with resilience. The purpose was to evaluate whether interpretation bias could be a modifiable mechanism associated with short-term stress response, stressors, and resilience among teachers, which informs the decision to adapt a positive interpretation bias training for resilience in Study 3. Then, using a cross-sectional and longitudinal approach (Study 1 & 2), we examined whether perceived stress and cognitive-affective mechanisms (i.e., interpretation bias, emotion regulation, cognitive control, cognitive flexibility, positive affect, anticipatory pleasure, responses to positive affect, meaning in life, and positive meaning finding) are related to resilience, and whether these mechanisms predict trainee teachers’ future resilience.

Overall, the results suggest that perceived stress and cognitive-affective mechanisms were associated with trainee teachers’ resilience cross-sectionally (while controlling for the effects of age and gender). However, they did not consistently predict trainee teachers’ future resilience. Notably, interpretation bias was significantly associated with resilience among qualified and trainee teachers, and consistently predicted trainee teachers’ future resilience. Based on this finding, a resilience intervention that targets interpretation bias is warranted. Therefore, in Study 3, we conducted a pilot and feasibility study to promote resilience in trainee teachers via a mechanism-focused intervention (cognitive bias modification for interpretation; CBMI). Overall, we found that the adapted CBMI was feasible and acceptable to trainee teachers. However, revising the intervention length is necessary to improve adherence rates.

This thesis contributes to the literature by identifying modifiable cognitive-affective mechanisms of resilience among teachers. This thesis sets the stage for the development of effective mechanism-based resilience interventions and informs future randomised controlled trials.

Date of Award1 Mar 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorKatie Young (Supervisor), Colette Hirsch (Supervisor) & Myanna Duncan (Supervisor)

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