It’s time to take teacher burnout seriously. We can plan for it, take steps to avoid it, and address it if it happens, and administrators are key in doing that. Here’s how schools can set teachers up for success and help everyone to avoid burnout.
Reduce extra roles.
Teachers put in plenty of hours. They’re responsible for lesson planning, teaching, grading, assessments, behavior management, confliction resolution, social emotional learning, and home-school communication. They arrive early, stay late, and bring work home. Be careful of adding anything extra to that already hefty workload. Before you ask a teacher to take on an extra role, from chaperoning the school dance to running the cooking club, ask some questions.
- Is this extra role necessary?
- What happens if this role is not staffed this year?
- Is there anyone else who could fulfill this role (e.g., parent volunteer, community organization, etc.)?
- If a teacher takes on this role, can you provide extra support in another area to free up his/her time? Can extra pay be offered for the extra role?
Give teachers flexibility.
Teaching requires educators to be onsite, but not all the time. Give teachers the flexibility to shift their workload to where it is comfortable for them. Foster a culture where it is acceptable for teachers to choose how to spend their non-classroom time.
- Allow teachers to leave school when students are not in their care (e.g., run an errand during a free period or leave early for a doctor’s appointment).
- Permit teachers to do their grading elsewhere.
- Schedule virtual faculty meetings so teachers can attend from home.
- Enable staff to participate in professional development days from home.
Schedule time for collaboration.
Educators benefit from sharing ideas and best practices. Schedule regular time where teachers can collaborate with colleagues at their grade level or subject area. This will inspire great work while providing a chance for educators to support each other.
- Ask teachers to choose the times they would like to meet.
- Provide substitute coverage for designated collaboration periods.
- Don’t schedule meetings during teacher prep periods. That is taking away important planning time.
- Don’t ask teachers to come in early or stay late for meetings.
Give teachers autonomy.
From curriculum standards to standardized testing, there is a lot in the teaching profession that is regimented. Allow teachers the autonomy in their classrooms for the parts of their job that are not mandated. This helps improve job satisfaction and retention. It also raises the quality of instruction.
- No two educators are the same. Empower teachers to vary their approaches in the classroom even if they are teaching the same grade level or subject area as colleagues.
- Involve teachers in goal setting for themselves and their grade level/subject area.
- Ask teachers to identify key areas where they want to grow professionally. Provide support in those areas.
Give new teachers mentors.
New teachers benefit from an experienced hand to show them the way. Not only can a well-designed mentor program help them to be effective, but it can also be a factor in retention and future success.
- Pair teachers with mentors teaching the same grade level or subject area.
- Provide coaching guidance to the mentor. Consider a stipend for mentor work.
- Schedule collaborative time, with substitute coverage so mentors can observe mentees and vice versa.
Make self-care a part of school culture.
Schools that prioritize self-care create a workplace with happier, high-performing employees. Importantly, this is a schoolwide initiative. Administrators need to model the behavior that they want to see in their staff.
- Set work boundaries. Let teachers know you won’t be sending or answering emails after 6 pm or on weekends. Ask them to do the same.
- Encourage teachers to take breaks, such as walks around the school.
- Provide programs and resources for self-care. Show gratitude on a regular basis.
- Set parameters and norms around how staff interact with, listen to, and support each other.
Pro Tip: Allow teachers to text a colleague to relieve them so they may step out of the classroom for a few minutes if needed.
Survey your teachers.
Educators know what they need in order to thrive. Ask your staff where they need support, and then listen and act on their responses.
- Conduct a formal survey to identify areas of need. Make it optional to share the respondent’s name to encourage honest feedback.
- Plan regular check-ins with your staff. Have informal conversations at classroom doors, at lunch, in the hallways, etc.
- Encourage an open-door policy for your teachers. Alternatively, set office hours so they can easily connect with you.
Plan for burnout.
Despite your best efforts, burnout can happen. Be prepared with clear policies so staff know that there is help should they need it.
- Set up a policy for requesting support.
- Provide resources for managing stress and anxiety.
- Offer mental health support, such as an employee assistance program.
- Provide options for temporary leave or a sabbatical.
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