Teacher burnout: 4 ways school leaders can better support their teams

By Richie Almeida, Integrated Marketing Specialist on December 22, 2020

Use these strategies to help boost the emotional well-being of your staff.

There’s no question that teaching can be one of the most rewarding, yet difficult, career paths to take on. From preparing lesson plans and grading to classroom management and relationship building—it can be a lot to juggle.

Take those everyday responsibilities and add a whole lot of uncertainty to this school year and you find educators stepping into uncharted territories while trying to provide a level of education that students and parents have come to know and expect.

As they take on more this year, school leaders should remember to keep one thing top-of-mind—teacher burnout.

What's burnout?

According to Psychology Today, burnout is the state of chronic stress that leads to physical and emotional exhaustion, cynicism and detachment, and feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment. Unfortunately, these feelings have been more prominent since the start of remote learning last spring.

In a survey conducted last spring by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), teachers nationwide were asked to describe in their own words the 3 emotions they felt most frequently. In just 3 days, over 5,000 teachers responded—and the results are worrisome. The five most-mentioned feelings include being:

  • Anxious
  • Fearful
  • Worried
  • Overwhelmed
  • Sad

To help educators overcome these feelings and avoid burnout, school leaders should be quick to support their needs and mitigate feelings of distress. Here are 4 ways to help do that.

Know the signs

One of the most important aspects of helping minimize burnout is the ability to identify it. According to Edutopia, the following 4 signs are key to pinpointing this problem:

  • Low attendance: teachers dealing with burnout tend to cut themselves off from others. You’ll notice more mental health days being taken, limited participation in social (and virtual) gatherings and meetings.
  • Sharing stops: sharing lesson plans or ideas will usually take the back seat as their focus shifts to just making it through the day.
  • Incoming complaints: although a teacher facing burnout doesn’t communicate often, when they do it’s usually to complain or express distress.
  • Diminished drive: you can see it in their smile when greeting students, or in their eyes as students pick up their diploma for graduation—the spark. When you begin to notice that passion disappears, it’s time to do some digging.

Prepping your whole team to look out for these signs of burnout will get you one step closer to identifying and combatting it.

Support services are essential

Just think about the additional tasks teachers are adding to their daily workload this year: figuring out new digital tools while keeping students engaged online, making sure students are following safety precautions for in-person instruction, teaching a virtual classroom while also tending to their own children who may be doing remote learning—sounds stressful, right?

With more on their plate this year, the physical and mental well-being of your team can diminish. So, what resources are you offering your teachers and staff? Services such as stress management workshops and trainings are great for educating your team on new coping mechanisms and ways to better handle overwhelming feelings.

Mentorship matters

For new teachers on the block, your mentorship program could be crucial to making sure they feel fully supported, and with many districts across the country staying virtual this year, your program should continue to run smoothly even when both the mentor and mentee are working from home.

Edutopia shares these 6 strategies for mentoring from a distance:

  1. Meet weekly using virtual platforms like Zoom or Skype to maintain face-to-face interactions. This also gives the mentor a better opportunity to interpret any nuances in voice and posture.

  2. Keep a consistent schedule. Doing so can provide some sort of normalcy and encourage both to plan discussion topics for meetings.

  3. Mentors should guide mentees through deep reflections of the school year with open-ended questions to help encourage professional development. For example, asking ‘how will future assessments be modified to accurately reflect student understanding?’

  4. Planning and implementing virtual lesson plans collaboratively gives the mentor an opportunity to model strategies while observing the mentee. Both should also view portions of the mentee’s lesson simultaneously—giving the mentor an opportunity to raise questions or add comments.

  5. Mentor-mentee relationships should be reciprocal. If a mentee is incorporating new digital platforms into their lessons, mentors should learn about these tools firsthand and add to their lesson plans as well.

  6. Be available for your mentees and provide both professional and personal support. Doing so can help ease any worries about the school year.

School culture is critical

Your school environment not only affects the students, but it has an influence on your educators as well. In a time where we may all be feeling a little isolated, being able to foster a positive and supportive school culture will be critical. This can involve anything from finding new ways to foster positive interactions and collaborations with your teachers, being patient and providing trainings and support to help boost job performance or even using digital social channels to provide an additional layer of resources.

Educators shape the future of our communities, and as rewarding as their job can be, taking on too much can have a serious impact on their physical and mental health. Keep these tips top-of-mind to help ensure your team is performing at their best as they continue to adapt to this new normal.

Richie Almeida, Integrated Marketing Specialist

Richie is an avid movie goer with an addiction to Sour Patch Kids. If he isn’t at the movies, he is at the gym or on a hike trying to make up for his bad eating habits.


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