As someone who experienced burn out while teaching, and has watched friends and family members burn out as well, I know that it’s a real affliction, but one that is rarely addressed.
Causes of Burnout
Common causes of burnout include:
- Lack of Control: You feel like you don’t control your job
- Overload: Your workload overwhelms your capacity
- Unclear Expectations: Expectations change frequently or different bosses want different things
- Mismatch of Values: You care about learning, but your boss cares about test scores.
- Lack of Relationships: Few peers who you can relate with
- Lack of Gratitude: Both from others, but also from you!
These can all be present at schools.
In a survey I ran, I asked how often teachers felt frustrated because student needs weren’t put first. A full 77% of folks responded that they felt this way at least “monthly.” 47% of folks felt this way every week. This is a perfect example of a mismatch of values.
Tackling Burnout At Schools
Based on my survey, burnout isn’t discussed much:
- 45% said it’s “never ever” addressed
- About 29% answered “once or twice a year”
- Only 10% said burnout was addressed “regularly”
If no one’s addressing burnout, take matters into your own hands. Create a staff survey to see how people are feeling. I used Google Forms to make mine. It’s free and easy. Just be sure to limit it to a handful of questions, with just a few choices. No one likes overwhelming surveys.
Realize that the staff truly controls the culture of a school. If everyone is frazzled, worried, or cynical, that becomes the norm. But if everyone is grateful, encouraging, and respectful of a work/life balance, then that becomes the culture.
Some ideas for encouraging a healthy culture:
- Encourage healthy eating at school. How can you reduce soda/fast-food intake and increase healthier snacks?
- Plan staff hangouts after school once a week to get people to leave work. “Everyone meet at 3:45 to (see a movie, go bowling, BBQ at the park).” Invite families as well.
- Be aware of who’s burning the midnight oil. They might need help or simply a reminder to go live life.
- Recognize teachers who focus on their own classrooms and families rather than taking on responsibilities they don’t want (over half of my respondents reported accepting unwanted roles “often” or “all the time”).
- Stomp cliques and gossip. Sit with someone new. Deal with problems face-to-face. Use early staff meetings to get to know each other better.
- Purposefully and publicly express gratitude when someone has helped you or a student (what a great way to start a meeting).
Beware of Burning Kids Out
The flip side of this is that you’re also a manager inside your classroom. Your kids are as prone to burnout as you. Read those causes of burnout again, but now think from a student’s perspective.
- Do they have control of their learning?
- Are your expectations always clear for them?
- Do they value one thing, while you care about another?
- Do they have meaningful relationships with peers?
- Are you grateful for their efforts? Are they grateful for school?
Just like you, students need breaks, personal connections, and to find meaning in their work.
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