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Are Your Kicking Off 2021 with a Bang or with Teacher Burnout?

Jan. 26, 2021 • Dr. Noelle Carter, Chief Curriculum Architect at Studies Weekly

Now that we have all breathed a huge sigh of relief that 2020 is finally over, are we kicking off 2021 with a bang … or with teacher burnout?

Teacher burnout during the second half of the school year is not a new challenge by any means, but it promises to be an especially challenging season this year for good reason. We’re coming up on the one-year anniversary of COVID-19. That means that teachers have been adapting and adjusting and trying to work both harder and smarter and hoping that something will change someday — for a whole year now.

The emotional fatigue of teaching from a closet, through masks, and through periodic quarantines brought many of the best and toughest teachers to tears. So what can you do for your teachers to help them finish the school year successfully?

Help Teachers See Burnout in Themselves

Encourage teachers to do a self-inventory to look for irritation, discouragement, and depression. Build a culture where it is not a badge of honor to burn the candle at both ends. Remind teachers how essential it is to take time for sleep, exercise, and positive connections.

Look for Burnout Behaviors

In her October 2020 TASB article, Patti Ellis shared a great list of burnout behaviors to look for in your staff:

  • Absenteeism
  • Lowered confidence
  • Decreased productivity
  • Withdrawal from others
  • Change in behavior, particularly as it relates to irritability or concentration
  • Loss of motivation
  • Negative or anxious comments or behavior
  • Noticeable change in patterns of sleeping or eating

It’s hard to find time to sleep. Really hard. But without enough sleep and without time for mindful practices, it will be more difficult to put all of the other stresses into perspective.

Model a Growth Mindset

We all know that we need to teach our students how to have a growth mindset, but sometimes we forget to give ourselves and our teachers grace to grow. Remind your teachers to do the following, especially in times of crisis or ongoing hardship:

  • Set small goals
  • Focus on what you can affect
  • Remember that you won’t get it all done today
  • Reflect on your progress

Use District Policies to Help

As a leader in your district, you can set policies that promote a good working environment. Here are some suggestions inspired by Ellis’ 2020 article:

  • Ensure policies are updated to reflect inclusion and not perpetuate bias (including unusual family circumstances and health concerns)
  • Evaluate class size and resources to adjust, where possible
  • Reduce or remove paperwork and processes that take extra time, where possible
  • Empower teachers to set boundaries, particularly for those providing instruction online
  • Address concerns of safety and health, providing accommodations where applicable
  • Celebrate small successes

Take a Deep Breath

Just like students, teachers need to tackle one goal at a time. Of course it’s overwhelming. No one has ever done this before. Of course there is too much to do, but staying human-centered with a growth mindset will provide a positive context both for learners and their hard-working teachers.

References and Further Reading

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