The statistics on teacher burnout are staggering. According to a recent National Education Association poll, 90% of its members say that feeling burned out is a serious problem, with 55% of them saying they will leave teaching sooner than they had planned.
From the Wall Street Journal and NPR to Forbes and beyond, articles are popping up addressing the issue of teacher burnout. Factors range from poor pay and high workloads to being under-resourced and underappreciated. While COVID has certainly exacerbated the pressures put on our educators—from administrators, students, parents, and even themselves—many of the sources of burnout existed long before the pandemic.
So what can we all do to offer authentic, meaningful support to teachers daily? Here are eight ideas school leaders can apply now.
- Ask for their input. This may seem simple, but ask them what they need. You may not get a response because they may not have the time and energy, but always start there. Offer assistance to get the ball rolling; many teachers are so used to doing everything themselves that it’s hard for them to ask for support or even to think of what that support could specifically look like when it’s offered.
- Provide wellness development as professional development. Solicit teacher’s ideas on what kind of offerings would truly support them in both their professional development and their own personal wellness development. Embrace social-emotional learning for both the students and the teachers and staff. Incorporate mindfulness into the school days. Create a sanctuary where teachers have a calming space with access to things like recorded meditations, soothing lighting, an essential oil diffuser, and so on. Additionally, provide ongoing access to wellness professionals who are not the school’s guidance counselors, like a LMHC, LMSW, psychologist, wellness coach, life coach, or a rotating combination of these.
- Let them teach. Do your best to avoid putting more administrative demands on their plates. Reduce the number and/or the length of meetings they have to attend. Let them do what they are highly trained and skilled in and what they are passionate about.
- Adjust expectations. Recognize that teachers have more demands than ever upon them. While it can be tempting to engage in an impromptu “student conference” when you see them in the grocery store, refrain. Many teachers feel like there is an expectation from the community for them to be on call 24/7. Respect their boundaries and personal time.
- Elevate teachers every chance you get. Set the tone. Demonstrate appreciation and respect—in conversations with others, in social media posts, and everywhere. Focus your public communications on successes and solutions to problems.
- Provide a safe listening space. Ask individually how they are doing and what challenges they are facing. Don’t minimize or try to problem-solve. Instead, hold a compassionate space for them to vent, cry, or talk through things. Teachers are creative and brilliant problem-solvers, and they will come up with their own solutions when given time, space, and opportunity.
- Show appreciation. Whether it’s in the form of a short, concise message or a healthy snack or beverage, these kinds of gestures are valued because they symbolize that you care about them and recognize they are sometimes too busy and too immersed to care for themselves.
- Work to affect real and lasting change. Address the elephant in the room. Teachers need higher pay and less stressful working conditions. Whatever that looks like in your community, find a way to advocate for concrete improvements that will mitigate teachers’ stress in the first place.
Teachers get into the profession for a reason: They want to help children learn, grow, and thrive in life. But the current environment within which they’re trying to achieve this is not only unsustainable, it’s unfair, and we run the risk of losing many dedicated, experienced members of our educational system as a result.
It’s time to adjust our expectations of teachers and students. Meeting them where they are and where we are as a society would be beneficial to the well-being of everyone in school communities.
If the pandemic has done nothing else (and it’s done a lot), it has provided us with an opportunity to reassess where systems, especially in education, are broken, and what we can do to improve them. It’s past time we do our part in making sure we’re supporting teachers in the same way they’ve dedicated their lives to supporting our children.
Sonny Thadani is CEO and co-founder of Robin, a mental coaching platform that’s designed to support the digital shift and the future of learning through curated content, assessments and tools, and live virtual sessions. Tara Karch, a Robin coach, spent 14 years as an elementary-school teacher and served on the social-emotional learning leadership team.
If you liked this article, sign up for SmartBrief’s free email newsletter from ASCD. It’s among SmartBrief’s more than 250 industry-focused newsletters.
More from SmartBrief Education:
- 5 ways new school-home communication meets family, staff needs
- 5 virtual-classroom tools to foster authentic connections
- Changing the classroom experience with instructional audio
- Powerful social media solutions for students
- How comics curriculum boosts SEL
- 8 ways to make vocabulary instruction more effective