Teacher burnout: How to recognize it and what school leaders can do about it

Learn about the signs of teacher burnout and find out what you can do to address it before it becomes a problem.

Here we are on the verge of school holidays, an important time for teachers to rejunvenate. Unfortunately, teacher burnout is a growing problem in recent years as we come to terms with the COVID-19 pandemic, shortage of teachers and growing scrutiny over global league tables and student performance. It can cause talented teachers to leave the profession, and it can be very difficult to recover from.

Teachers face a lot of difficulties. They must modify programs to meet the needs of a large number of learners, keep track of changing education regulations, deal with students with special needs, and fulfill administrative obligations. Many experience teacher burnout, hitting their limit in dealing with their work’s daily challenges. It occurs after prolonged exposure to poorly managed emotional and interpersonal job stress.

Teacher burnout is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion that can be caused by a variety of factors, including excessive workloads, lack of support, and unrealistic expectations.

Teacher burnout is a very real phenomenon that can have serious consequences for both educators and their students. It is typically characterized by feelings of cynicism, exhaustion, and a lack of enthusiasm for the job. Burnout can lead to absenteeism, Increase turnover, and adversely affect job performance. In extreme cases, it can even result in physical or mental illness. Burnout is often caused by unrealistic job expectations, insufficient resources, and a lack of support from school leaders or colleagues. However, it can also be sparked by a deep commitment to one’s students and a desire to see them succeed. Regardless of its cause, burnout can have a profound impact on those who experience it.

While it is not always possible to completely eliminate stress from a teacher’s life, there are steps that can be taken to prevent or reduce burnout. As a school leader, you play an important role in supporting your teachers and preventing teacher burnout. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Remember that your teachers are people with their own lives outside of the classroom. They need time to recharge, so don’t expect them to be available 24/7. Encourage them to take breaks, use their paid time off, and disconnect from work when they can.
  • Create a positive and supportive working environment. Make sure your teachers feel appreciated and valued, and that they have the resources they need to do their jobs effectively.
  • Foster a culture of feedback and collaboration. Encourage teachers to give and receive feedback openly, and make sure they feel supported by their colleagues. Help them to see challenges as opportunities for growth, not as personal failures.
  • Provide resources and support to help teachers deal with stress and burnout. This might include access to counseling services, opportunities for peer support, and educational materials on self-care.

    By taking these steps, you can create a school environment that is conducive to helping prevent teacher burnout. When teachers feel supported and valued, they are more likely to be engaged in their work and committed to their students’ success.

    What are your thoughts on this issue? Have you experienced teacher burnout yourself? How did you cope with it? Share your stories and advice in the comments below.

Learning From a Walking Guide

Here are five things I’ve learned from these tour guides that resonate with school leadership.

The summer holidays have been a time to relax and rejuvenate. One of the things my wife and I like to do is to travel to new places. Besides taking a break from our daily routines we get the opportunity to see and learn new things. 

I wasn’t much of a historian when I was younger however, when we visit a new country and settle in, we like to do walking tours, particularly when staying in the old part of a city. Walking tours give opportunity to learn the history, to understand how ‘things’ have come about. From architecture to cuisine influences to the infusion of cultural practices, the tour guides offer connected stories as we meander through the streets. 

It is curious to see the walking tour guides in action. The stitching of history and stories leading to current practice resonates with my view of leading schools. School leaders need to be able to tell the schools story, particularly when walking parents around the school or inducting new staff into the school family.

Here are five things I’ve learned from these tour guides this summer that resonate with school leadership:

  1. Know your history. Guides build their walking tour on the history of the place. At the start of the walk, usually after a brief “where are you from” session, the guide introduces what the tour will entail and begins with providing the participants with a brief history. This strategy outline the foundations, the vision and offers insight into how the country/city came to be. 
  2. Understand the external influences and their impact on the institution.  Throughout the tour, the guide explains why things are the way they are! How the architecture was influenced by conquerors; or the infiltration of culinary delights from neighbouring countries; or even improvements in city defence mechanisms .
  3. Forward planning. The guides are very intentional about their tour routes. They are well planned and each stop builds upon the previous and the ensuing story leads on to the next stop.
  4. Building Relationships: Tour guides rely on tips after the tour for their income. Although the tours last between 2-3 hours, the guides try to connect with each participant as they walk from stop to stop. Building a personal relationship was a key strategy to not only learn more about them but also to determine if they were enjoying the tour. The view is that happy tourists are more likely to tip at the end. If the participant was not happy they would try and change their presentation to help gain the admiration of the participant. 
  5. Reiterating learning throughout the tour. As the guide moved from place to place there was explanation (and connection) of where each place slotted into the big picture. They do this by using phrases like:
    1. Do you remember when we stopped at….
    2. When we were discussing the invasion of…..
    3. See how these roads connect the …….

A tour guide that exudes enthusiasm and is able to tell a great story, transports the participants and helps them visualise the actuality of the story.

I wonder how schools would evolve if principals were more like walking tour guides….

How to Deal With an Undermining Coworker

Not everyone at work is your best friend and unfortunately, at times, they intentionally work to undermine your credibility. Learn how to deal with a coworker that undermines you and makes your life harder than it needs to be. Follow these tips for dealing with difficult people at work.

Not everything that happens at work is in your hands. Not everyone gets along with everyone and unfortunately some colleagues intentional try to paint you in a poor light. It is important to remember that you are not the only person at work and that there are things happening outside of your control. Don’t get discouraged; instead, use this as an opportunity to learn how to better manage difficult situations and relationships. Additionally, be yourself! Don’t try to be someone that you’re not in order to fit in or make people like you. You will be more successful and happier in the long-run if you are genuine.

A wise colleague of mine once mentioned that you can tell what someone thinks of you by how their friends treat you? If their friends are kind to you, then they probably think positively of you. If their friends seem to avoid you or talk poorly about you, then they probably don’t have your best interests at heart. It is important to remember this when navigating relationships at work. Don’t take things too personally and always try to maintain a positive attitude!

Noticing the ‘passive aggressive’ tendencies can alert your attention. Watch out for gossips. But why do people actively try to undermine others? Some of the reasons for this include:

  1. Jealousy: This could just be about the success you are achieving or that they are wanting your position. By putting you down they are trying to make themselves look good.
  2. Tall Poppy Syndrome: This is where people don’t like it when someone stands out from the rest. They feel threatened and may try to cut them down to size.
  3. Lack of Confidence: This could be because they are new to the company or just don’t have the same skillset as you. They may feel that by putting you down, it makes them look better.
  4. Poor Performance: Some colleagues are unable to “produce the goods” so actively gossip against you. They try to deflect their poor performance by centering on what others are doing.

What can you do?

There are a few things that you can do in order to deal with difficult colleagues:

  1. Control What You Can: There are things that you can control and things that you can’t control. try to focus on the things that you can and don’t get wrapped up in the things that you can’t.
  2. Talk To Them: Sometimes all it takes is a conversation to clear the air. Talk to them about your thoughts and feelings and see if they are willing to do the same.
  3. Document: If the situation continues to be difficult, it might be a good idea to document what is happening. This can help you if you need to take any further action.
  4. Stay Positive: It can be tough but try to stay positive and don’t let them get to you. Remember that you are doing your best and that is all anyone can ask for.
  5. Continue to Focus on Doing Your Best: Ultimately, the only thing you can control is yourself. So, continue to focus on doing your best and don’t worry about what others are doing.
  6. Actions Speak Louder than Words: Sometimes the best thing to do is just act. Show them that you are not affected by what they are saying and that you don’t believe in their nonsense.

Difficult colleagues can be a challenge to deal with, but by using these tips, you can navigate the situation and come out on top!

Measuring Your Own Leadership Performance

Every school leader needs a process to evaluate their current performance. However, if you really want to improve as a leader, decision-maker, administrator, manager or simply a co-worker, then collecting some data on your performance in your role is essential. Unfortunately many school leaders see the annual performance review as an intrusion or a chore.

Recently I had a conversation about teacher performance and the role of leaders in supporting teacher growth. Everyone has an intuitive feel for how they are going but it is important to go deeper than just a feeling. Even school leaders need a process to evaluate their own current performance. You need to begin examining your impact.

How to do this? If you really want to improve as a leader, decision-maker, administrator, manager or simply a co-worker, then collecting some data on your performance in your role is essential. Unfortunately many school leaders see the annual performance review as an intrusion or a chore.

It need not be. A quick meander through some of these standard measurement techniques will offer some insight into the status of your performance. (However, the reflective leader looks further afield than the standard appraisal process). Here are four (quick) key measures to look for to help you begin your self reflection:

  1. Questionnaires & Self Assessments: There are the usual commercialised 360 questionnaires that can be sent to your staff to answer. These can provide neat graphics and tables outlining your strengths and weaknesses but rarely gives the necessary insight into next steps for improvement. Taking time to speak to staff and genuinely seeking advice on your impact can be more enlightening than an anonymous survey.
  2. Intuitive Reflection: Effective leaders know when “things” are working and are able to respond in a timely manner when they are not. “Gut feelings” are often based on reality and help the leader make the necessary adjustments to keep them on the right path to achieving their goals.
  3. Examine your community: If your performance is of a high standard then your organisation is humming along. If there is continually improvement in your bottom line (academically speaking) then you are making a difference. This means you are managing (leading) your middle leaders and teacher leaders. Your staff are engaged and focused on the school vision. There is good harmony and peace in your world!
  4. What’s Happening outside Your School?: Schools are about improvement and leadership is the vehicle for fostering the strategies and keeping alignment to school vision. Looking at what other schools are doing can offer insight into how you are performing as a leader in the school. Questions around innovation, attainment levels, programs and courses of study should be raised to see how your school compares. Effective leaders forward plan!

Ultimately the first real step in measuring your own performance is your internal desire to improve. Unless you want to improve you will keep doing what you are doing…. and in turn, will be an absent leader to your community…

Bring on 2019

The lead up to new years eve is a reflective time. A time to look back over the year and a time to look forward to opportunities of a new year. As an educator here are a couple of resolutions you might like to ponder on:

The lead up to new years eve is a reflective time. A time to look back over the year and a time to look forward to opportunities of a new year. As an educator here are a couple of resolutions you might like to ponder on:

New Year, New Beginnings, New Opportunities

Have a great 2019!