How Educational Leadership Skills Can Address Teacher Burnout

Kate Fritz
Kate Fritz
LIEP Supervisor for PA School Districts; M.A. in Urban Education, ESL Program Specialist
School teachers gather in a small school office, they all look serious, and one holds a hand to their head.

How Prevalent is Teacher Burnout? What Leads to Burnout?

In an article published by NPR, a poll conducted by the National Education Association (NEA) in January 2022 is cited reporting results that “90% of its members say that feeling burned out is a serious problem.”

Meanwhile, in its Key Findings from the 2021 State of the U.S. Teacher Survey, RAND Corporation reported that, “A much higher proportion of teachers reported frequent job-related stress and symptoms of depression than the general adult population.”

Burnout is a state of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion resulting from chronic stress.

Researchers have found that burnout is most often associated with situations in which employees feel:

  • Overworked
  • Underappreciated
  • Confused about expectations and priorities
  • Concerned about job security
  • Overcommitted with responsibilities
  • Frustrated about duties that are not commensurate with pay

Pandemic leavers (those leaving education during the pandemic which would not have left pre-pandemic) “experienced working conditions that were linked to higher levels of stress than teachers who were unlikely to leave and those who were considering leaving; prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.” Pre-pandemic, one in six teachers were likely to leave their jobs by the end of the year, compared to one in four during the pandemic and after (RAND 2021).

Why is It Important to Address Teacher Burnout?

Addressing and combating teacher burnout is critical to education now, and in the future; schools have never before faced staffing teacher shortages like they have this year. Schools and districts are struggling to hire teachers to fill open positions. Teacher preparation program enrollment has been on the decline for the last decade, and the pandemic has exacerbated this decline significantly.

In fall 2020 and 2021, CNN found that about 20% of institutions surveyed by American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) reported the pandemic resulted in a decline of new undergraduate enrollment of at least 11%. This decrease in enrollment in teacher preparation programs and the increasing rate of teachers leaving the profession is setting our nation up for a teaching crisis.

Without a doubt, concerns around COVID-19 safety protocols, virtual and hybrid learning demands, stagnant and low salary schedules, lack of substitutes, conflicts over masking, and the scrutiny surrounding banned books and Critical Race Theory have contributed to unprecedented levels of stress and exhaustion in teachers.

The short-term impact of this exhaustion leads to more frequent teacher absences, which leads to teachers covering for those absent and losing their own preparation time, cyclically creating an environment of chronic stress, leading to resignation.

The NEA’s poll also showed that 80% of those polled reported that unfilled job openings have led to more work obligations for those left. The long-term impact of this, without intervention, can lead to school closures.

Valuable Skills Gained in Graduate Educational Leadership Programs

One of the biggest impacts we as educators can make is to continue our professional growth. As a teacher, I chose to pursue a master’s in urban education with a principal’s certification to positively impact a broader umbrella of students, staff, and communities.

As a teacher, my sphere of influence was a class of 30 students and my team of colleagues. My sphere of influence is hundreds of students, dozens of staff, and two communities, as a principal.

Through my graduate educational leadership program, I learned invaluable skills to be an:

  • Instructional leader
  • Equitable disciplinarian
  • Budgeter
  • Inspirational supervisor
  • Community liaison

The skills and knowledge gained from completing this program set the foundation for future positive influence and impact on thousands of students and adults.

Ways Administrators can Support their Teachers to Reduce Burnout

Pay Attention to Warning Signs

Leaders should educate themselves on the warning signs of burnout and be prepared to connect teachers to needed resources.

Warning signs of teacher burnout include:

  • Increased irritability or anger
  • Lack of desire to attend social gatherings
  • Increased complaints
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Exhaustion
  • Insomnia
  • Change in appetite
  • Physical symptoms
  • Brain fog

It is essential to recognize that individuals respond differently to burnout. Variables such as resiliency and personal trauma and history significantly impact a person’s vulnerability to burnout and response to symptoms.

Be Supportive and Participative

Empathy is a key leadership soft skill. Being visible in a school building is necessary to build relationships and trust. Show up to meetings, participate in professional development, attend the assemblies and award ceremonies. These actions create a culture of respect and collegiality. Teachers look to leaders to support them in effort, not just words.

Take a few seconds to connect personally before connecting professionally. In the hallway or main office, ask teachers about their families, hobbies, and health. Every human being wants to be seen for who they are, not what they are and this will assist in teacher retention tremendously. These actions will create a bank of grace for you and the teacher to access when things get tough.

Manage Time Prudently

NEA states, “Educators will feel more supported by school leaders—and therefore more likely to remain in the profession—who prioritize decreasing administrative paperwork and who protect their time to do what they believe is best for their students.”

In surveys, teachers have responded that the greatest thing administrators can do to support them is to provide them time for academic planning and other professional task completion. Instead of starting a new program or initiative this year, give that time back to teachers to do what they need to do. It will decrease staff absences and stress while improving your school culture and level of reciprocity. For example, if it can be said in an email, don’t hold a meeting.

Self-Care, Stress Management, and Mental Health Care

Providing support to teachers and preventing burnout is about more than chair massages and jeans days. Normalize a culture that supports mental health care and stress management techniques. Administrators should model these practices themselves and value teacher efforts, as well.

No one can pour from an empty cup, and these words are very true in teaching. A teacher cannot best serve their students when they are not serving themselves first by taking steps to meet their own needs.

Are you interested in pursuing an educational leadership degree to advance your career? If so, check out our available educational leadership graduate programs today!

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