A teacher sits in the classroom at a desk, holding her head.

How Educational Leadership Skills can Address Teacher Burnout

How Prevalent is Teacher Burnout? What Leads to Burnout?

Recently, I was asked to apply for a corporate position at a company I’ve worked for outside of my teaching job for many years. Although I enjoy the work immensely and feel passionately about the company’s mission, I never have seriously considered leaving the classroom.

I love my work, I love my students, and I love my colleagues. Yet, I am undoubtedly burnt out. In fact, I am so burnt out that a week ago I asked my supervisor for a copy of The Burnout Cure: Learning to Love Teaching Again by Chase Mielke. I read half of it in one day. Even the most passionate educators experience occasional burnout, but unfortunately, it seems that burnout has been even more prevalent these past few years.

When I began teaching, educators would inevitably feel the end-of-semester burnout. By the beginning of May, with the sun shining and the birds chirping outside our windows, teachers were seemingly desperate to get to summer.

For the past several years, though, that feeling of burnout has sidled back steadily and in a strong manner due to the pandemic. Now, the feelings of intense burnout that were often expected in May seem rampant in April or even March.

Many factors can contribute to teacher burnout:

  • Pressures from parents and administrators
  • Lack of student preparedness
  • Struggles with attendance
  • Never-ending workload

I don’t know of one teacher who hasn’t felt the intense pressure of the past several years, and that stress, despite our best efforts, often runs very deep.

Why is It Important to Address Teacher Burnout?

I will never diminish the importance of content knowledge in the classroom. I believe that educators are experts in classroom management, student-teacher connections, communication, engagement, classroom environment, but also their content. Yet, content expertise is not what will be impacted by teacher burnout.

The biggest elements at risk are all of the other essential parts of teaching. When teachers are mentally and emotionally exhausted, their ability to manage the complex needs of students, captivate them in activities that are carefully crafted for maximum engagement and retention, and facilitate learning in a powerful and fun way are all weakened.

For example, last week, I planned to have my students in groups, moving around the room to different stations to explore a novel’s theme. When it came time to set up the activity, I first checked the day’s attendance. I was defeated by what I saw, and worried about how I would recreate that learning experience for all the absent students. I was exhausted, stressed, and disappointed by the attendance.

Instead of the activity I had planned, I put all of the information into a digital chart, and students worked in groups to fill it out. The result was not disastrous – the students still explored themes by analyzing and synthesizing textual evidence – but the spark that I had, and that I had hoped to share with my students, was gone.

Burnout does not eliminate content knowledge, but it truly impacts the classroom experience for both students and teachers. Add to this sample anecdote the complex tug of wanting all students to pass while maintaining rigor and test scores, the never-ending stream of new initiatives, and the expectations from parents and administrators. The result is often teachers who are thoroughly burnt out.

In the long term, teacher burnout can lead to a lack of desire to innovate, diminished learning outcomes for students, and even teachers leaving the profession. It is important to feel inspired each day, and the malaise of burnout can turn even a once-passionate educator away from the classroom.

Valuable Skills Gained in Concordia University Chicago’s M.A. School Leadership and Principal Preparation Program

The good news is that teacher burnout disease, though unpreventable in many cases, is not untreatable. Concordia University Chicago’s (CUC) M.A. in School Leadership and Principal Preparation Program focuses on the critical role of administrators in helping stop the spread of educator ennui.

Administrators can use some of the strategies below, all of which CUC’s M.A. in School Leadership and Principal Preparation Program will help educators prepare to enact, to support staff both inside and outside of the classroom. This will ultimately help reduce burnout and increase employee retention.

Ways Administrators can Support their Teachers to Reduce Burnout

Ensure a Clear Vision and Mission for the School

Administrators should be able to rely on the school’s vision and mission when making valuable decisions. If teachers know that administrators will make fair and ethical decisions based on a common framework to ensure student success, they will follow suit and do the same.

Having a clear mission and vision, and ensuring that all stakeholders know it, helps everyone stay on the same page, which reduces teacher stress. The M.A. in School Leadership and Principal Preparation Program helps future administrators understand the importance of such a framework and guides them in learning how to create it if necessary and develop staff buy-in. When passion is retained, burnout is less likely.

Opportunities for Parent Involvement

Overinvolved or under-involved parents or other community pressures contribute to burnout. Pondering the paradox alone is exhausting, but classroom teachers know that a nonresponsive or angry parent can increase stress.

School administrators can work to create opportunities for parent involvement in a way that garners support for the school mission and teachers as an extension of that mission. A supportive community can mean the difference between a teacher who feels supported and one who feels isolated, criticized, and defeated. Several courses in the M.A. in School Leadership and Principal Preparation Program focused on specific strategies for garnering community support.

Prioritize Initiatives

Initiatives that support the school’s vision and mission can pay huge dividends. Yet, too many new initiatives simultaneously can stretch focus away from high-priority work and cause burnout.

The CUC program advocates for models of professional development that focus first on staff readiness and then progress through a cycle including not only training and implementation but also maintenance. This ensures that administrators don’t incorporate a variety of initiatives only to abandon them either meaningfully or through neglect, either of which contribute to additional teacher burnout.

Acknowledge Difficulties and Complexities

Teachers know how difficult their jobs are, but it is essential for administrators to acknowledge the complexity of obstacles that teachers face. Ignoring the number and complexity of problems facing schools results in teachers who feel unseen.

Sometimes, simply empathizing and noting that teaching is immensely rewarding but difficult can help teachers realize that their work and stress are not in vain. The CUC program helps future administrators understand and acknowledge the larger contexts that impact education.