Teacher gather and talk in a small office; one appears stressed and holds her head.

How Educational Leadership Skills can Address Teacher Burnout

Walk school halls, and you may see teachers smiling at their doors to greet students. However, walk into the staff lounge, and you may find the same teachers demonstratively, emotionally, and physically exhausted after being chronically pressured in a myriad of ways.

Teachers sometimes need to vent their frustrations or obstacles. Still, when teachers’ burnouts leak into the hallways and classrooms, and de-energized teachers ignore behaviors they once would admonish, administrators need to create an action plan.

How Prevalent is Teacher Burnout? What Leads to Burnout?

Unfortunately, teacher burnout is more prevalent than any parent or stakeholder would expect. One may assume that the teachers experiencing burnout may have been in education “too long.” However, Leichtman (2021) states, “There is a clear link between burnout and attrition, and various studies show new teachers leaving the profession at alarming rates, ranging from 17% to 44%.” Burnout affects teachers at all stages of their careers.

Historically speaking, our country has seen an increase of teacher shortages for years due to high rates of burnout, but since the pandemic, ubiquitous, demoralized, and de-energized faces of teachers speak volumes. Burnout rates do not seem to be taking a downturn anytime soon.

Bourg Carter states that a case of burnout occurs when “chronic stress leads to physical and emotional exhaustion, cynicism and detachment, and feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment” (2013). Within the context of education in our current society, one may target the following causes to this dysfunctional level of professional performance:

  • The pandemic needs of students have increased, impacting the need for more support for learning gaps and social-emotional needs. These additional needs of students are potentially not funded or staffed, or both.
  • Short staffing due to absences and the lack of candidates to hire has led to teachers covering other positions during their scheduled prep time. This results in teachers being short-changed from valuable time to collaborate, review learning assessments, and plan lessons. At some point, this time will need to be stolen from elsewhere, perhaps their personal time. Without enough personal time, teachers cannot rejuvenate and may feel imbalanced.
  • While administrators and districts continue to reel from the pandemic’s ever-changing dynamics and policy changes, teachers may feel overlooked and underappreciated.
  • Teachers who are newer to the profession may be overwhelmed with the logistics and responsibilities of the position. As stated by Townley and Schmieder-Ramirez, “Many programs do not adequately prepare teachers for the realities of the classroom” (2014, p. 61).
  • The overall balance of professional needs outweighs the resources of time and energy. For example, new expectations may come with little support or the same teacher “leaders” continuously absorb the majority of additional work.

Why Is It Important to Address Teacher Burnout?

Burnout directly influences the rate of teacher shortages, including both the high turnover numbers and retirees. Furthermore, according to NPR (2002), there have been over half a million fewer teachers since before the COVID-19 pandemic, and approximately 43% of postings for educator positions are unfulfilled.

However, staffing is only one concern. Burnout is partnered with low morale, indifference, and higher absenteeism among teachers, which affects student learning and school climate.

Valuable Skills Gained in Concordia University Irvine’s M.A.Ed. Educational Administration Program

As I reflect on Concordia University Irvine’s M.A.Ed. Educational Administration Program, I consider the topics that could assist an administrator in addressing burnout among staff. Through readings, research, and coursework, I learned the importance of the following skills:

Servant Leadership

Considering how you can be of service and provide support is a mindset that effective leaders would use as motivation to alleviate some tasks for teachers and be creative in solution-finding.

Communicating Effectively

Having the skills to address conflicting interests among different stakeholders requires open, confident, clear, and calm communication.

Evaluating Data

Using qualitative and quantitative data to make school improvements and to assess evidence-based solutions, and direct administrators to make logical decisions to support staff.

Understanding the Budget

Understanding categories of funding and discerning how to use it allows for better resource allocation to provide for better supports.

Identifying and Sharing Resources

Showing investment in staff by offering opportunities specific to their needs and goals can result in staff feeling personally acknowledged and valued.

Ways Administrators can Support their Teachers to Reduce Burnout

When administrators recognize the strains and attrition of teachers, they should work towards alleviating chronic stressors.

Protect Staff’s Time

Offer to cover classrooms rather than other teachers covering during their preps. Limit meetings, and if held, make them efficient and purposeful. Allow input prior to meetings so the conversation takes off promptly. Recognize that less time in meetings allows more time for staff to balance their professional needs with their personal ones.

Listen and Troubleshoot

Offer time to work collaboratively with staff. Having an open-door policy will limit staff from feeling isolated or abandoned.

Personal Appreciation

Without cost, an administrator can influence a staff’s sense of belonging and worth through words, notes, and public shoutouts.

Share Trends and Schoolwide Needs

Participative leadership allows teachers to be part of the decision-making process, which supports teachers’ sense of value (Green, 2013). This interaction empowers educators to offer feedback and shape solutions that are congruent with their own needs and insights, but it also informs staff with transparency of why certain decisions need to be made.

Professional Development in Interest Areas

Encouraging teachers to identify a professional desire and to ask for resources to hone their craft gives them autonomy and respect. Furthermore, it may ignite new energy or invigorate a new sense of commitment and engagement to their profession.

Arrange/Find Resources in Community

Hiring district personnel to distribute more of the work can be expensive. However, some nonprofit organizations will complete services and subsidize the workload at a fraction of the cost. Similarly, volunteers, such as education majors from neighboring colleges, may be able to provide some support.

Leaning on skills and knowledge learned through an M.A.Ed. Educational Administration Program, an administrator can have a vision and direction to bolster staff morale, engagement, and self-efficacy, and hopefully, in turn, reduce the rates of teacher burnout.

References:
Bourg Carter, S. (2013, November 26). The tell tale signs of burnout…do you have them?: Running out of gas? Recognizing the signs of burnout before it’s too late. Psychology Today.
Green, R.L. (2013).  Practicing the art of leadership: A problem-based approach to implementing the ISLLC standards (4th ed.).  Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
Kamenetz, A. (2022, February 1).  More than half of teachers are looking for the exits, a poll says. NPR.
Leichtman, K. (2021). How K-12 educators can fight burnout: A look at common contributors to burnout-and more importantly, the positive strategies teachers can use to fend it off. Edutopia.
Townley, A.J. & Schmieder-Ramirez. (2014).  School personnel administration/human resources: A California perspective (8th ed.). Dubuque, IA:  Kendall Hunt.