Two teachers talk in the school hallways as they walk to their next lesson.

How Educational Leadership Skills can Address Teacher Burnout

Every job has its stresses and can have periods where one may experience anxiety or dissatisfaction. These periods typically pass with time, a vacation, or even words of encouragement from a colleague or supervisor. It can be different for those of us in the education sector. Most educators thrive on a bit of stress; it can result in a fantastic lesson, a deep and meaningful discussion, or a creative way to make learning fun!

Educators, by nature, are caring and giving people; they impart knowledge, ideas, guidance, and advice every day. They give their time, energy, and love to children each day. Because of the issues currently facing educators, these things are still given when teachers have little left to give. Educators are experiencing feelings of stress, anxiety, and dissatisfaction at alarming rates, leading to teacher burnout. The COVID-19 pandemic and its effects have exacerbated these feelings.

How Prevalent is Teacher Burnout? What Leads to Burnout?

Many things can lead to teacher burnout. Identifying the causes and then being able to devise solutions are critical to helping teachers survive burnout. The following are three of the things that I struggle with the most.

Judgment

Judgment and ridicule from the community are huge factors leading to teacher burnout. I am fortunate to work in a district that has a high level of community and parent support for its school and those who work there. However, I realize that is not the case for everyone. I have talked with teachers from other districts who do not experience community and parent support.

I have also felt this judgment and ridicule because I am guilty of reading social media comments that bash educators. Unfortunately, I often feel those comments on a personal level; those negative and hurtful comments lead me to second guess myself and even get angry. Those types of comments can lead to feelings of low self-efficacy, resentment, and even depression among many teachers.

Increased Workloads

Increased workloads are also a cause of burnout. For multiple reasons (new curriculum, a new school-wide initiative, increased class sizes, etc.) a teacher’s workload and expectations are always growing. Now, I believe in being a life-long learner, so I am not opposed to learning new things, but it seems like nothing is ever taken off the table and more things get piled on. There never seems to be enough time to get everything done.

The looming questions of “Am I doing enough?” and “What else can I do to help these students?” coupled with the dread of never being done is the most challenging thing for me and causes me the most anxiety and low-self efficacy. Even with a bonus “work from home day” or a weekend, I feel like there are always more things to do. I may be able to catch up for a day or two, but then it is back to correcting, lesson planning, parent emails, testing, and all the other daily tasks for which a teacher is responsible.

Substitute Shortage

No available substitute teachers is yet another major cause of teacher burnout. Teachers can barely take a sick day, let alone a mental health day because if they did, there is no one to be a substitute. Teachers often feel guilt if they must be gone, leading to more feelings of anxiety and stress.

However, just as there are many reasons for teacher burnout, there are also many ways to help reduce the stress and anxiety surrounding it. Following are some specific ways to help fight burnout.

Ways Administrators can Support their Teachers to Reduce Burnout

First, support from the administration is key. An administration that understands the immense pressure their educators feel is critical in reducing teacher burnout. When administrators listen and respond to their teachers, it makes them feel like they are being heard and not like they are just complaining. Complaining behind closed doors creates a negative culture. When teachers can openly discuss concerns with their administrators and work to find solutions together, this builds a culture of trust and respect, which lessens the effect of burnout.

Recently, the administration and school board from my district sensed the “overwhelm” of the staff. In response to this, they added three bonus days to our calendar so that staff can work from home, have more flexibility with their time, and be able to breathe without feeling so much stress. This action from our administration and school board made everyone feel valued, listened to, and significantly improved our culture.

Valuable Skills Gained in Concordia University St. Paul Educational Leadership Programs

The Educational Leadership Program at Concordia University St. Paul provided me with valuable skills to help combat burnout. As a teacher, it provided me insight into what effective administrators must do to help maintain quality staff, reach district goals, and still be fiscally responsible. It also provided me with valuable communication skills to be more comfortable and confident in being a mentor and teacher leader.

Balance

Educators need to build balance in their lives. One way to do this is to set home and work boundaries. For most teachers, this is easier said than done, but it is crucial; these boundaries should be set and then adhered to, to be effective. Maybe you choose one day of the weekend to be work-free, and that is your day to do something fun and fulfilling. Perhaps you do not answer parent emails after a specific time at night or only plan lessons and correct papers for an hour after school.

Boundaries

Set boundaries that work for you and your lifestyle. I try to do at least one thing each day that I enjoy. Sometimes it is a walk, sometimes it is going out for supper so I don’t have to cook or clean up, and sometimes it’s just carving out a little time to watch a favorite TV show. I have found that this is helps lower my stress and anxiety levels.

I have also tried to make sure that I do at least one serotonin builder each weekend: hanging out with friends or family, thrifting at my favorite stores, or even doing a puzzle! These things fill me with happiness and make it possible to rejuvenate and find fulfillment when I am back at work.

Support Network

Finally, get a supportive network of friends and family and be a support for those around you. Having people in your life that can share the load is very beneficial when life feels overwhelming. I have also found that being a mentor and source of support for others experiencing burnout can be very rewarding and can fill my bucket while filling someone else’s.