A teacher sits at a table in her classroom, rubbing her nose.

How Educational Leadership Skills Can Address Teacher Burnout

How Prevalent is Teacher Burnout? What Leads to Burnout?

Teaching has never been easy or simple. It is not a job with set hours, even though there is always a start and end time to the school day. There are always lessons to plan, assignments to check, families to communicate with, and, more often than not, students’ emotions or our own that need to be dealt with before the day is done.

Individuals who are strong enough, brave enough, and caring enough to go into this profession know all of this when completing their undergraduate coursework.

They also recognize time is well spent when students become excited about a topic, learn a new skill, or begin showing confidence in themselves. While teaching has always had its challenges, we are seeing teachers leave the profession at rapid rates and fewer new ones in the pipeline. Why? Teacher burnout is real. Over the past few years, teachers have taken on more than ever before.

They are no longer simply in charge of educating the students sitting in front of them in their classrooms. They are also responsible for teaching the students who may be learning online or even high flexing, which means that they are teaching both groups simultaneously. For many, online education was never a consideration, but now all teachers must be proficient in multiple forms of lesson delivery.

Why is It Important to Address Teacher Burnout?

Educators everywhere have spent extraordinary amounts of time trying to relearn the art of teaching through various forms of technology and online platforms. In addition, the lack of substitute teachers is alarming, and many teachers are finding themselves covering classes.  Some are even losing what little prep time they had built into their schedules. Team and department planning time has been a hard-to-find luxury as of late.

Teachers who may need to take a day off, even for mental health reasons, often hesitate because they realize that fulfilling their own needs may negatively impact their colleagues. An already full teaching plate is now overflowing.

Teacher burnout comes when educators are constantly under physical and emotional stress due to the pressures of their job. Quite simply, they begin to feel ineffective in the classroom. Almost every educator you speak to today is experiencing this at some level.

Valuable Skills Gained in Point Park University’s PA School Principal Certificate Program

So, what can we do about this? My Point Park University PA School Principal Certificate classes showed me that, as leaders, we need to acknowledge that there is a problem. In this case, teacher burnout truly exists. Burnout does not happen after one bad day or even a few bad weeks.

It is not the result of teachers being lazy and not wanting to do more. It occurs when the demands continue to increase without any input, understanding, or compensation. It comes from a teacher feeling like they can do no more. As leaders, the first thing that we can do is to say, “I hear you and I want to help.” Then follow through.

One of the key takeaways from my coursework at Point Park was the importance of creating a mission and vision. Principals need to work with their teachers to create a new, authentic vision for their school. Consider asking: based on the circumstances that we now find ourselves in, what do we need to do to ensure that our students and staff are successful both academically, socially, and emotionally?

Academics have always been the center of attention in school. Now, emotions and social needs are just as critical, if not more so for some students. Point Park showed me that a principal must take all of this into consideration and build a vision and mission with their team. Moving forward, they must ensure that all actions are supportive. It also needs to be acceptable that the new mission may look very different than other past missions.

In addition, my course work emphasized the importance of collaborating with all stakeholders to determine their needs. What a new or temporary teacher may want can be different from what a veteran teacher may need.

Ways Administrators can Support their Teachers to Reduce Burnout

Meet Staff Needs

Ultimately the building leader is responsible for what is happening in the school, but meeting the needs of those in the building will make everyone successful. When appropriate, during professional development days, create a choice board or a menu of training options that they can select to ensure that they are making the most of their day.

A teacher who learns something new that they can put to use right away in their classroom can be re-energized. Point Park University made me think about old issues and reconsider them in a new light. Present day, we must revisit some duties and activities that do not necessarily involve working with students.

Lessen Loads When Possible

There will always be requirements of teachers from the state locally that must be met. However, as leaders we need to review some of the additional tasks that may be there and consider if they need to be completed. Find ways to lessen the load when possible.

When possible, turn individual projects into group ones to divide the workload. Furthermore, consider putting some requirements aside, even if just for a little while. These “extras” will get in the way of focusing on the collaborative goal set forth by the school team.

Ultimately, give teachers time to complete the activities. Substitutes are in a short supply, but many districts have hired building and district-wide subs. When there are no additional vacancies, give the teachers time with the district subs to work on their projects. Extra time can go a long way with easing teacher stress.

Make Staff Feel Heard and Valued

The biggest thing that we can do for our teachers is make sure that they feel valued by those they work with. In various ways, Point Park stressed the idea that when people have a voice and feel valued, they will continue to work hard and achieve great things. We need to let teachers know that they are appreciated.

Let them feel heard. Allow them to provide suggestions for solutions for issues occurring within their building. When feasible, provide them with the tools and time to address the problems. Everyone needs to also give themselves a little grace as we begin to rebuild after the pandemic.

I am thankful for the lessons I have learned through the Point Park PA Principal Certificate Program. Many of the skills that I learned during my coursework have been applied to the real-world situations we all find ourselves in today.