For National Teacher Appreciation Week, let’s look at teachers’ stress and burnout levels from a different angle: what schools can do to help. The onus should not solely be on teachers to take care of themselves when systemic changes need to occur. While everyone, including principals and district superintendents, has their plates full, some actions can be taken to reduce burnout across the board.
A study done by Rand, surveying the American Teacher Panel (ATP) found that:
Over 75 percent of teachers reported frequent job-related stress, compared to 40 percent of other working adults
Nearly one in four teachers said that they were likely to leave their jobs by the end of the 2020–2021 school year
According to a 2022 Merrimack College Teacher Survey, “Teachers’ job satisfaction levels appear to have hit an all-time low this year as the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage schools.” More than half of teachers say they wouldn’t tell their younger selves to pursue teaching.
Ask teachers what’s going on for them. Offer questions that will allow them to share their realities, and do so anonymously. When you get the answers, listen to what they have to say and move toward making real changes. Change can be difficult and slow, but you can aim for progress.
Wellness programs are one way to mitigate the impact COVID-19 has had on teachers. Anything such as offering subscriptions to meditation apps, providing opportunities for teachers to engage in physical activity, assistance with mental health services, and nutrition is a good place to start. Whatever is implemented should focus on long-term solutions. You could even consider using American Rescue Plan funds.
With the survey data you collect, it’ll be helpful to construct policy that encourages positive change. A study about burnout contagion amongst teachers found that “Current school and policy contexts characterized by reduced budgets, pressure to increase student achievement under accountability policies, and lack of administrative and parental support all have the potential to increase teachers’ stress levels and cause burnout.” Addressing these on a systemic level is challenging, but actions must be taken towards doing so to relieve teacher stress.
EdTech tools are available to make teachers' lives easier, helping to alleviate the burden of burnout while simultaneously boosting student success. There are tons of collaborative learning tools that can be utilized, including Labster, an interactive science web-based teaching tool. A case study with Arizona College of Nursing professor, Dr. Amber Kool, found that she turned to Labster when searching for a wet lab alternative during the pandemic. A year later, she continues to use the virtual simulations because she’s satisfied that they support active learning and engage students.
It’s time to facilitate difficult conversations about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), acknowledging that BIPOC people have different experiences than white folks in the education system and the world. Approaches shouldn’t be an isolated occurrence, but rather a long-term conversation about how to improve DEI initiatives within your school or district. For everyone to feel valued and heard, any initiative should be grounded in action and more action.
A district-wide mentoring program can promote, support, encourage, and lead to teacher growth. Mentors can be provided to new teachers and seasoned alike, pairing them with other teachers or administrators. About 44% of new teachers leave the profession within the first five years, but mentorship could provide some of what is missing for these teachers.
This especially goes for new teachers who need support in the early years and across the board. You want teachers to continually be deepening their skills and understanding and investing in themselves and the profession. Make sure that the professional development is meaningful, taking data from the surveys of teachers and implementing opportunities they’ve identified as important to them.
As a school administrator, there’s only so much in your control. But you can implement these practices to begin to prevent and reduce teacher burnout.
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