2. Support educators to build personal resilience.
You can never go wrong by focusing on wellness. Unfortunately, teachers who set boundaries, such as leaving or coming in at the contract times, or those who forgo prep outside of contract hours are, at best, viewed as lacking dedication. They often find themselves simply unprepared for teaching due to the increased demands and scope of the work.
Self-care strategies in other professions, such as walking during a lunch break or other stress-busting activities, are unavailable to teachers and other staff members. Teachers struggle to prepare sub plans that take hours of uncompensated personal time. They have no choice but to go to work at the expense of doctor appointments, mental health check-ins, and unforeseen care for a sick family member.
Despite these barriers, leadership can model, encourage, and generate support for a wellness approach. Little tactics such as breathing exercises in a staff meeting or offering a Zoom teacher connection meeting once a month at a reasonable time can be critical small steps to support resilience.
3. Understand that resilience just scratches the surface.
A recent article by Harvard Business Review, suggests that “burnout is really an organizational issue and is not simply the result of a deficiency in self-care, the interventions to address it are more complex and require strategies beyond get more exercise and better sleep.”
We place a great deal of importance on increasing resilience to manage burnout and compassion fatigue. For example, offering teachers mental health support or counseling resources or suggestions for meditation and stress management apps. These are excellent approaches to build self-resilience in an increasingly complex world. While these tactics allow us to focus on what is in our control, they fail to address the underlying variables that lead to teacher burnout and resignation.
4. Emphasize the value of teamwork.
Resilience increases when we support each other. In lieu of the pandemic we discovered a trend from working with schools. School administrations that encouraged a team-oriented environment for their teachers and faculty created an increased sense of belonging and connection. Therefore, the very nature of teamwork is critical to combatting burnout and compassion fatigue.
5. Break down barriers that restrict change beyond the classroom.
Small changes can have a big impact. One school we worked with asked teachers what everyday activities caused additional stress. Surprise classroom visits from the school’s principal surfaced as a primary stressor. To relieve some of this pressure the school changed the policy to allow teachers to schedule visits with the principal. Here are some additional strategies that surfaced:
- Using support resources differently and at different times to better aid in small group instruction
- Generate discussion groups to identify learning that is occurring beyond the academic loss. Cervantes added, “Learning loss is hard to systematically make up. It will take time,” but learning has occurred nevertheless. Placing an emphasis on the aspects of growth that surfaced is important.
- Asking principals and administrators to take on teacher duties occasionally, such as recess duty, or picking up a class from specials class and then doing a read-aloud to give a teacher more prep time. They might cover a class so the teacher can leave in time to make it to an appointment. This provides a feeling that they have a safety net.
- Giving staff members the option to attend a staff meeting virtually or in person as needed for work/life balance (many teachers have small children at home they have to find care for when they go in to work early for these meetings).
- Principals who let their teachers know they support them.
- Positive, meaningful feedback, frequently!
6. Embrace systematic change in our existing structures.
The National Education Association just published data about what would support members with burnout and found that increasing teacher salaries, hiring more teachers and support resources, changing paperwork requirements, and adjusting the school hours/breaks would systematically alter this issue.
“Teachers cannot meet the standards that existed before COVID-19,” adds Cervantes. “Redefining the goal and ensuring district support for new mandates, when possible, can be a critical step that upper levels of leadership and state leaders need to adjust.”
Organizations are never off the hook for burnout and compassion fatigue. But school administrations who invest in these strategies guarantee that both student and teacher can succeed.
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