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Professional development is one powerful tool that can alleviate some of the pressure and help reduce teacher burnout--PD is instrumental.

How to stave off teacher burnout with PD

Professional development is one powerful tool that can alleviate some of the pressure and help reduce teacher turnover

Survey after survey confirms teachers feel stressed and burned out. Nearly 75 percent of teachers experience frequent job-related stress, compared to just a third of working adults. More than half of teachers have considered leaving the profession earlier than originally planned.

Exhausted and frustrated teachers face a growing list of adversities, including:

  • Insufficient funding
  • Overwhelming administrative work
  • Demanding parents
  • Hostile communities

Dire staffing shortages have added to an unprecedented level of strain. When educators pick up the slack from unfilled positions, their work obligations increase. But their plates merely grow more full — nothing is ever removed. Districts can’t afford to lose more teachers and must take steps to assist them.

Key contributors to educators leaving the field include a lack of preparation, mentoring and support. Professional development, however, is one powerful tool that can alleviate some of the pressure and help reduce teacher turnover.

Benefits of professional development

Continuing education and career training make up a vital part of the educational process. It exposes educators to the latest instructional methods, offering research-based best practices and providing the confidence to teach new concepts. New and seasoned teachers can level up their skills and work toward subject mastery.

Workshops and peer groups provide a creative outlet for teachers to lean on each other for advice. More than half of teachers consider collaboration with colleagues the most effective type of professional development. When teachers are encouraged to support each other, they learn new ways to excel in their classroom, improving instruction.

By investing in their teachers, districts directly invest in their students. According to the U.S. Department of Education, student achievement increases as much as 21 percent when their teachers participate in professional development programs and adopt different techniques to deliver instruction. This positive impact is crucial as student math and reading scores decline across the country.

Implementing professional development

Implementing and improving professional development requires a thoughtful, detailed approach. Districts need to deliver a professional development program that is:

  • Continuous: Teachers need more than a few days of professional development workshops at the beginning of each school year. Districts should create opportunities for teachers to ask questions, collaborate and learn from each other throughout the year. A commitment to ongoing training also empowers educators to stay up to date on best practices and current research in their fields.
  • Relevant: Districts should ensure professional development focuses on useful instructional practices and strategies pertinent to each teacher and their classrooms. Allow teachers to assess their own areas for growth and support them through initiatives that will resonate with them the most. Nothing frustrates teachers more than spending hours in a professional development session that’s irrelevant and not applicable to their current needs. 
  • Engaging: Teachers work hard to design and present engaging, differentiated lessons. Districts should do the same for their staff. Teachers benefit as much as their students from interactive, hands-on professional development that encourages participation.

Creating accountability

Districts can pair continuous, relevant, and engaging professional development programs with teacher-driven follow-up sessions. For example, teachers can share their experiences with the professional development sessions and provide feedback to school and district leaders. These sessions hold districts accountable for adjusting programs as needed to best serve their teachers.

District leadership must also give teachers the time and space to put their professional development lessons into practice. Doing so often requires a bit of trial and error as teachers adjust their approaches to align with new methods or insights.

The worst thing an administrator can do is to evaluate and criticize a teacher who’s trying something different, which might not work the first two or three (or more) times it’s implemented — a situation that can cause significant stress. Instead, department heads and other educational leaders should collaborate with the teachers, offer constructive feedback and help troubleshoot and brainstorm, especially when lessons don’t go as planned.

As teachers become more comfortable with implementing what they’ve taken from professional development sessions — perhaps they’ve adopted a new program, for example — the learning outcomes and achievement data provide a big-picture view of the program’s success.

Only 12 percent of teachers feel “very satisfied” with their jobs, and more than half say they wouldn’t advise their younger self to enter the career field. Teachers want to feel satisfied and fulfilled in their careers. They recognize that a little stress is normal — but to live under a constant state of stress causes physiological harm, hurts morale, and creates discontent.

To prevent burnout and reduce stress, district leaders must offer opportunities for educators to grow their skill sets. Teachers have the vital role of shaping the minds of the young people who will one day shape the world.

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