- The pandemic greatly exacerbated the stressful nature of teaching
- Strategies such as professional growth and building respect go a long way in reducing teacher stress
- See related article: Empowering staff and students with a sense of belonging
- For more on teacher well-being, see eSN’s SEL & Well-Being page
Teaching has always been a stressful profession, but since the pandemic it has become even more so. Nearly three out of four teachers say they experience frequent job-related stress, and 59 percent say they’re burned out.
The stress that teachers are feeling is causing many to leave the profession, and this is affecting the ability of school systems to recruit and retain highly qualified teachers. In fact, new research suggests that the teacher shortages many districts have experienced since COVID have only gotten worse in many cases—and they weren’t just a function of the pandemic.
School districts nationwide are scrambling to fill open teaching vacancies, and this crisis has a profound effect on the quality of education that students receive. District leaders will have to try many approaches to solve the problem, but here are five key strategies that could make an immediate impact.
Create a school culture that teachers won’t want to leave.
Improving teacher retention starts with building a positive and supportive school environment. Research shows that a positive school culture is associated with higher attendance rates and deeper engagement for both students and faculty.
For instance, a meta-analysis of 120 studies on the factors that influence teacher retention from the Annenberg Institute at Brown University found that reducing the number of student disciplinary problems, improving the work environment, and increasing administrative support can lower attrition rates and encourage teachers to stay.
A positive school culture is characterized by strong, healthy relationships among students and staff members; core beliefs and values that are taught and reinforced throughout the school environment; and high expectations accompanied by robust support systems. In schools with strong, positive cultures, student discipline is less of a problem—and this creates a less stressful work environment for teachers.
Making sure employees feel valued and celebrating their successes is also important. Dealing with job-related stress is a lot easier to do when you feel like your efforts are truly appreciated.
As one middle school principal recently noted: “It doesn’t matter how small the success is or how big it is, we are constantly lifting our teachers up and lifting our students up to say, ‘Hey, you see, you can do it, you can be successful.’ What that does is it just breeds more success, more positivity.”
Support teachers’ professional growth.
Everyone wants to feel successful in their job. As best-selling author Dan Pink writes in his book Drive, mastery is a powerful motivator. Yet, too often, teachers feel like they’re left alone on an island. Teachers are more likely to be satisfied when they believe they’re doing a good job and making an impact with their students.
Providing high-quality professional learning experiences can help instill this belief by ensuring that teachers have the skills they need to be effective. However, much of the professional development that teachers get today is marked by a series of standalone workshops with little support or follow-through.
To develop mastery of their craft, teachers need ongoing professional learning opportunities, supplemented by personalized coaching and support. When teachers feel capable and confident, they’ll be happier in their job and more willing to work hard because they know they’re making a difference.
Give them the respect and autonomy they deserve as professionals.
Another recent Annenberg Institute report examined the state of the U.S. teaching profession over the last half century. The researchers looked at data across dimensions such as professional prestige and job satisfaction, and they concluded that the profession is at or near its lowest state in 50 years.
“Despite the central role teachers play in our society, they have long struggled to gain and maintain the status of a prestigious profession,” the report says. “Teachers are at once heroes and villains, saints and scapegoats. … This tension has led to repeated efforts to raise instructional quality by controlling teacher practices with top-down management and standardization, diminishing teachers’ autonomy and disregarding their expertise.”
Giving teachers the respect and autonomy they deserve could help improve recruitment, retention, and job satisfaction, the report suggests.
“This is not to say that teachers should be left alone in their classroom or expected to develop curricular materials on their own,” the researchers write. “Such practices can lead to inconsistent instruction, professional isolation, and burnout. Instead, efforts to support teachers through coaching, professional learning communities, and peer observation and review programs might create the conditions [that] teachers need to feel successful with their students,” while also ensuring high standards.
Teaching can often seem like an isolating profession. Creating opportunities for teachers to work together with their colleagues and build collegiality can reduce this sense of isolation and lead to better job satisfaction.
K-12 leaders can do this by connecting teachers within PLCs; giving them time for collaborative planning within or across departments; and establishing opportunities to get to know each other and build relationships in staff meetings and events.
Empower teachers with tools for success.
To be successful, teachers not only need the right skills. They also need high-quality curriculum materials, apps, and programs that empower them to do their jobs more effectively.
For instance, a high-quality classroom management platform can make teachers’ jobs simpler by helping them deliver instruction seamlessly. With the right classroom management platform, teachers can easily share their screen with students, highlight exemplary student work, keep students focused and on task, and even communicate with students privately if they need additional help.
The right classroom tools can reduce the complexity that teachers face in teaching with technology, making their jobs less stressful and helping them to be more effective.
Reducing the stress that teachers face is critical in helping them achieve success and improving staff retention. Although this is a complex problem that will require a system-wide approach to solving it, these five strategies are a good place for K-12 leaders to start.
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