Burnout is a very real thing. We have all likely experienced it at some point or another in our lives. Whether it was during your college days while facing the struggles of finals, in your first job where you were not yet accustomed to workplace stressors, or in your family due to a challenging dynamic, burnout is real. There are certainly different types of burnout that exist, workplace burnout being one of them. The Mayo Clinic defines workplace burnout as, “a special type of work-related stress — a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity.”
Educators around the globe are currently experiencing workplace burnout. A profession that has endured a great deal of scrutiny as a result of the pandemic, educators everywhere are faced with both physical and emotional exhaustion as they attempt to navigate the abysmal lack of boundaries needed for quality work/life balance. They are feeling a sense of reduced accomplishment as they are forced to abandon many of their practices and replace them with new ones that they feel pale in comparison. As a result of all of these stressors, educators are losing their personal identity- once being able to have labeled themselves as an amazing educator, they are recognizing the sub-par status of the profession and are mourning the loss of who they once were.
When a great captain sails upon their ship, they have a sense of accomplishment and pride. Whether standing at the helm and navigating the ship toward the new horizon or mastering the sails as they fill with wind to propel the ship forward, the great captain sees the fruits of their labors in every passing moment. The natural world around them celebrates their successes with visible praise of the progress made. The crew, which he or she leads and educates along the way, look to them as the keeper of their safety, their guidance, and ultimately, their community aboard the ship. When a member of the crew tragically falls overboard, it is the responsibility of the captain to ensure that the life preserver is cast into the sea and that the crew member is pulled back onto the ship and supported in their recovery.
As educational leaders, we must leverage the life preserver now so that we can save our teachers from allowing the sea of burnout to swallow them up.
It is our responsibility to pull our teachers from drowning in the exhaustion, negativity, and self-doubt so that we can continue to steer our ship, our school, toward the bright new horizon. Each and every one of our crew members, our staff, play a critical role in keeping the ship navigating on course and we must protect one another as we would our own family. Where the crew of the ship represents a family to those at sea, our teachers and staff members in our buildings represent our work family as we collaboratively “raise” the children who attend our schools.
What are we doing to prevent teacher burnout? We must begin by recognizing that it is a very real thing. We must give permission to feel a sense of exhaustion, frustration, negativity. In a profession where the vast majority of your time is spent on stage where you are constantly “performing” for your students, educators have no privacy for their emotions. Rather, they put their happy mask on every day so to protect the children from anything other than a positive learning environment. They check all of their emotional baggage at the door and they put their very best self forward day in and day out for the sake of their students. They are now being asked to do this while highly visible to the parent community as we have embraced a virtual model in which classrooms are live streamed. The boundaries that once existed, providing a smidge of privacy for our teachers, have been eliminated entirely by the practices we have put in place. It is exhausting for our teachers. We, as educational leaders, need to acknowledge that stressor and provide the emotional support that our teachers need as they persevere with this model of classroom existence.
We must celebrate the accomplishments of our teachers as they navigate the abandonment of many of their practices and replace them with new ones that, in their eyes, pale in comparison. We, as educational leaders, need to acknowledge the efforts that are being put into literally reinventing the wheel and the diligence that our staff have invested in finding alternative ways to provide meaningful and purposeful learning experiences for our students. As communities scrutinize the lack of festivities and experiences that have become tradition in many schools, we must applaud our teachers for finding ways to compensate for those lost opportunities for students. We must be mindful that our teachers are also navigating a pandemic, and each and every one of them plays a life role beyond being a teacher. We must applaud their resilience and perseverance as they invest themselves in quite literally starting from scratch like a first year teacher, despite the experience and years each brings to the table. We all remember how difficult the first year of teaching was as we sought out the practices, strategies, and tools that best suited our pedagogy and content, and yet here we all are again faced with that same challenge. We must celebrate the resilience that accompanies the approach.
Lastly, we must recognize our teachers as the amazing individuals whom they are, and always have been. The pandemic and the current stressors of education should not, and can not, define educators’ identities. As educational leaders, we must be extra mindful to recognize each of our staff members as unique individuals, the same way that we would expect them to recognize the students. We must work together, as a school community, to maintain our identities as dedicated, passionate, and innovative educators. We must be stronger than the force that breaks us and the strength comes in the collaboration and community of our schools.
I implore you as an educational leader to consider the impact that the pandemic is having on your educators with respect to teacher burnout and ask yourself this question, “Is the burnout that my teachers are experiencing a result of our school culture?” If your answer is yes, then you must throw that life preserver right this moment, pull your crew back aboard, and address the issues that are causing your ship to have lost its course. Be the captain of the ship.