Administration & Leadership

5 Ways School Leaders Can Work to Prevent Teacher Burnout

Retaining teachers can be a challenge, especially now, but focusing on making the workload more manageable helps.

November 30, 2021
FangXiaNuo / iStock

Hiring, training, and retaining phenomenal educators has always been key to success in education. In the year dubbed “The Great Resignation,” however, teacher retention has become an ever-present challenge. There’s a strong link between teacher burnout and attrition, and as burnout rates continue to increase and teaching roles become more complex, school leaders must look to burnout reduction to retain and grow their faculty.

Here are five areas where school leaders can make an impact on teacher burnout right now.

1. Extra Role Stress

It’s no surprise that extra roles fuel burnout for teachers. This is especially important for new teachers who may need more time to become fully acclimated to their teaching roles. They’re often “voluntold” to place additional tasks on their plate, like chaperoning, coaching, coordinating programs, or tutoring.

Wise school leaders know that the benefit of fulfilling these roles will be outweighed by the eventual departure of teachers who have too much on their plate. Begin to ask yourself, “Where can I alleviate roles for my staff? Can I bring in more parent volunteers or reduce the workload of these extra roles?” Be a role reducer, not a role enforcer.

2. Lack of Mentorship

Do your teachers have a clear path to mentorship? Do they have the time and space for mentoring? Positive support and mentorship can have a lasting impact on burnout reduction. Many school leaders and districts, however, create a mentorship program without considering how to effectively execute it.

Consider how and when your new teachers will work with a mentor. Will they be able to see strong, veteran teachers in action? Will the experienced teachers have an opportunity to see the novice work as well? Is there a time slot built in for reflection and dialogue within school hours?

3. Accountability Measures

From the top of every school down, we all feel the impact of standardization and accountability. As a school leader, you may feel that there’s little you can do to change an accountability system that also weighs heavily on you.

Effective leaders understand that added pressure with no added purpose will simply lead to more stress and burnout. On the other hand, leaders can build a strong culture by leading with purpose. Any policy you implement with a powerful, clear, connected purpose can be successful.

Culture-building tip: Emphasis on test scores is strongly connected to a lack of satisfaction for teachers. If you need to raise exam scores, allow teachers to sit on the committee that brainstorms that process. They’ll feel more purposeful and heard if they have a hand in any decisions about what to implement and how.

4. Lack of Autonomy

How autonomous are your teachers? Research shows a powerful connection between autonomy and job satisfaction. Professional educators want control over the way they perform their job duties.

Even more alarming in terms of burnout is the sense of demoralization. When teachers feel that they have no control, they may also feel like they can’t do what’s right for their students. A lack of autonomy and a feeling of violating their own morality can leave educators feeling abandoned and burned out at the highest levels.

Be an obstacle remover. Amazing school leaders seek out areas where teachers don’t feel autonomous. Sometimes the issue may be huge (like decisions over curriculum). Often, however, you may be able to quickly give them autonomy over small obstacles like hall passes, bathroom policies, and lesson plan templates. An autonomous, respected faculty is one that’s positioned to thrive.

5. Burnout Contagion

Have you ever thought of burnout as being contagious? Unfortunately, studies suggest that there are contagious elements to burnout. It may not be as simple as catching an illness by being in the same room or coughing near each other, but burnout can spread across your school community.

To avoid the burnout contagion, give ample opportunity and punishment-free space for teachers to voice concerns related to their burnout. Burnout spread happens behind closed doors when teachers vent and complain about an administration that “just doesn’t understand.” You can flip that script and show your understanding by valuing and creating authentic spaces for teachers to share concerns directly with you and by following up with meaningful action to alleviate their concerns.

Retaining quality teachers has never been more difficult. Any policy or program you roll out this year must be done with burnout in mind. A faculty that’s empowered to combat burnout is the faculty that will remain loyal to your school, advance your district goals, and bring other qualified candidates to your positive working culture.

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