George Lucas Educational Foundation
Administration & Leadership

How to Avoid Burnout as a District-Level Administrator

A look at some steps you can take in areas ranging from time management to professional learning to maintain well-being in the face of job stress.

April 8, 2024
mixetto / iStock

We hear a lot about teacher and principal burnout, but despite increasing awareness, if you’re one of the many district-level administrators facing the feeling, it may seem like you’re the only one.

Burnout isn’t just a feeling—it can lead to physical and emotional exhaustion, which can creep up over time. It can also lead to detachment in the workplace and make you feel ineffective or underachieving, which results in a never-ending loop where feelings of ineffectiveness lead to more stress.  

There are many things you can do to help mitigate these effects.

Set Daily Tasks and Priorities

Central office administrators get bombarded by emails, phone calls, texts, scheduled meetings, impromptu meetings, and district emergencies. It can be difficult to find time to get everything done. To avoid overwhelm, it’s important to be extremely organized with your digital calendar. 

Block out work time for certain tasks and deadlines, and hold this time sacred.  Require that meetings be scheduled around this time (unless there is an emergency). Put your phone on “Do not disturb,” or take only important calls that cannot be missed.  

Start the day by completing the most important task on your list—that way, even if the day goes awry, you’ll have a sense of accomplishment. At the end of the day, note your progress and remaining tasks, and rearrange your schedule for the next day if necessary. You can’t do it all, but prioritizing and being organized helps to ensure that the most important work gets completed on time.


Don’t be afraid to delegate responsibility to direct reports and those on your team. Leverage their expertise, and don’t narrow the scope of delegated work to a person’s job title. For example, if you work with a mathematics lead, but that person is excellent at creating PowerPoint templates, lean on their expertise in this area, even outside of math. 

People often find it flattering when they’re asked to help on important projects, and the feeling of camaraderie that this type of teamwork builds can far outweigh the guilt that you may feel when initially asking for help. 

Make Connections

Education is all about connections. Students and teachers have to connect in order to make impactful teaching and learning happen, and teams of administrators have to connect in order to complete large-scale projects.  

Carve out time to get to know administrators who hold similar positions in your district. Getting to know others can alleviate burnout by revealing that you’re not alone, even in your feelings of stress. And building meaningful relationships can lead to the collaboration mentioned above.  

Being an administrator can be difficult, but it helps when you can laugh and connect with others in the same boat. It’s helpful to have a weekly meeting where administrators at the same level can gather to share updates, ask for ideas, or help with projects or situations. In this way, you forge stronger connections and help move large-scale projects forward.

Pursue Professional Development 

This strategy can be challenging, especially for those of us who have enough professional learning hours to fill up four Excel sheets. But how much of that professional learning do you get to choose as a professional?  

Take time to seek out in-person professional learning that inspires you. Get out of your comfort zone, and attend local (or national) conferences. At these events, there is time for learning, time for socializing, and time for reflection. 

I always leave conferences inspired for several reasons. I’m learning from others’ viewpoints, maybe some that I’ve never heard from before. I’m connecting with others who have the same position, but in different districts. And I get to learn how they tackle similar problems. 

Leaving the office to learn in a large-scale setting is rejuvenating and can feel like a break, even when it’s hard work. Sometimes changing the setting of your workplace can help reframe your goals and priorities. 

Put It in Perspective

One of the best ways to navigate a large workload is to think about the things you can and cannot change. When thinking about obstacles in the way of a new initiative, consider your locus of control.  

You may have control over the timing of a rollout, for example, or the way that professional development is structured, but you do not have control over the teachers who will be absent the day of the training. It is best to focus on the things that you can control before focusing on (or letting anyone else focus on) the obstacles in the way. Doing so can help you to put things in perspective; if the initiative is in the best interest of students, then it is worthwhile, and you can figure out the best way to navigate the obstacles in the way to make it happen.

Just Say No

When your plate is overflowing, don’t be afraid to say no—challenging though it may feel. The best way to deploy this strategy is to do it with kindness. Explain that as much as you’re a team player and are willing to help out, taking the lead on a new project just isn’t a good idea right now.  

As a leader, you’re expected to be professional and assertive. It’s important to set boundaries, or else you’ll become everyone’s go-to when project deadlines approach, and your own work will take a backseat. When you have too much going on, having kind but firm scripts can help you think swiftly and say no in the moment.

Navigating an Inevitability

Everyone experiences burnout at some point, and it’s important to monitor where you are on the burnout scale. Remember that the best way to combat it is to admit that you’re experiencing it. 

Even a short walk when you’re feeling overwhelmed can work wonders, as can remembering your “why.” We’re educators for a reason, and we believe in the power of education. Keep your “why” close, and with the other strategies above, you’ll be on your way to re-energizing your professional life.

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