By Andrew Hawk
Teacher burnout is a phenomenon that negatively affects teacher performance and in turn negatively affects student performance. Having just completed my 20th year as an educator, when I reflect back on my career up to this point, I can honestly say that I only felt burned out at the end of one school year. Many factors work together to lead to teacher burnout. Here are some ideas that I hope principals will try to help their teachers stay fresh.
Make Changes at a Reasonable Pace
When I was feeling burned out, I think the number-one reason was too much change too fast. Halfway through the year, my then-principal decided to redesign our instructional model, lesson-planning format, and several other procedures almost overnight. When you are deciding on making changes, keep this in mind. In my opinion, it takes three years to really tell if a new strategy has made a positive impact. If you start using a new reading program, don’t simply switch to something else the next year because you did not get the results you were expecting. If you take over a new school and want to make changes, prioritize what you want to do and focus on one or two items at a time.
Give Teachers a Voice
In making changes and decisions, principals can learn a lot by giving teachers a voice in the process. This is not to say that schools are going to suddenly become democracies. I, like many other principals I know, have a leadership committee. This committee has a member from each grade level. I seek feedback from the leadership committee about major decisions. Often, the teachers on my committee can offer varying perspectives on the effects of potential decisions. This has been a great help to me and also works to get teachers to buy in to new initiatives.
Keep Paperwork Realistic
At my first school, we had a form to fill out for everything. If we wanted to send home a homework assignment, we had to submit a form stating the directions and what state standards the assignment covered. If we wanted to complete a book study, we had to submit the book with a form to be reviewed and approved. We only sent home graded papers and school information once a week. Guess what? There was a form we filled out for this too. The end result was that teachers were spending a lot of time filling out forms when they could have been better meeting the needs of their students. Assess your current paperwork requirements, and cut down paperwork if possible. This saves trees and helps prevent teacher burnout.
Make Students Your Focus
It is fine to set goals for passing standardized tests, but your focus should always be on meeting the needs of your students. If you have met the needs of your students, success in all other areas of education will come. This may mean that some years you’ll need to examine the growth your students have shown on the tests in place of how many students passed your state’s standardized tests. I know this can be difficult when pressure is coming from above to get scores up. As a principal, keeping the focus on students is the best way to help teachers be successful. Always focusing on the test can quickly lead to teacher burnout.
Assess Your Discipline Policies
When I was a teacher, I often heard colleagues complain that they sent a misbehaving student to the office only for the student to return minutes later with no consequences. Principals should always consider what best meets the needs of students. If I find that a student’s behavior is interrupting the learning environment, I will have the teacher send work with the student to complete in my office for 30 minutes to an hour. Assess your discipline policies and see if you are meeting the needs of your teachers and students. If your teachers think your school has discipline problems, and the administrative team does not agree, the principal needs to find the cause for this disconnect.
Act as a Buffer
Principals often find themselves acting as a diplomat between parents and teachers. This is one of the most fundamental roles of a principal. While it is important for teachers to establish and maintain communication with families, sometimes the principal needs to step in to act as a buffer and help heal a fractured relationship. If a parent calls you with an issue, it is prudent help find a solution rather then tell the parent that they need to work it out with the teacher.
Recognize That Teachers Have Families
Teachers have moms, dads, and children. This means appointments, surgeries, and looking after family members when they are sick. These things in and of themselves produce a lot of stress. If teachers also have to worry that you will be upset because of missed time at work, it compounds their stress. I understand that good substitutes can be hard to find, but teachers still have to be sons, daughters, moms, and dads. Don’t forget that principals need to fill these roles too.
Build the Right Culture
Do you want your staff to work together as a family? If the answer is yes, remember this needs to start with the principal and spread to the rest of the staff. This means setting the example for how you want your staff members to act. Workplace drama is the fastest way to ruin the culture of a school. Do not make a bigger deal out of things than necessary. Help your staff wherever you can. Do not let gossip take over your school. When you set the example, the majority of your staff will follow you.
Stay healthy, everyone!
Andrew Hawk has worked in public education for 18 years. He started as a teaching assistant in a special education classroom. He completed his bachelor’s degree in elementary education at Indiana University East in Richmond, Indiana. Andrew has taught first, second, and fifth grades as a classroom teacher. In 2011, he earned his master’s degree in special education from Western Governor’s University. Andrew has worked as a resource room teacher and also has taught in a self-contained classroom for students on the autism spectrum. In 2017, he earned a master’s degree in educational leadership, also from Western Governor’s University. This is Andrew’s first year as a building principal. He is the principal of an elementary school that houses kindergarten through fifth grades. When Andrew is not preparing for school, he enjoys spending time with this wife and two daughters.
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