The last several years have been hard on those in the education profession. A global pandemic, inadequate funding, and chronic staff shortages have caused teachers and administrators to leave their jobs. Teaching is always challenging, and educators play many roles in the lives of students—mentor, counselor, academic instructor, coach, and more. It often feels like too much for any one person to juggle, leading to educator burnout and demoralization.
As leaders of their schools, administrators play a powerful role in promoting job satisfaction for teachers and protecting them from burnout. Despite the challenges, there are things administrators can do within their schools to positively impact teachers, helping them to stay in the profession longer.
Read on for ideas and ways that both teachers and administrators can mitigate burnout and cultivate a healthy school culture.
Administrators can provide teachers with autonomy
Research shows that teachers experience less stress and burnout when their principals give them autonomy in their teaching instruction. Teachers reported feeling more emotional exhaustion when principals tried to control their behavior and increased pressure for them to take on additional tasks during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Give teachers autonomy wherever possible in their jobs, including trusting their professional judgment and decisions regarding instruction and student behavior. Empowering teachers and having confidence in their abilities leads to more effective instruction and better student outcomes.
Administrators can give teachers extra time whenever possible
Teachers often cite extra administrative work and initiatives that lead to their overwhelm and exhaustion, not teaching students. Administrators should look carefully at schedules and demands that take away planning time. Reduce the number of meetings and trainings teachers are required to attend whenever possible. Make sure teachers’ time is respected by having clear goals for meetings and not letting them run over.
Administrators may also be able to take work off teachers by enlisting community volunteers. Can college students or retirees run after-school tutoring so teachers can have more planning time or go home early? Getting your community to fill some of the needs at your school can take that burden off of teachers.
When leaders signal that they respect teachers’ time, teachers will feel valued and supported in their work. With thoughtful planning, administrators can free up teachers to focus more on instruction.
Administrators can encourage teachers to set boundaries
Administrators can take the lead in encouraging teachers to set healthy limits on how much and when they work. Set clear expectations about teachers not responding to work emails or calls during the evenings and on weekends. Make sure these policies are backed up with actions; administrators should lead by example in doing this themselves.
Administrators should also have a pulse on how their staff is feeling and whether or not they have the bandwidth to take on new initiatives. If they don’t, administrators should support teachers, listen to their feedback, and hold off on starting anything new with an already overwhelmed staff.
Administrators can look to teachers for input and feedback
When administrators are choosing a new curriculum or thinking about starting new initiatives, they should seek teacher input and feedback as much as possible. A rotating group or committee can review materials with administrators, making sure everyone’s voice is heard. This also signals to teachers that their professional insight and knowledge are seen and appreciated.
Valuing staff input in this way gives teachers a voice and involvement in decision-making. This can mitigate teacher burnout and ensures a higher likelihood that new initiatives will succeed.
What teachers can do to protect their well-being
We know the factors leading to burnout are complex. Systemic change must happen for teachers to continue doing what they love. We do, however, want to offer a few ideas for how teachers can take care of themselves and focus on their own well-being in the meantime.
Take a look at the National Institutes of Health’s Emotional Wellness Toolkit for strategies to improve your overall physical and mental health. Remember to prioritize rest, healthy eating, and physical activity that feels good to you. Try to set healthy boundaries for when and how much you work to ensure that you have time to spend with loved ones and time to recharge.
With a healthy school culture and work policies, teachers and administrators can be more satisfied with their jobs and continue positively impacting students. For more resources on teacher well-being, see our series on teacher self-care.