4 Strategies to Help Avoid Teacher Burnout
A collaborative professional environment is the holy grail for many districts and schools. Surface-level collaboration is easy; deep and meaningful collaboration is intense. Team meetings that follow established protocols for data gathering, analysis, and making collaborative instructional decisions take time and energy, as does the follow-up step of group lesson study, peer observation and feedback, and more.
Teaching itself is stressful. Nearly half of all new teachers leave the profession within five years due to various factors, including workload, student behavior, and perceived lack of a supportive environment. Add unsupported professional collaboration responsibilities on top of an already challenging job and you'll have a double burnout scenario on your hands in no time, burnout that can lead to academic and emotional issues for students. Here are four ways that you can help your teachers stay enthusiastic and healthy in a collaborative environment and avoid teacher burnout.
1. Involve Teachers in Building Collaborative Teams, Then Support Them
When establishing co-teaching partnerships, you can't "throw teachers together and hope for the best." In building collaborative professional learning communities (PLCs), it is not enough to simply label existing teams as PLCs and call the work done. Avoiding long-term burnout means working with teachers to establish desired collaborative co-teaching partnerships and teams, then creating a master schedule and system of professional support that will sustain their work long into the future.
Even the best, most collaboratively-minded educators don't automatically know everything about co-teaching, teaming, or PLCs. That's why ongoing, embedded, meaningful, immediately applicable professional development is so important to provide.
According to a 2017 survey by the National Education Association (NEA), a fifth of teachers nationwide reported having "no say" in their own professional learning, and a small majority reported only having "some say" in the same. You can work with your faculty to determine what they need and want to know, then help provide it. The more competent and fulfilled your teachers feel when it comes to collaboration, the greater the chance they will avoid collaborative burnout.
2. Establish Protocols and Common Expectations
The worst thing you can do to a group of hardworking educators is put them in a group, tell them to collaborate, and then disappear without a trace. Work with teacher teams to establish group communication norms and protocols. For example, The Ohio Leadership Advisory Council has advocated for a 5-step process for teacher-based-teams (TBT) to follow when meeting. By setting clear expectations and communication protocols, each team member knows the ground rules and can begin to intuit their role as part of the group.
Another quick road to collaborative burnout is when teachers feel as if they are meeting over and over again without producing meaningful results. Protocols and expectations help to counteract this, as they require groups to determine and deliver on goals within reasonable timeframes. Many districts encourage their teacher teams (and district committees) to establish SMART goals that helps keep the work on track, on time, and gives everyone a sense of accomplishment when they are met.
3. Encourage and Model the Use of Collaborative Technology
Online platforms are enhancing and altering how professional development plays out among your faculty members. Ed chats on Twitter, Slack workspaces, collaborative features within your school's learning management system (LMS), and more all present opportunities for collaboration that are gaining in popularity and usefulness.
Collaborative technology allows busy professionals (teachers!) to work and learn from each other asynchronously. Resources can be shared and pondered outside of traditional planning periods, and professional development can occur at a time and place that is convenient for your staff. You can model the use of such technology by doing things like creating "courses" just for staff PD or instructional resources via your LMS, or replacing traditional monthly staff meetings with video messages, discussion boards, and online surveys. Teachers will appreciate having more time to work on the work instead of feeling that the system is working against them, stealing their valuable time.Heading 2
4. Promote Group Health
Relationships with colleagues, parents, and especially students are important and fulfilling, but also experience natural strains and low points during the course of a long school year. Teachers engage in dozens of conversations every day that require emotional intelligence, and if they are not feeling well physically, that can impact how they respond in those situations.
You can help your faculty maintain good group health by seating a wellness committee, led by staff, that establishes fun, optional activities throughout the year. These could be themed by the month. For example, one midwestern high school which I am personally familiar followed up a "Walktober" challenge (tracking and self-reporting daily steps taken via the school's learning management system) with a "No Thirst November" initiative that focused on proper hydration. The staff had fun, competed for a small prize, and improved overall wellness with no significant increase in anyone's workload.
Leadership Can Help Stave Off Teacher Burnout
Your teachers are looking to you to help them balance the ever-increasing needs of an already intense, people-centered profession. Collaboration in education is no longer optional; it now represents another professional requirement. Instead of communicating this requirement, stepping aside, and hoping for the best, your teachers need you to lead them in what that collaboration looks like, how it can impact them in the classroom, and how to take care of themselves physically and mentally as they add this very powerful but very time and resource-intensive aspect to their already-full professional plates.
Do you have any tips to help avoid teacher burnout? Tell us on Twitter @Schoology