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School Leadership During a Pandemic | Staff and Student Well-Being

How School Leaders Can Prevent Teacher Burnout During Stressful Times

December 5th, 2020

When schools closed last spring during COVID-19 and students and teachers were both thrown into a world of virtual learning, the outpouring of support and appreciation for teachers was overwhelming. Parents shared their sentiments on social media, asking teachers what their tricks are to keep students focused and learning. “How do you do it?” parents asked, often adding that they could not wait for the opportunity to return their children to a five-day-a-week school structure.

Parents were right to express their appreciation for the challenging and crucial work that teachers do. Now, however, the stakes are higher for our teachers, and the terrain is less familiar. For the first time in their careers, teachers are expected to report to school during a pandemic, potentially putting themselves at risk of virus exposure, and/or teach remotely through imperfect software, or a combination of both, all with varied amounts of training and preparation. It is a time of global uncertainty and career evolution, and it is putting our teachers—the rocks we depend upon for our children’s personal, social, and educational development—at risk of suffering from a burnout.

The Stress Facing Teachers During COVID-19

According to The Hechinger Report, a study among early education teachers in two Louisiana parishes found that more than half are making less money in their households than before the pandemic, and 40 percent are experiencing food insecurity. Eighty-five percent are worried that their students will come to school sick, and more than half worry that they will become sick in response. All of these factors are creating dangerous risks for teachers. Nearly 40 percent of the teachers surveyed also reported showing signs of clinical depression.

As a school district leader, you can help mitigate many of your teachers’ work environments’ biggest stress points. This year, retaining your top teachers might be more of a challenge than ever before if the necessary steps are not taken to prioritize their wellbeing. To help you provide the support your teachers need, we offer school leaders advice to help prevent teacher burnout.

#1 – Consider Alterations to Compensation

Households across America are reeling financially, with many individuals laid off or furloughed. According to the Pew Research Center, half of the adults who lost a job due to the coronavirus outbreak are still unemployed. With a greater appreciation among parents for the crucial role that teachers play in our communities and new expectations for teachers to be both in-person educational advocates and remote learning guides, administrators should consider rightsizing teachers’ compensation packages.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, teachers earn 11.1 percent less than other workers with comparable education and experience. A 2020 study from Stanford University on teacher compensation found that entry salaries for teachers in 2016, in real dollars, had not changed since 2000, and average salaries for all teachers declined slightly over that period. With the cost of living on the increase, particularly in large coastal cities, teachers’ salaries are not keeping pace. As we continue to expect more of our teachers, who support our children’s academic and personal development, districts need to find ways to retain valuable talent by closing the gap between teachers’ worth and appreciation and compensation.

#2 – Enable Teachers to Find Comfort in Collaboration

No one educator has the answer to maximizing children’s productivity and learning efficiency in a remote or hybrid learning model. However, individual teachers are finding some small and significant tips and tricks proving to help children break through despite learning in an inconsistent format. Teachers are desperate to know, from their peers—peers who may even co-teach the same students—what is working and what tactics are possibly not translating well to the remote learning environment.

Understandably, the pressure is on for teachers to maximize the time they are inside the school building to work actively with students. As a result, teachers are left without time to collaborate and obtain vital suggestions and ideas that, if disseminated, could benefit a larger segment of teachers and students. Administrators can support teachers’ needs for shared learning time by enabling collaboration, whether it be through more frequent staff development days, video conference meetings, or even a chat room where teachers can share links, videos, ideas, and suggestions with one another. Such outlets do not have to take away from the limited amount of time that teachers have with students, but it should be available to help both teachers and students to succeed.

#3 – Increase the Resources Available to Teachers

People are more likely to face increased stress when the demands on their time and attention outweigh their available resources. Parents who have been supporting their children’s learning at home are now suddenly more invested in their child’s educational development than ever before, and they are applying pressure to teachers to make up for an interrupted academic year and enable them to support their children at home with ongoing learning. This complexity is just one new facet of the pressure that teachers face, and with limited time and large classrooms, teachers’ stress levels are taking them to the brink of burnout.

To support your teachers, find ways to balance the expectations of their time with available resources. Perhaps the need is for smaller classroom sizes or the additional hiring of support staff for extra one-on-one time with students struggling to keep pace. By spreading the monumental responsibility of normalizing and maximizing our new education system’s outcomes among a greater support system, your core academic leaders will feel less burdened to accomplish seemingly impossible feats.

Final Thoughts

Remember that your students are not the only ones feeling the loss of face time with their teachers. Educators entered their career path because they wanted to work with children and help them grow and develop. Teachers must miss the excitement and energy of a classroom full of students. Now, with many teachers separated from students, at least part-time, by a computer screen, teachers may be feeling a void in their careers. By supporting your teachers by advocating for better compensation, more collaboration, and more resources, you can build a bridge for them that will safely carry them to the other side of whatever our education system will look like after the COVID-19 pandemic. Most importantly, you will be doing your part to help safeguard their mental and emotional health so that we can keep more valuable educators in the classroom, guiding and supporting our young people.

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