Teachers are burning out at an alarming rate. Overworked and saddled with increasingly complex and overwhelming responsibilities, not to mention more challenging students and families, many teachers are suffering from exhaustion and chronic stress. Not surprisingly, this has a profound and negative impact on students. After all, how can run-down teachers be expected to teach energetic lessons, have patience for struggling students, or interact positively in collaborative professional development? A recent study connecting teacher burnout with student stress is just one of many examples that highlights that when teachers suffer, students are more likely to struggle with learning.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
As a school leader, you have the potential to help staff be healthier and more well-balanced so they can have the positive energy and passion needed to facilitate great learning with their students. Recently, I led a morning session at an administrators’ retreat for Regional School Unit 57 in Waterboro, Maine. Using the categories of teacher health and balance outlined in The Well-Balanced Teacher, administrators generated ideas for supporting their teachers’ health and balance. Here are 17 great ideas that this administrator group generated.
Many educators struggle with eating healthy foods, drinking enough water, and getting enough exercise. Though you certainly can’t control how teachers take care of themselves outside of school, you can create healthier environments in school. You might…
- Create water stations around the school and offer bathroom breaks so staff can stay well-hydrated.
- Use walk-and-talks at meetings to foster good conversation while also getting some light exercise.
- Use mindfulness and meditation exercises to help ground and center staff.
- Only supply healthy snacks for staff meetings and professional development gatherings. Instead of donuts, muffins, soda, and candy, bring in fresh fruit and veggies, whole grain crackers, and water.
A positive sense of belonging (with colleagues, students, and families) is fundamental for teachers to feel grounded and supported at school. Nurture positive connections, and teachers will be less likely to connect with each other in negative ways (griping in the staff room or gossiping behind closed doors). For example, you could…
- Use cross-grade and cross-department conversations in staff meetings to build positive connections throughout the staff.
- Place teams together carefully, working to blend personalities. Support team building once teams are together.
- Use collaborative games and activities to help staff get to know each other.
Having a strong and positive sense of purpose and mission helps educators remain energized and passionate about their work. Amidst pressures of standardized testing and a movement toward scripted curricula, this has been hard for some educators to hold onto. To turn this around, you might…
- Use inspirational articles and videos at staff meetings (or send them electronically) to help remind staff about the importance of their work. (For lots of great ideas, check out this LiveBinder.)
- Engage in effective goal-setting with staff. Make sure this is authentic, not simply and exercise is compliance.
- No matter what staff are working on, make sure to always come back to how the work benefits students.
When teachers know they’re good at what they do, they have more positive energy for the profession and more patience for students who struggle. Today’s education climate has created a lot of highly skilled and competent teachers who think they’re incompetent. To help staff focus on successes, you could…
- Support collegial coaching—so that teachers can boost their skills through supportive and constructive feedback.
- Offer frequent bite-sized private positive communication. Leave a sticky note on a desk. Jot a quick text or email. Keep it light, positive, and real. (“I happened to drop in while you were setting up a math game. Your directions were so clear, and students looked so excited!”)
- Provide feedback that supports growth and change.
Teaching and learning should be joyful pursuits, filled with moments of playfulness and levity as well as deep focus and engagement. Let’s create school environments where staff look forward to coming each day. You might…
- Use fun and collaborative activities in staff meetings—ones that are playful and that teachers can bring back and use with their students.
- Encourage after-school get-togethers—happy hour groups, book clubs, Yoga, etc.
- Use a “joke of the day” during morning announcements. Encourage staff to participate.
- Memo the memoable—cut boring announcements from staff meetings to keep energy positive and relevant.
Another idea, which cuts across all categories, came up several times through the course of this retreat: the importance of administrators taking care of themselves. This is important for two reasons. First, as leaders of adult learning, you must model the characteristics you want your staff to demonstrate. There’s another important reason, voiced clearly by a principal in the group: “If teachers’ health has such a huge impact on student learning, just think about how our health must impact teachers—and therefore students!” It’s so true—healthy administrators will have the positive energy needed to nurture adult learners so they can support their students!
For more ideas about supporting staff health and balance, consider checking out The Well-Balanced Teacher. I have created a free online study guide through the ASCD website to support schools as they read this book together!