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Oh, how I wish we didn’t need to talk about teacher burnout every year. After years in education, there is a trend. Each school year brings different challenges and seasons that can turn into a form of burnout. So, let’s discuss some ways that we can deal with and prevent teacher burnout when we’re faced with it.
This year, now, seems to be particularly overrun with talk about burnout. And teachers leaving the profession –which is disheartening.
We all reach a point of burnout at some point in our careers although the severity can range. Instead of avoiding or masking burnout, let’s talk about strategies to deal with teacher burnout.
Preventing Teacher Burnout Begins with Connection
I recently relistened to Kids These Days: A Game Plan For (Re)Connecting With Those We Teach, Lead, & Love by Dr. Jody Carrington as I was on my way to a conference where Dr. Jody was the keynote.
If you have not read or listened to the audiobook, it is a must-read. Especially while we are dealing with educating during a pandemic.
Sidenote: it was published pre-pandemic, but so applicable for all us dealing with our current struggles in education.
In her book, she speaks about connecting and reconnecting with our students. While this is great, it doesn’t help us immediately with the problems of teacher burnout that we are currently facing.
“If the big people aren’t okay, the little people don’t stand a chance,” is how Dr. Jody Carrington began her keynote to a room full of secondary administrators last week.
She shared with us the three areas in which to focus to make sure that the “big people are okay.”
This is what I want to share with you today, as well as examples of how I have been able to apply these strategies to prevent my own burnout.
Focus on Connecting with or Reconnecting to Your People to Prevent Teacher Burnout
The first strategy that Dr. Jody mentioned was connecting or reconnecting with “your people.” These are the people that you care about the most and those you can be yourself around. They could be living, but they could also be dead.
For me, “my people” are my husband and my children.
Jared, my welding-teacher-husband, has been wanting to get back in the habit of going on dates every week. With four littles and the pandemic, this has been difficult. But, I’m willing to make it happen to save my sanity.
We also decided to put our phones down when we are in the car together as it is one of the only places where we are “forced” to be in the same space together.
With my kiddos, I have focused on making eye contact with them as well as being near them. Just sitting in the same room while they play has helped me be more grounded and has helped them as well.
Reconnect and Remind Yourself of Your “Why” to Prevent Teacher Burnout
How often do you remind yourself why you became an educator?
This morning, I went to talk to a teacher before school started. I let her know that I noticed that she gets to know her students and their interests. Which is difficult when you have 180+ middle school students each day.
I told her how important those connections were that she’s making with those students. That she is making a difference in their lives.
As I’m telling her this, her eyes filled with tears and she replied, “Thank you so much for telling me that today. I was wondering before school if it’s worth it being here. Can I give you a hug?”
Reconnect with Your Breath to Prevent Teacher Burnout
Okay, so this one may seem a little “woo, woo,” but it works.
One of the main causes of teacher burnout is being overwhelmed and stressed. When you are stressed, you are in a state of “fight, flight, or freeze.” Cortisol, your stress hormone increases which can send a bunch of things out of whack.
I know this first-hand as I have a hormonal imbalance where my body produces excess Cortisol.
Taking deep breaths, relaxing your shoulders, neck, and jaw get your body out of that “fight, flight, freeze” state.
Getting out of that state will allow you to think clearer, make better decisions, and overcome the overwhelm.
Practice taking a deep breath in for a count of “3,” holding for a count of “3,” and then releasing for a count of “3.”
If it helps, you can use the triangle breathing technique where you trace the sides of a triangle as you do each of the previous steps.
Here are some ways that you can remind yourself to connect with your breath during the school day:
- Add a reminder to your phone to alert you throughout the day.
- Stack this habit onto a regular school-day routine. Like while you stand at your door between each class period, while students are working on bell work, or when your clean-up bell rings.
- Take time to breathe in your car before you exit it in the morning, and when you enter after school.
- While you wash your hands in the restroom.
You can find more tips here.
While not at school, you can also do the legs up the wall yoga pose. (It’s what it sounds like. You lay next to a wall with your feet up against the wall. Your legs and your back will make a 90-degree angle.)
When you practice breathing and relaxing, your body will be able to get into this relaxed state quicker. So, you will need to practice.
Feelings of overwhelm and burnout are unavoidable, but we can cut their effects by taking care of ourselves, “the big people” in the school. You can do this by reconnecting with your people, reconnecting with your “why,” and reconnecting with your breath.