My Plan to Combat Teacher Burnout and Stress

OK, I get it.  July is an odd time for a blog post on teacher burnout and stress.  However, the summer months are a great time for thinking, reflection, and planning for the upcoming year.  As someone who has maintained for 20 years that education is the best profession in the world, I’m troubled by much of what I’ve seen recently regarding teacher burnout and stress.  In the past month, I have read 8-10 articles or papers on the increase of teacher burnout and reasons for those leaving the profession.  In addition, some educators made the choice to post their resignation letter online, allowing me to get a deeper look into the sources of their frustration.  

Why is this so important to me?  download-1.jpgBecause I NEED our team. If we are going to become the best school in the world (which should be the goal of every school) they are going to take us there.  The students and parents at our school NEED this team.  It’s important to me because I care about them as people.  As the leader of our school, how the job impacts their life and emotional well-being matters to me.  It matters a lot.

Michigan State University education expert Alyssa Hadley Dunn recently led a trio of studies looking into teacher burnout and stress.  In an article by the MSU School of Education Dunn states, “The reasons teachers are leaving the profession has little to do with the reasons most frequently touted by education reformers, such as pay or student behavior.  Rather, teachers are leaving largely because oppressive policies and practices are affecting their working conditions and beliefs about themselves and education.”  

As I read through those resignation letters recently, a handful of issues stood out.  Those were a negative school climate, loss of autonomy, a focus on standardized test scores, punitive teacher evaluation systems, and a lack of teacher’s voice during the implementation of policies.

What I haven’t read very much are plans to combat these issues.  Sure, I did a google search and found an article here and there.  But that’s not enough.  I take a great deal of pride in the relationships I develop with my staff and ensuring that I care about them as people first, employees second.  Because of that, I felt the need to develop a road map, a game plan, to at least feel like I have a structured and cohesive plan to limit burnout and download.jpgstress at OUR school.  I looked at the release of the MSU data, other articles on burnout and stress, and several resignation letters.  While I have done some of these things in the past, a systematic plan on paper will allow it to not fall off my radar or come and go.


1. I need to survey the staff.  Instead of guessing on their levels of stress and burnout, I need to compile personalized data.  Each state, district, building, grade level, and individual teacher is different.  When I’ve done that in the past, it’s provided me with important information.  I will share the survey data back with staff, share my plans to counteract the challenges, solicit advice from my building management team, and then check back in at least twice during the year.  Combining this survey with the one our staff does of my work twice a year will give me important feedback.

2. Make people feel valued each and every day, not just during “teacher appreciation week” or on their birthday.  Do all the little things day in and day out to make sure they feel valued.  It starts with developing the personal relationship with teachers and getting if-youre-really-that-important-make-people-feel-valued.jpgto know them personally and professionally.  That promotes an open line of communication which improves culture and trust.  Helping staff feel valued includes small things like writing a handwritten letter to each of them during the summer, doing something kind just because, stopping in for regular gratitude walks with feedback, highlighting their work on social media and with key stakeholders, and consistently telling them they are a valued and important member of the staff.  Maybe most important is knowing when adversity has struck and then reaching out to see how I can help.

3. Use the structures we have in place to make sure teacher’s voice is important in school decision-making.  I need to collaborate with our building management team, grade level reps, and school improvement teams on major initiatives which teachers need to have a voice in.  We have developed a shared vision as a staff.  I need to consistently make sure staff feels like our work is aligned with the vision and they have a substantial voice. Professional development plans need to be individualized and our staff needs to feel TeacherStress.jpgthat time is valuable.  Teacher observations, their purpose, and how the staff feels they are going must be discussed.  When I have ideas, those groups will be brought to the table so I can get teacher thinking, ideas, and feedback.  While every decision is not meant to be collaborative, teacher perspective must be considered in each instance.

4. Compile a list of 10 activities/strategies that will reinforce the “person first, employee second” message that staff gets from me.  I need to emphasize what Debbie McFalone told me about education, “it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”  Putting in place those activities will ensure that action follows words and does so consistently.  Here is a couple from my list.

  • Each time a staff member has something come up with their family, I will respond with an understanding message and the #FamilyFirst hashtag.  That branding will reinforce a belief of mine and remind staff of the value we place on family
  • Putting the “life balance” quote on the door of each staff member during the year
  • Periodically in my weekly update sharing the ideas, I incorporate to reduce stress and maintain the balance between work and family
  • Reminding staff, especially in the spring, that our #1 goal isn’t test scores.  It is and will always be supporting students to become better people

I’m not reinventing the wheel here.  Nor am I calling others to action.  It has always been a passion of mine to help teachers be the absolute best they can be, but I can do better.  I know that following this plan can be my small part of helping with teacher burnout and stress in OUR school and allowing our teachers to do what they do best…to teach.


“Google Has Me Thinking”

As usual, George Couros has written or posted something that really has me thinking. If you haven’t read the Innovators Mindset, get it on the list.  If you don’t follow him on Twitter, do so right away. If you are not on Twitter, please buy a passport into this century and crawl out from under that George consistently posts something that tests my current beliefs and has me questioning my role as an educator.  Today, on Twitter, Geroge posted this article from Inc. titled “5 Unusual Facts About Google’s Odd (and Wildly Successful) Management Practices”

I had heard each of the practices before. The 5th practice always sticks out to me and today it really made me stop and think.  The 5th practice is: 

“When hiring, G.P.A’s and test scores don’t matter”

OK, I get that Google isn’t the be all, end all, and we shouldn’t transform all we do to fit the pattern of one company. I do think that as educators we need to constantly be looking at how the world is changing and we owe it to our students to adjust with the times. We are no longer preparing students for jobs on assembly lines or working in solitary cubicles.  I think we need to ask ourselves some questions as educators based on that thought and the quote that went with it, 

Relying heavily on data crunching, Bock told The New York Times a few years back that G.P.A.’s and test scores are worthless as a criteria for hiring, unless you’re an entry-level grad. They found that they don’t predict anything.  As Bock tells The Times, “after two or three years, your ability to perform at Google is completely unrelated to how you performed when you were in school, because the skills you download-1.pngrequired in college are very different. You’re also fundamentally a different person. You learn and grow, you think about things differently.” Consequently, it’s not uncommon to find 14 percent of some Google teams made up of people who’ve never attended college.

There are times where I think the world of education can learn a lot from the business world. It doesn’t mean that grades don’t matter.  It doesn’t mean that earning a high G.P.A. is irrelevant. It does mean we should consider and question why Google would have this mindset. Here were the questions I immediately posed to myself:

1. How do we as educators balance the focus on curriculum and the process of learning for students? I think our focus is too often “preparing a student for the next grade” when growing a lifelong learner who understands and enjoys the learning process comes secondary.

2. Am I doing my part of preparing students for what exists beyond high school/college?

3.  What is our duty as educators? With so many outcomes and goals, how do we continue to adjust to a moving target?

That led me back to my core, my beliefs, and what must take priority. If I had to go to battle for the 3 things I wanted a student to leave our school with, they would be:

1. Help students to become better people. This will be #1.  Always. Help populate the Earth with better humans. Nothing is more important

2. Create collaborative problem solvers

3. Cultivate lifelong learning with an emphasis on an ability to reflect, persist, and adjust during the learning process

The beauty of a Sunday in July.  George and Google really had me thinking.  I reflected.  I thought.  I grew.  








How a Principal Impacts Instruction

As I reread the Handbook of Instructional Leadership by Blase and Blase, I remembered one of the things that made me enjoy my first read. It made me reflect on how I was impacting instruction in the school where I was the principal.


This time around, it made me physically write down the different ways I work to impact instruction within OUR school. All educators could come up with a pretty detailed list. My challenge was to whittle it down to the five I felt were the most impactful. I would guess that if ten principals completed the exercise, we might get ten different lists. That is OK. We emphasize different components. Here is what I settled on.

1. 5D+ Teacher Evaluation – A growth model. Collaborative. Based on focus areas and reinforced by coaching. Supporting each teacher with specific feedback in a model built on trust, collaboration, and growth.

2. Staff Professional DevelopmentAll staff meetings, early releases, late starts, in-services, and other designated times are spent on teaching and learning. You can say whatever words you want, but how you allot your time is the message staff gets about what is important. If you spend it talking about teaching and learning, the message is clear.

3. Differentiated/Small Group PD There are times where one size fits all staff PD is appropriate. However, that’s not how we ask our teachers to teach.  I feel like an area that I can continue to grow in is to better differentiate our staff meeting time to fit the needs of our staff. My plan for next year increases this:…/differentiated-pd-for-teachers-in-a-one-year-plan

4. Grade Level / PLCTeachers learning from and with other teachers.  As powerful PD as there is.  Sometimes, I just need to stay out of the way.  Other times I need to help plan, co-facilitate or reflect.  We add to this by incorporating “lab classrooms” and “data dialogues.”  Structures that further promote teacher to teacher collaboration.

5. Teacher to Teacher Collaboration I’m talking about the kind that takes place when the principal isn’t looking.  I think the trust and transparency the principal creates impacts this, but this is really how willing individual teachers are willing to go to work with each other.

Now, you’d actually have to ask my staff to see if the perception of how I impact instruction in OUR school is the reality!  But I certainly hope so.

I’d love to hear what other principals would say are in their top 5. It would also be great to hear from teachers on what they consider to be the top 5 factors in their school. Thank you for sharing and helping me continue to grow as an educator!