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How to Solve the Teacher Burnout Crisis: 10 Strategies

11 min read
Jan 19, 2023 8:00:00 AM

How can school leaders end the burnout crisis? Here are 10 strategies for reducing burnout in your school or district.

In this third and final installment on our series on teacher burnout, you’ll learn how to reduce burnout and improve teacher retention — leading to not only happy educators but also better academic outcomes for students.

Table of Contents

Solutions to Educator Burnout
1. Mental Fitness as a Means of Addressing Burnout
2. Mindfulness and Meditation Training
3. Cognitive Behavior Therapy
4. Emotional Intelligence Training
5. Instructional Coaching
6. Improving Student Discipline
7. Enhanced Administrative Support
8. Increased Teacher Autonomy
9. Engaging Teachers in the Right Conversations
Giving Teachers Choices About Teacher Burnout Care
Software Supports
1. Positive Behavior Supports Applications
2. Instructional Coaching and Support Applications

Solutions to Educator Burnout

Solving the educator burnout problem is a challenging endeavor, and as noted in part one and in part two, there are many factors — both personal and organizational — all of which can contribute to this problem.

Therefore, educational leaders must take a multivariate approach to supporting educators to alleviate burnout.

In general, teachers are very conscientious people. As such, they tend to expect perfection from themselves and that they can manage and handle anything in the classroom.

This has led to a perception that, as a teacher, one should just “push through” or “soldier on” through the burnout and not take specific steps to address the problem.

As evidence suggests, not addressing the causal factors of educator burnout could regress into clinical depression and severely debilitate the teacher.

When teachers were asked in a recent NEA survey what interventions should be implemented to help them with burnout, many potential solutions were highly rated. Of note was the need for more teachers as well as additional mental health and behavioral supports for students.a chart from the nea that shows how schools can reduce teacher burnout

It was interesting that this survey apparently did not examine perceptions about internal or teacher aspects of burnout. Instead, the survey focused on external factors only. 

From a broad perspective, the solutions to burnout must become less reactive and more preventative.

One way to consider this preventative approach is to consider the notion of “mental fitness.”

1. Mental Fitness as a Means of Addressing Burnout

Mental fitness is analogous to physical fitness in that everyone can benefit from a regimen of activities that promote physical fitness (i.e., exercise, sleep, nutrition). The same can be said of mental fitness.

People can learn cognitive and behavioral skills that will give them the ability to better manage stress as it happens in their life. The notion is “Why wait?” until you are in distress to manage the stress.

Instead, learn how to cope with distress when you are emotionally and mentally strong to reduce likelihood of more serious concerns.

2. Mindfulness and Meditation Training

A common approach to supporting educators in their fight over burnout is to provide mindfulness and meditation options.

Research supports this approach:

  • In a systematic review of mindfulness for reducing burnout, Luken & Sammons (2016) found there is strong evidence for the use of mindfulness practice to reduce job burnout among health care professionals and teachers.
  • In a large meta-analysis, Lancu, Rusu & Măroiu (2018) found that mindfulness interventions had a significant positive effect on emotional exhaustion and personal accomplishment.
  • Abenavoli, et. al. (2013) also found significant protective effects of mindfulness against burnout among educators.

3. Cognitive Behavior Therapy

Despite the apparent efficacy of mindfulness on improving burnout, the addition of cognitive behavioral methods to complement these interventions may prove to be even more impactful.

The results of a clinically controlled study demonstrated significantly greater improvements for the treatment of burnout, compared to the control condition, on all three central dimensions of BOS in teachers’ emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment.

These positive treatment effects were maintained at six-month follow-up.

The authors concluded that CBT intervention has promise for supporting teachers in stressful occupational conditions and reducing their burnout (Ghasemi, Herman, & Reinke, 2022).

In a randomized controlled trial, Lloyd, Bond, & Flaxman (2013) found that cognitive behavior therapy significantly reduced emotional exhaustion in teachers.

4. Emotional Intelligence Training

Another area gaining attention is emotional intelligence (EI) training.

Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand, use, and manage your own emotions in positive ways to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathize with others, overcome challenges, and defuse conflict.

Having high EI provides a better sense of self-efficacy, and, in turn, helps one avoid the feelings of professional burnout.

Emotional intelligence helps you build stronger relationships, succeed at school and work, and achieve career and personal goals (Pulido-Martos et al., 2016).

Teachers with higher levels of EI have skills which act as protectors against the various stress factors caused by work situations, potentially increasing the level of enthusiasm and dedication to the work (Brackett et al., 2011).

Emotional intelligence is a capacity that should be developed in teachers, since it gives the individual the ability to regulate their emotions in daily classroom situations, which leads to improved teaching practice, health, and mental well-being of the teacher (Pulido-Martos et al., 2016).

5. Instructional Coaching

The empirical evidence is convincing that instructional coaches reduce teacher attrition and improve teacher retention (Long, 2009).

Presumably, instructional coaches can improve professional efficacy and personal accomplishment (critical aspects of BOS) so teachers feel they are having positive impacts on their students.

According to current research, instructional coaching positively impacts outcomes for teachers regarding burnout (Aguilar, 2018).

The converging evidence is that making instructional coaches available to teachers, through high-quality guidance and collaboration, has the potential to mitigate the teacher retention crisis (Russel, J., 2019) and the potential onset of professional burnout.

Instructional coaching can also increase the degree and quality of administrative support provided to teachers.

Hughes et al. (2015) found that there are several areas of administrative support that are critical for reducing stress for teachers:

  • Emotional support: Teachers report that emotional support (e.g., reasonable expectations, trust, supportive environment) is essential.
  • Environmental support: The second most important kind of support is defined as “environmental support,” exhibited when administrators effectively address negative student behavior and safety issues.
  • Instructional support: The third most important kind of support is instructional support, where teachers receive quality professional growth/development opportunities along with adequate resources and have a say in decisions that affect them (Harris, S., Davies, R., Christensen, S., Hanks, J., & Bowles, B., 2019).

In their seminal meta-analysis research, Nguyen, et al. (2019) conclude, “We find that student disciplinary problems, administrative support, and professional development, strongly influence whether teachers stay or leave teaching.”

6. Improving Student Discipline

According to Thibodeaux, et al. (2015), student discipline is a top reason for teachers leaving the classroom. Student discipline needs to be more actively considered among the important variables to address teacher attrition (Ramos, J. & Hughes, T., 2020) and, as noted earlier, a central cause of BOS.

There is a growing body of research that supports improvements in disciplinary behavior, anti-social behavior, student bullying behavior, and peer victimization. These are directly related to implementing systematic positive behavior support systems, also known as PBIS (Bradshaw, Koth, Thornton, & Leaf, 2009).

Schools delivering PBIS methods with fidelity displayed lower levels of disruptive behavior problems and more prosocial behavior. There were also significant reductions in office discipline referrals (Bradshaw, C., Waasdorp, T., Leaf, P., 2012).

Therefore, district and school leaders should strongly consider implementing the tenets of PBIS across all classrooms, which will improve teacher working conditions and school climate, thus increasing teacher retention and reducing the incidence of professional burnout.

7. Enhanced Administrative Support

As noted earlier, administrative support for teachers is an important external factor for mitigating Burnout Syndrome.

A study of nearly 8,000 teachers (Kraft, Simon & Lyon, 2020) across nine states showed that leaders play a key role in supporting teachers’ sense of success, particularly when the leaders focused on strong communication and collaboration with teachers.

According to teachers, lack of administrator support is reported to be the most critical component of school working conditions and can result in a nearly doubling of the teacher attrition rate (Sutcher, et al., 2019).

Kraft and Papay (2014) found that teachers who work in more supportive environments tend to develop skills and attributes that enable them to become more effective in increasing student achievement over time compared to teachers who report working in less supportive schools.

District leaders should institute processes to empower school leaders to become instructional leaders, mentors, and coaches for the teachers in their building.

Putting school leaders into the role of instructional coach and supporting classroom efforts, as opposed to basic evaluations, will greatly enhance teachers’ perceived level of support.

Teachers frequently report that school leaders do not provide adequate support and expertise in dealing with student discipline issues.

To improve administrative support in this area, we must provide school leaders with the knowledge and skills to implement consistent school-wide discipline methods such as PBIS.

8. Increased Teacher Autonomy

Giving teachers more autonomy can improve job satisfaction, improve retention, and reduce burnout.

Multiple studies highlight the mediating effect of teacher autonomy in determining the effectiveness of school systems and structures. Teacher involvement in the design and implementation of learning opportunities is essential to effectively improve teacher morale and student achievement.

Additionally, systems that minimize administrative paperwork and set clear expectations for students and families can relieve pressure on teachers and reduce burnout (Santoro, 2021).

9. Engaging Teachers in the Right Conversations

Doris Santoro (2021) explains the value of certain types of conversations between school leaders and teachers. Santoro recommends school leaders initiate conversations about “good work,” including:

  • What good work looks like
  • Obstacles to achieving good work
  • What’s needed for good work
  • Immediate shifts to removing obstacles to good work

Santoro recommends school leaders get past simply following policy.

Rather, she encourages district and school administrators to respond with flexibility and commit to deep engagement with teachers about the issues preventing them from achieving their teaching goals and feeling rewarded.

10. Giving Teachers Choices About Teacher Burnout Care

Teachers know their circumstances best, and school leaders should give them choices with regard to the supports available to them.

It is important to approach the treatment of burnout from a multi-tiered perspective and provide supports based on individual levels of need and personal preference.

A preventive approach is required so people learn the cognitive behavioral skills and emotional intelligence to protect themselves from potential burnout before the effects of burnout are apparent.

Some people may be uncomfortable with one-on-one therapy for Burnout Syndrome or even group therapy, so consideration for a private, fully digital option should be made available.

Below is the Teacher BOS Conjecture Map that draws the linkages between the causes of Burnout Syndrome and the five key dimensions of the syndrome.

teacher burnout syndrome conjecture map

Teachers with BOS across these dimensions will have the identified major impacts on themselves and their students.

Using assessment data from teacher surveys, district leaders can identify the dimensions of concern and backward map to the causal factors to effect interventions and supports. Regardless of cause, teachers will require psychological supports to manage stress, anxiety, and depression.

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Software Supports

Recently, there have been a number of online digital tools to help educators manage mental health concerns, and these tools have been offered from a variety of sources, such as health care providers.

A 2021 meta-analysis (Lou, et. al.) demonstrated that online CBT was more effective than face-to-face CBT at reducing depression symptom severity. There were no significant differences between the two interventions on participant satisfaction.

Therefore, districts should consider digital mental health platforms as a highly effective tool to offer to their educators.

Positive Behavior Supports Applications

To support the ever-critical positive school climate and culture districts need, SchoolMint Hero offers systematic implementation of the core practices of PBIS, such as:

  • Behavioral expectations
  • Reinforcement for meeting expectations
  • Consistency of teacher responses to student behavior
  • Frequent student feedback and corrective responses

When teachers have improved student behavior in the classroom, increased sense of self-efficacy, and reduced anxiety and stress, there will be a corresponding decrease in teacher attrition and burnout.

Instructional Coaching and Support Applications

The data is unequivocal that administrative support is effective in reducing teacher attrition and burnout.

SchoolMint Grow is a software platform that helps educational leaders and administrators engage in continuous improvement feedback with teachers, strategic problem-solving, and systematic planning to improve working conditions, increase administrator support, improve climate, enhance student outcomes, and decrease discipline issues.

SchoolMint Grow greatly increases the visibility of administrators as instructional leaders, helping teachers view their school leaders as highly supportive, thus improving teacher retention and reducing burnout.

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Teaching has always been a highly rewarding profession, but it is a job with myriad challenges, particularly when considering the impacts of COVID-19.

The data is unequivocal that educators today are suffering from significant professional burnout and in many cases burnout syndrome. Consequently, many are leaving or are considering leaving the profession at a high rate.

Despite these challenges, many talented teachers nationally remain committed to helping their students and uplifting their communities.

To continue this critical work and support the needs of all students, our nation’s educators need a multifaceted array of organizational interventions and personal support systems from educational leaders to ensure burnout does not impact their practice or personal well-being.

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