We have had a higher turnover rate of teachers the past few years, even as fewer individuals are entering the profession. It is no secret—we hire teachers, they become familiar with our staff, students, and procedures, and then some leave, creating a hole in the continuity of our schools. We then have to scramble to replace and retrain them, ask staff to spend hours to support the new teachers (which they always do without hesitation), only for it to happen again.
I know that a lot of this is out of our control. We are under strict budgets, which can certainly impact things. However, this summer I really tried to reflect and ask myself, “What can I do to be a part of the solution to teacher burnout?” I did a lot of personal introspection and read numerous articles about this epidemic.
What can we, as school leaders, do? I think the answer lies within the idea of servant leadership: What we can do to make teachers’ lives better so they can focus on teaching, data, re-teaching, grading, or communicating with parents.
I have an ongoing list of brainstormed ideas:
- Have new teachers’ technology set up and ready go before school starts (or as soon as possible).
- Have a gift for new teachers (school shirt, log bags, etc.), or send flowers and a card on the first day of school.
- Cut some meetings short; don’t have meetings just to have meetings or because it’s contractual.
- Use meeting time for something that teachers will find helpful and productive—such as collaboration.
- Do not require teachers to spend hours on submitting written lesson plans—let’s be honest, anyone can write the lesson plan. Instead of checking off teacher lesson plans, I’d rather do more classroom visits to see the lessons in action, which will allow for more opportunities to compliment and give feedback to teachers.
- Have suggestion boxes in offices.
- Have teachers fill out evaluations on administrators. Administrators need to make themselves vulnerable and expect teacher feedback.
- Have classroom issues taken care of prior to the start of the school year, or, if a problem arises, ensure it gets repaired in a timely manner.
- Send simple acknowledgments to teachers—such as a positive note, a thank-you card, an email, or a small token of appreciation on their desk.
- Avoid having building or long-term substitutes teaching students. That is not good for students, staff, administrators, or the district as a whole.
- Always have this in the forefront of your mind: Teaching is a hard job. It is a calling; teachers give their time, their understanding, their love, their patience, and even sacrifice their own family time to build students’ spirits and self-esteem, often until they are completely depleted. Then, after all of that, they come back the next day and do it all over again.
My goal as a servant leader means trying to make teachers’ lives better so they can give their all in the classrooms for our students. After all, the teachers are the life force of this district and the No. 1 indicator of student success. These valued professionals need to know and feel that they are appreciated each and every day.
I would like my brainstorming list to keep growing. I appreciate fellow educators sharing ideas on how to curb teacher burnout—we are in this together.
Robert Beato is principal of South Lake High School in St. Clair Shores, MI. He was named the 2019 Michigan Principal of the Year. Follow him on Twitter (@mrRbeato).