Teaching has never been a particularly stress-free profession. Educators are responsible for enriching children, preparing lessons, meeting with parents, collaborating with colleagues, and countless other tasks. There are only so many hours in a day and, for teachers, most days there aren’t enough.
In the wake of a pandemic, teachers are under even more pressure than usual, as COVID continually disrupts schools and communities. The American Federation of Teachers conducted a study last year which found that one in four teachers thought about quitting their job at the end of the 2021-2022 school year. And a lot of them went through with it—the NEA said in February that public schools had 567,000 fewer educators than they did before the pandemic started.
Reducing teacher burnout is a vital tool for improving retention. But how exactly can you ease their pain points, especially when so many stressors—including COVID—are out of your control? In this piece, we’ll examine three practical ways to have a real impact on educator exhaustion.
1. Reduce the paperwork pileup
One of the biggest contributors to burnout is bureaucracy. Teachers can easily get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of paperwork they’re required to fill out.
In a Virginia Commonwealth University study on teacher retention, the authors recommended that school leadership try to act as “bureaucratic shields,” protecting their teachers from some of the more time-consuming tasks that they face. In practice, that means that the school administration should:
- Minimize the amount of routine paperwork that teachers are required to complete, perhaps by adopting more efficient processes or technologies.
- Deal with outside pressures from parents and/or the school district that could consume teachers’ time.
- Help supply the resources that teachers need to get more done.
According to the VCU report, teachers are more committed and engaged when they feel like the administration is protecting them from bureaucratic pressures:
“When teachers saw their principals as partners in their commitment, willing to find ways to ‘make it work’ by facilitating the paperwork or helping to break down ‘roadblocks,’ in the words of one participant, they were more willing to commit. On the other hand, when study participants reported they felt like their principal’s desire to satisfy board-level minutiae exceeded their interest in supporting student and teacher initiative, their commitment waned.”
2. Create support channels and resources for teachers
In an article for Edutopia, Arcadia High School Assistant Principal Michele Lew described how her Los Angeles-area school created emotional support channels for their teachers in the wake of COVID.
Arcadia first sent a wellness survey to their employees that asked, in part, “If we created a staff support hotline, staffed by marriage and family therapist trainees, would you use it?” When 72% of teachers and staff expressed interest, they created a staff help line that provided all employees with mini check-in therapy sessions that they could use as needed.
The school’s wellness survey also found that a majority of teachers were interested in “self-care and wellness strategies.” In response, Arcadia High developed optional 30-minute lessons, held once a week during teachers’ planning time, which covered topics such as mindfulness, self-care, positive psychology, and emotional freedom techniques.
Arcadia even went as far as partnering with a certified yoga instructor to provide teachers with weekly virtual yoga classes.
By surveying teachers and responding directly to their interest in wellness resources, Arcadia was able to develop practical, popular outlets for reducing burnout.
3. Switch to a 4-day school week
Drastic times call for drastic measures, and some communities have taken a drastic approach to curbing teacher burnout: reducing the number of days in the school week.
In March 2022, the Jasper Independent School District in eastern Texas announced that the school board had voted to adopt a 4-day school week during the upcoming 2022-2023 school year. Their new academic calendar has teachers educating students from Monday to Thursday, then using Fridays for professional development and other resources.
According to Good Morning America, there are 98 Colorado school districts that have already adopted a similar four-day schedule. These districts lengthened each school day by 40 minutes, so that they were still providing children with the same amount of instruction time each week.
The Jasper school board says their new four-day schedule will also avoid missing any class time. The shortened week will still allow them to meet the 75,600 minutes required for Texas students during the school year.
JISD Superintendent John Seybold told GMA that “teacher burnout has been an issue for a long time, but since COVID, it has seemed to expand, and it’s becoming more and more of an issue.”
“The four-day week kind of makes it a little more manageable for them because there’s so much pressure placed on our teachers,” he added. “As a school district, ultimately the best thing we can do for kids is put the best possible teacher in front of them every day.”
Apparently, the Jasper community tends to agree. The district conducted an employee survey which found that 84% of teachers were “in favor of a 4-day week.” A separate community survey that was emailed to parents and staff found that 64% of respondents supported the new schedule.
Wondering whether your teachers are burning out? Want to know whether your teachers, staff, and community members would favor a four-day school week? Start by soliciting their feedback with employee engagement and school climate surveys.
Sogolytics has plenty of survey templates you can use to get started, and a powerful platform for tracking responses and making sense of the data.