School Health and Wellness//
December 4, 2022
Following years of shutdowns, remote learning, and disruptions to school plans, teachers are feeling exhausted. In 2021, RAND reported one in four teachers considered leaving their position by year’s end.
This has led to much conversation about how to correct the crisis. While much has been written about how to address the teacher shortage and encourage more young people to pursue careers in education, less has been written about how administrators can work with their current faculty and staff to boost morale and prevent burnout.
Here are four ways to listen with compassion to boost staff morale.
Understand the cause of low morale.
“Teacher burnout” has become a catchall to explain why educators are leaving the profession. Additionally, we must consider demoralization—when a teacher feels incapable of working with students in ways that uphold their professional and personal standards.
The key difference between burnout and demoralization is permanence. Burnout is a temporary state, one that can be corrected once teachers have the time to recharge after a particularly hectic time of the school year. Demoralization, however, is almost impossible to correct. As a result, real structural change is needed to prevent teacher demoralization.
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Use honest feedback as an opportunity.
Burnout and demoralization are not new for teachers. In 2017, the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning polled 5,000 teachers, finding four of the five most used words educators used to describe their feelings were frustrated, overwhelmed, stressed, and tired.
As the report states, “The primary source of their frustration and stress pertained to not feeling supported by their administration around challenges related to meeting all their students’ learning needs, high-stakes testing, an ever-changing curriculum, and work-life balance.”
To offset burnout and avoid demoralization, school leaders must engage their faculty and staff in meaningful conversations about their frustrations, challenges, and concerns. Although hearing this kind of feedback can be difficult, doing so is necessary for everyone to feel the institution and its administrators are interested in supporting them.
Validate input from new and veteran teachers alike.
If you want to change your school’s culture, make the most of what your staff has to say. Respect the tenure of the veterans, many of whom possess valuable institutional knowledge. Likewise, engage the newer teachers in the building, whose fresh ideas and greener perspectives will shape the school’s future.
It’s wise to avoid large group discussions to ensure everyone’s voices are heard. All-staff meetings don’t produce authentic conversation. These types of meetings are often limited by time constraints and monopolized by outspoken staff members, hindering the participation and skewing results.
Act on the input you receive.
Some staff members will roll their eyes if you ask for feedback. That’s a sign they’ve heard this before, from another school leader, and nothing changed. They’ve grown disillusioned and are on their way to demoralization.
Clearly, it’s not enough to listen to your staff. To prove you’ve heard their feedback, you must act. The EdResearch for Recovery Project found that “Although school leaders set the direction in the school, prescribing practices without teacher involvement and monitoring compliance often result in low levels of teacher buy-in and adoption.”
Teacher burnout and demoralization are real, but they can be prevented, so long as you’re willing to listen and take action.