Burnout is a becoming a major problem in the modern workplace, and one of the biggest challenges in schools and academies. Staff experience burnout for a number of reasons including poor compensation, increasing workloads, negative workplace cultures, and always-on cultures requiring more overtime and working after hours. Indeed, teachers often cite difficult work conditions and mounting workloads as the source of their burnout. Whatever the reason, the result is that retaining teachers and recruiting new ones is harder than ever. If we want to recruit talented and effective teachers to educate today’s students, we need to address this issue so that teachers aren’t completely overwhelmed and their workloads are manageable.
Some of the workload related challenges require a mental shift for the teachers, and others require a culture shift for schools. Here are some areas where a shift in perspective can facilitate collaboration, increased productivity, and a more supportive environment.
1. Provide high-quality resources and templates. Of course it’s important for teachers to know how to create their own lesson plans, but there’s no real need to recreate the wheel over and over. Create a culture of collaboration and sharing best practice by encouraging teachers to contribute to and use a library of digital resources, templates, and plans. Rather than create everything from scratch, teachers should have good access to your own intranet system of resources to adapt pre-made, relevant ones for their own teaching needs.
2. Focus on quality feedback over quantity. According to a 2015 report, most teachers believed that marking took up too much time. Some teachers are even experimenting with complete elimination of the marking process. Yes, there’s value in discipline to policies and systems, but it’s equally important to eliminate or innovate policies that either aren’t working or don’t serve the intended purpose. For example, instead of spending hours marking for the sake of it, more value lies in building and implementing a consistently applied system that underscores the importance of providing quality feedback to each individual student.
3. Fully appreciate TAs. Granted not every teacher will have access to a Teaching Assistant; however, for those teachers that do, evaluating the way in which they are utilised on a regular basis is an important thing to do. Efficiencies to workload can be discovered when TA and teacher routinely discuss their collaborative relationship, freeing up more resource and improving outcomes. TAs are skilled professionals that are often under utilised within our busy system, they posses insightful and unique perspectives of learners and contexts and are well positioned to inform improvements or innovations to school practice.
4. Support teachers with the best resource. Uppermost among the reasons teachers leave the profession are challenging workload and lack of support. In some contexts, it’s only a matter of time before any teacher will feel overworked, underpaid and unsupported – and think about walking away from the profession. However, just like in business, the right resources and support can make even the most challenging work conditions manageable. Part of investing in staff is ensuring as leaders that they have all that they require in order to do the job to a level of excellence.
5. Make your meetings count. Often, meetings are regarded (or actually are) productivity killers in organisations. To counter this possibility, turn meetings into high-production time by setting a super-focused agenda and sticking to it. Shorter meetings encourage people to be remain succinct and precise with their communication, and standup meetings encourage teams to make decisions more quickly and procrastinate less.
These are just a few ways in which schools and academies can counter staff burnout. While teaching will always be a demanding profession, it’s important to ameliorate hardship by improving workflow processes. Some of these suggestions will require a mindset shift at all levels of the organisation, but if we create a culture of trust and innovation, backed with support and resource, retaining and recruiting teachers will become less of a challenge to many.