6 important ways to fend off teacher burnout and demoralization

Educators of color reported facing high levels of race-based stress in 2020 while all teachers reported working longer hours
By: | October 12, 2021

Burnout is a temporary state that results when teachers have used up personal and organizational resources while trying to do their jobs.

Demoralization, which occurs when people no longer find their work rewarding and feel they are to blame, occurs when teachers are forced to teach in ways that “violate their understanding of good work.”

Both, of course, are occurring and intensifying during the pandemic and administrators can find strategies to restore that lost job satisfaction in a new EdResearch for Recovery brief from the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University and Results for America.

“With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers across the board experienced a tremendous drop in their self-reported ‘sense of success,’ although the drop-off was smaller in schools with more supportive working conditions,” write researchers Doris A. Santoro, a professor of education at Bowdoin College, and Olga Acosta Price, an associate professor at the George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health. “During the pandemic, teachers have been charged with a multitude of extra tasks to ensure learning runs smoothly and students’ needs are met.”

The report says administrators should also know that:

  • Teachers who don’t feel supported and are not provided with the necessary resources are more likely to leave the profession, and this turnover can hamper student achievement.
  • Educators experiencing personal and professional stress are less likely not to engage in schoolwide initiatives.
  • In a survey of K-12 teachers in October 2020, teachers reported lack of administrative support as one of the top four causes of burnout.
  • 75% of National Board Certified teachers reported working more hours post-COVID, with 20% reporting working more than 15 extra hours a week compared to pre-COVID.
  • As the primary contact for parents, teachers feel they must explain potentially controversial decisions made at the district and school level and they often receive the brunt of criticism.
  • A Teach Plus and FuelEd survey found that teachers want more training to support their and their students’ mental health.
  • A study of elementary schools found that principals play a key role in developing and sustaining trusting relationships.
  • Studies analyzing why educators of color were leaving the profession at higher rates pre-COVID identified unrecognized and uncompensated identity-based labor, disregard for their expertise and assets and school cultures rooted in White supremacy.
  • In surveys conducted during the 2020 school year, educators of color reported facing high levels of race-based stress in school, which decreased their feelings of professional self-efficacy and sense of belonging.

How to boost morale

Here’s the good news. The report also shares several strategies administrators and leaders can follow to prevent burnout and demoralization as educators continue to navigate COVID:

1. Build a culture of mutual trust, respect and open communication. When this exists among teachers and school leaders, they can work together to improve practices and solve problems. To achieve this, administrators should establish consistent structures, policies, procedures, and expectations for teachers. District and school leaders can also celebrate incremental progress in meaningful work to increase staff engagement and happiness.

2. Commit to social and racial justice schoolwide. This requires affirming educators’ identities and can counter the forces that contribute to high rates of turnover among teachers of color. Teachers of color have asked for more guidance in teaching about racial justice and will benefit when they are able to form affinity groups that engage in anti-racist and LGBTQIA+-affirming work. Teachers of color are also more likely to stay in schools that commit to dismantling racism.

3. Protect teachers’ time and prioritize teacher learning. Teachers in schools with stronger collaborative relationships perform better and their instruction improves more quickly, according to a study of 9,000 teachers in Miami-Dade County Public Schools. Minimizing administrative paperwork and clearly communicating expectations for student behavior to both students and parents also relieves pressure on teachers.

4. Involve teachers in the design and implementation of learning opportunitiesTeachers’ morale is higher “when they have the autonomy to exercise their professional judgment, be creative, and make decisions about how best to teach their students.” In one study, teachers at six high-poverty schools said they achieved more when they had a safe environment in which to examine their practices with their instructional teams and had a role in determining the team’s activities.

5. Implement trauma-informed strategies and mindfulness supports. Teachers who participated in ongoing trauma-informed training reported significant decreases in emotional exhaustion and stressors, according to one studyMindfulness training and institutionalizing wellness routines can also help educators cope with stress and increase teaching effectiveness.

6. Collecting data on teachers’ professional concerns. This enables district leaders to accurately identify and eliminate the root causes of teachers’ dissatisfaction. “Patterns of teacher dissatisfaction may expose structural inefficiencies or policy flaws,” the report says.