Originally published October 12, 2021: Colleen Schmit reflects on burnout in especially trying school years.
We’re more than a month into the school year, and many educators and school leaders are feeling tired or burnt out already. That’s normal in any school year, as the newness of back-to-school wanes and the reality of a long year ahead kicks in. But, this year, that tiredness may feel like it has never felt before. Chalkbeat has reported that teacher vacancies are up in 18 of 20 large school districts, and it’s not surprising. Many are exhausted after a difficult year and a half (to put it mildly!). Many are also leaving the profession in droves to find work in competitive environments that provide a substantially larger salary.
I wrote about my own battles of losing joy in my teaching and I talked then about how CLASS® helped reignite my love of education. But, what I didn’t talk about was how you can’t fill up others’ cups, without filling your own. What I mean, is that sometimes you need to slow down so you can continue showing up and being there for the children in your program. Dealing with burnout is a continuous journey and battle. There are no quick fixes and solutions but there are a few strategies that you can begin doing right now to help support yourself so you can in turn support those who you are serving (ie. the kids and their families).
After reflecting and journaling on my journey with burnout I turned my reflections into a book on teacher burnout. Here are a few tips I found that have helped me when I felt as though I was on fire...
4 Strategies to Extinguish the Flame of Burnout
Focus on Your Why
Why do you love what you do? Why did you choose your career in education? I know it is not for the money. I know it is not for the accolades. Most likely you choose your career in education because you see this role as an important role to serve. As an educator, you not only serve the children in your care. You serve their families. You serve your community. You are directly investing back into our big world. That is a big deal. You are a big deal! When you feel like you can’t show up another day, a strategy I like to do is writing my why on a sticky note and placing it on my computer or above my workspace. When our why is solid, our how is too!
Find a Support System
Teaching is not a job we can do in isolation. Collaboration and community are key for all stakeholders. It is essential that as educators, we feel supported in what we do. Having someone you can go to who is a safe place to vent to (not gossip, there is a difference) can make you feel less alone or isolated. Identifying a community of like-minded peers to help you grow and reflect can really help extinguish the flames of burnout.
When I was teaching I had a coworker who has become a lifelong friend. She was my safe space. I could vent, but she always brought me back to a place of power and reflection—that is how you know you have found “your person.” Look for someone to turn to who will help you grow, build you up, and can empathize with you.
You might be thinking, “Colleen, I don’t have a ‘person.’ I don’t know my colleagues well. Negativity is running wild in my building and my friends or family just don’t get it.” Fair enough! Try joining online groups, like the CLASS Learning Community, to share your frustrations and successes.
Self-care is a buzzword that we hear often in the field. It is NOT a cure for burnout. It is not a one-time fix.
Focus on Joy and Relationships
Relationships and intentional interactions matter. When you place your focus on positively fostering relationships with the children and families in your care you help to align your how with your why. The hugest job perk of working in the teaching profession is the ability to spark joy, create curiosity, and build meaningful relationships. The intentional ways you foster relationship building not only impact children’s academic successes but also align with increased social and emotional learning outcomes. The need to focus on SEL is more important than ever.
A few ways you can intentionally focus on joy and relationships is by designing activities and small moments during your day where you can be silly, have fun, and meet the needs of your children/students. Rituals are a great way to support relationship building in the classroom. Create a ritual that you and your children will enjoy doing that is fun! It could be a silly song to start the day or a quick movement pattern to end out the day. Make it something that you know you’ll look forward to and will feel fulfilled by.
One routine that I loved seeing online was of a teacher who invented unique handshakes for each of his students. David Jamison went viral on all social media networks and was even featured on the Today Show.
Put Yourself on the List
When reflecting on my burnout journey I realized that the biggest fuel to my flame was my lack of self-care. I cared for my students, their families, my coworkers, my children, my spouse, my parents, my siblings, my neighbor’s hamster, my aunt’s houseplants (okay you get the picture). But, I never even thought to put caring for myself on the list. Not seeing the value in putting yourself on the list is like adding lighter fluid to an already raging fire.
Self-care is a buzzword that we hear often in the field. It is NOT a cure for burnout. It is not a one-time fix. It really is a journey too. Lately, I have been talking a lot about self-care to many educators here in Nebraska. You know what has been lacking from my own life? Self-care. Simply realizing that I need to intentionally put myself back on the list is a start to taking care of myself. Self-care is something that is personal for everyone. No two people will have the same needs.
A few basic ways to get started is to make sure you are meeting your own basic needs.
- Are you going to the doctor regularly?
- Have you been to the dentist this year?
- Did you pack a fruit or veggie in your lunch to give you fuel to get through the day?
- Are you mindful of saying, “No!” when something is not in your best interest?
- Are you gentle with yourself and reach out to a professional when you need emotional support?
My best advice when feeling burnt out is to be kind to yourself. If (like me) you haven’t been the best at taking care of yourself lately, simply forgive yourself and move on to trying something that will gently put you back on track. Educators are some of the most essential members of our society. YOU and your role matter. A healthy, happy you should be the ultimate goal.
What other strategies have you used that you’d add to the extinguishing burnout list? Share with us in the CLASS Community.