5 Ways to Reduce Teacher Burnout and Increase Retention
Opportunities and challenges abound as we move further into the 21st century. It’s now more apparent than ever that we must prioritize supporting teachers and their profession. Teachers are instrumental in ensuring our young people have the skills and knowledge to create a positive impact on our 21st-century world and beyond. However, a 2022 survey conducted by the National Education Association found that 90% of teachers identify burnout as a serious issue.
The Partnership for 21st Century Learning provides a relevant and helpful framework focused on student learning. The framework’s 4Cs of Learning and Innovation inspired my proposal of a new framework focused on supporting teacher success within an incredibly complex profession and work environment. Following are five ways to champion the teaching profession and reduce burnout.
Take care of teachers
What does ‘care’ mean in relation to championing the teaching profession? In this context, it means supporting the well-being of teachers within the classroom and the school in the face of increasing challenges. Lloyd Hopkins, founder and director of the Million Dollar Teacher Project, says “classrooms need to be reimagined to take care of teachers’ mental, emotional, and physical well-being.”
Most classrooms have only one teacher to meet the academic and emotional needs of 20 to 30 (or more) students. As Hopkins explains, there may exist unique and deliberate opportunities to include volunteers and interns in classrooms for an increased level of support. Assigning additional adults to classrooms not only offers teachers support and care but also emphasizes the priority of educating our young people.
Ryan Ung, Teacher Development Coordinator for California’s Long Beach School District, explains that teachers often “[put] an oxygen mask first on students, not realizing that they need one themselves.” Schools can and should encourage teachers to prioritize their own well-being.
But where do we start? First, we can expand the concept of ‘coaches’ within schools to support teachers. While many schools have instructional coaches, adding a counseling coach benefits classroom teachers. Teachers must increasingly focus on creating a safe and supportive learning environment while simultaneously addressing students’ academic needs. Offering teachers an opportunity to discuss questions, concerns or issues with trained counselors as well as instructional coaches may help reduce stress levels and provide an additional sounding board. These resources provide another strategy for becoming more responsive to teachers’ needs.
Set clear expectations
School leadership must provide clarity around expectations, especially given the number of changes recently facing education. The COVID pandemic threw teaching into a constant state of flux. Schools regularly changed where and how teachers delivered instruction, and it was up to the teachers to adapt and adjust, often pivoting on a dime. Now, however, with the gift of hindsight and experience, schools have an opportunity to seek teachers’ input as they update clear, time-tested contingency plans and reduce uncertainty to ensure the continuity of teaching and learning — regardless of where the students are learning.
Teachers have become used to the pendulum swings of curriculum, but now we’re facing unprecedented changes across multiple areas. Research around literacy, or the ‘Science of Reading,’ has highlighted evidence-based instructional practices around the teaching of reading. However, in the age of access to so much information, plus a surfeit of opinions about the Science of Reading, has created anxiety among teachers who may question their approaches to supporting their students’ success. Teachers need their schools and districts to offer support via intentional training in literacy instructional best practices. Another critical piece to this puzzle? Access to high-quality instructional materials.
Teaching based on state content standards has been the norm for many years. However, the current movement of legislation specifically focused on K-12 instruction is creating a state of constant change. Teachers feel the pressure, especially when they find themselves unwittingly in the middle of conflicting political ideologies. Here again, teachers benefit from clarity regarding the appropriate standards their instruction must address and the curricula best suited to their students’ needs that also comply with legal requirements. This avalanche of change requires renewed clarity and clear communication empowering teachers to focus on meeting the expectations of their profession while best meeting the needs of their students.
Create a supportive community
Community is an essential element in supporting teacher success, and it plays an important role at multiple levels both within and beyond school systems. In Long Beach and elsewhere, Ung says schools are analyzing “how they can create communities of care.” Creating formal and informal communities of educators within schools cultivates a sense of belonging among teacher teams, which in turn, promotes self-care. Building a community doesn’t require fancy tools or expensive resources.
- Teachers sharing common lunch breaks can create informal communities.
- Schools can incorporate regular shared planning times for grade-level teams or specific subject teachers.
- Leaders can develop other more formal communities where teachers serve as ‘coaches,’ sharing their experiences and insights with their peers.
- Leaders can leverage focused gatherings within the larger school community to foster a greater sense of belonging.
It’s important to note that while school-level efforts around community are needed, these opportunities should focus primarily on providing targeted support designed to save teachers’ time in the long run.
Celebrate teachers’ achievements
Beyond the classroom, the broader community has an opportunity to play an instrumental role in supporting teachers through meaningful celebration. For example, an organization in Arizona called Tucson Values Teachers inspires support of PreK-12 teachers through community collaborations designed to attract, retain, and celebrate teacher excellence. Andy Heinemann, Chief Executive Officer of Tucson Values Teachers (TVT), describes their mission saying, “We need to elevate the teaching profession in order to keep our many excellent teachers. Right now, Arizona is losing more teachers than it is producing, and yet we know that a quality teacher is the single most critical factor to student success.”
For example, TVT’s monthly Teacher Excellence Award provides gifts to teachers and also promotes the teachers’ achievements in local and social media. Our communities need more organizations like this and Hopkins’ Million Dollar Teacher Project, which have dedicated themselves to raising awareness about the important contributions of the teaching profession. Now more than ever, the general public shouldembrace its role as advocates for teacher success by supporting and recognizing them as valuable, necessary professionals.
While celebration and recognition are important, we can’t ignore the financial pressure too many teachers face. When compared to similar professions, low compensation is a major factor contributing to teacher burnout. The Economic Policy Institute found in 2019 that nationally, teachers' salaries sit 19% lower than those in comparable professions. The Teacher Salary Benchmark Report showed that first-year teachers’ salaries decreased by 4% between 2020 and 2021. To maintain certifications, for example, teachers take additional courses and obtain graduate degrees, yet they regularly earn far less than other professions requiring similar levels of education. The teaching industry needs more organizations to advocate for teachers and help develop creative and implementable solutions to increase compensation.
Hopkins says, “We want our teachers to be happy, healthy, and whole and have opportunities to develop themselves as individuals and grow as professionals.” To proactively prevent further burnout and demonstrate how we value our nation’s teachers, it’s past time to surround them with support through care, clarity, community, celebration, and compensation. Implementing essential support structures offers concrete opportunities to relieve teachers’ burnout while also providing meaningful ways to acknowledge their value and encourage them to stay in this important profession and continue to deliver a positive impact on the future of our young people and our world.