October. It’s one of the hardest months for teachers. You’re lucky to get a single day off and the honeymoon period from the beginning of the year, where students were on their best behavior, has ended. Kids are testing your boundaries. You may start to question why you didn’t just go for a 9-5 office job.
Well, they say that March is like the second October. Sandwiched right in between winter break and spring break, it’s another long stretch of back-to-back days. As you get exhausted, your kids get exhausted, and if you don’t take care of yourself, your teacher burnout can be contagious to your students.
First, let’s define what burnout is and how it can manifest itself. Teacher burnout is physiological, mental, and emotional exhaustion. It may present itself in a variety of forms, from irritability to depression. Here’s the good news, though– there are proven methods to prevent and treat it.
So how do you prevent or treat teacher burnout? Researchers have found a wealth of data-backed practices that can help teachers reverse their exhaustion and approach teaching with a renewed sense of energy, optimism, and joy. Let’s look at some of our favorites here at Aviva.
1) Cultivate a growth mindset
You may know about growth mindset as a teaching tool for your students (if not check out our blog about it), but I think it’s more aptly described as a life tool for people.
Often teacher burnout can be the result of a dip in confidence or self-esteem due to the countless challenges we’re faced with as teachers, many of which we simply cannot resolve. No matter what challenge you face, always ask yourself “how can I grow from this?” Asking this simple question shifts your mindset from “I hope I get this right” to “no matter what I’ll learn something.”
Remember, just because you’re not an expert today, doesn’t mean you won’t be one tomorrow or next week. So don’t say ‘I’m not good at this,’ say ‘I’m not good at this… yet.’
2) Cultivate patience
Resilient people are grounded in patience. They understand that striving harder doesn’t necessarily bring better results. Sometimes the results we want just take longer than we expected or hoped.
Notice next time you feel yourself wanting to jump ahead to the next task. Feel that sense of urgency and give it a deep breath. Your patience will help you and your students as you grow to understand that there is only so much you can do and that sometimes “it’s good enough.”
3) Cultivate radical self-care
Why radical? Because today, with so many distractions and obligations, it requires serious discipline to carve out time to focus on yourself. You’ve heard it a million times, but I need to say it again, sleep for eight hours! Set a bedtime and go to bed at that time no matter what. Move more. Cook a giant pot of healthy food on Sunday to eat it throughout the week. Take a full day off every weekend. Stop working by 8PM so that you have downtime every night. Turn your phone on airplane mode when you go to bed so that notifications don’t wake you up in the middle of the night.
Forcing yourself to work during every spare moment does not make you a better teacher. What makes you a better teacher is showing up to school relaxed, resilient, and refreshed.
4) Cultivate your strengths
It can be really hard to remember what you’re good at when you feel like everything’s going wrong. When we’re exhausted and when we experience continuous challenges or failures, we often forget what makes us good teachers in the first place.
This is where a gratitude practice comes in handy. Every time you remember or just at the end of every school day, think about some things that went well, that you felt grateful for. Perhaps a student who doesn’t normally participate was engaged. Maybe you made a joke and the class laughed! Or maybe someone wrote a heartfelt answer on their homework. It doesn’t matter how small it is, just that you notice it, feel grateful for it, and recognize it as a reflection of the positive learning environment that you’ve created.
Starting with your own wellbeing is the first step to promoting the wellbeing of your students and those around you. It’s why we built Aviva to focus on teaching teachers how to be happier, more mindful, more resilient human beings. Once teachers can effectively take care of themselves, they then have the motivation to tackle larger systematic problems that might have led to their burnout in the first place (appreciative inquiry might be a good way to do this).
Administrators can also help. By being visible in classrooms, giving positive feedback, and choosing professional development that cultivates the whole teacher, not just the professional, administrators can create a school culture of support, happiness, and wellbeing.