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Association of California School Administrators
Association of California School Administrators
Preventing and addressing teacher burnout
Why resilience and growth mindset matter for educators
By Heather J. Lighston | November | December 2021
Winston Churchill once stated, “To improve is to change, to be perfect is to change often.” Arguably, no one felt the imperfections and changes over the last year and a half more than educators. It’s been such a trying time, transitioning from distance learning to hybrid to traditional brick-and-mortar instruction. To say it’s been a challenge would be an understatement. But one thing that’s always been constant is change itself. So we ask ourselves, during such times of uncertainty and change, how do we continue to address issues of teacher shortage, of recruitment and retention, and of preventing the all-too-familiar teacher burnout? How do we lead through change?
As a 20-year veteran educator from the Palmdale School District, I have seen educational trends wax and wane; from the adoption of various teaching standards, curriculum and textbooks to differing pedagogical ideologies and strategies. But one thing that has never altered is the educators’ desire to affect positive change in the classroom. This was not an impossible task during the COVID pandemic, but it certainly was an uphill battle to keep students engaged, families connected, and teachers encouraged.
Shortages, recruitment, retention and burnout are all very serious issues during a traditional school year; it has been an even greater quandary since March 2020. What can be done? For me, what has kept me invested in education for the past two decades has been the access to new leadership opportunities every step of the way. As so with our students, educators may become disengaged over time if the routines are rote and uninspired. What has kept me energetically motivated and has improved my practice each year is constantly looking for new opportunities to explore the field from myriad angles. It may seem counterintuitive, if a teacher is experiencing burnout, typically a mentor would encourage them to limit their duties or relinquish one of their many hats. (As we all know, teachers famously wear the figurative “hats” of parent, nurse, friend, psychologist and much more in the classroom). For me, it has been the opposite experience. I thrive and recommit myself to the profession every time I try my hand at something new. Over the years, I’ve enjoyed coaching probationary teachers in the district Intern program, participating in the African-American Parental Advisory Committee, or even reviewing budgets as a member of the School Site Council.
Learning how to engage parents and community members as partners, build professional relationships with board members, or mentor up-and-coming educators helps me refresh and renew my commitments. What better way to reflect on one’s own teaching experiences than seeing the profession through someone else’s eyes? That’s why it is so vital for districts to spend the time, energy and money to recruit suitable candidates from all walks of life and support them throughout their foundational years to prevent teachers from leaving the profession. Sadly, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics, the annual teacher turnover rate is currently 16 percent. That’s a huge blow to our schools and districts. Our students deserve better. Recruiting and supporting teachers well is a must.
We must also teach new educators how to identify, address and prevent burnout resulting in apathy, anxiety and an overall feeling of ineffectiveness. Encouraging teachers to reach out to others and access all the available resources around them is critical. Good teaching does not exist in a vacuum. Reach out to the department chair, fellow teachers and administrators for assistance and advice. All educators were teachers-in-training at some point and remember the feeling of trying to build the plane and fly it at the same time. Teaching is a team sport, and we’re all here to help.
The Association of California School Administrators is an incredible resource for educators as well, and can keep one connected to the hot topics in education, updates on policy, and recognitions of model students, educators, schools and districts. The website and newsletter also provide access to invaluable resources such as leadership institutes, credentialing programs, sisterhood symposiums and job postings.
Half the battle is just knowing what resources are within your reach and feeling comfortable enough to reach out for support. Just as we encourage our own students to be fearless, to make mistakes and learn from them, we, too, need to have that resilience as educators to understand that the growth mindset works for us, too. And while the “perfect” educator does not exist, we can follow Churchill’s words and “change often” to improve our practice and keep ourselves and our students actively engaged in the learning process. If we can do that, then we are indeed leading through change.

Heather J. Lighston teaches Language Arts and Visual & Performing Arts at Palmdale Learning Plaza.
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