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Kerry Hill

School Improvement Partner

  • National School Improvement Partner
  • Specialises in Primary Leadership, Closing The Gap, Wellbeing and SMSC

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Summer Burnout

Teachers always feel tired at the end of the year, but with the additional challenges of 2021-22 you may be experiencing a deeper sense of exhaustion than normal, and be struggling to keep going until the last day of term.

After relentlessly shifting ways of working, managing changing roles, demands with exams being back on the agenda for the first time in three years, continuing Covid factors, supporting student and peer mental health, and worrying about learning loss, leaders and teaching staff have spent a lot of time using mental and emotional energy to their fullest. This can lead to teacher burnout, where long-term unmitigated stress has gone unchecked. Teacher burnout is an extreme form of chronic stress that can affect any teacher, regardless of how experienced or passionate they are about their jobs; and it’s one of the most common reasons cited in research for teachers leaving the profession.

Teacher burnout can be recognised through:

  • Headaches
  • Muscle tension
  • Sunday night blues
  • Sense of apathy or hopelessness
  • Feeling depleted after work
  • Over-complaining
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Cynicism
  • Irritability or mood swings
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Lack of productivity

According to a 2020 survey (European Journal of Psychology of Education), teacher burnout might be linked to:

  • Role – those working in challenging settings, or those with high deprivation, or in Special Schools, are more likely to experience burnout than other secondary or primary teachers.
  • Gender – female teachers are more likely to experience undue levels of workplace stress whereas males are more likely to experience cynicism.
  • Experience – those new to the profession are more likely to express burnout.

 

So how can you support teachers and staff this summer, and enable recovery?

1. Talk to someone about how you're feeling. Go for a tea or coffee with a friend or family member, or talk to a trusted colleague. Just start talking!

2. Encourage healthy sleeping patterns to repay any sleep debt staff are suffering from. Plan a sleep routine and stick to it. While a lie-in may initially feel great, our bodies are actually used to certain sleep patterns and these will be disrupted, so try to keep to the pattern that works best for you and ensure you get a good night’s sleep.

3. Practise self-care. Prioritising your needs and wellbeing and making it a consistent part of your routine can reduce stress levels. Work out what makes a difference to you, as self-care looks different for everyone. Try meditation, exercise, getting out in nature, or relaxing with a good book. Research has shown deep breathing exercises can be particularly effective in reducing stress and anxiety.

4. Make plans to take a break. That doesn't have to be going on holiday, but it is important to take time away from work and work emails. Plan time to socialise with family or friends or take regular walks or exercise. Prioritise this time so you can relax and recover.

5. Develop greater self-regulation. A Finnish study has recognised the importance of being aware of your behaviours and thoughts to reduce teacher burnout. Consider your workload, try slowing your pace of work, prioritise tasks, develop time management skills, and leave work at a sensible time. Managing emotions or changing behaviour can help teachers adapt better to the workplace and reduce stress levels.

6. Put things in perspective. Don’t spend too much time excessively thinking about what went wrong. Think about the positives, reframe negative thoughts, and identify the achievements of the year.

7. Strategise for stress management. Make plans for how to actively manage your stress levels to cope with immediate stressors, rather than leaving then to build. Among the proactive approaches identified by research are: time management strategies, goal setting, ‘mindfulness’, and being organised.

8. Promote social connectedness. As humans we need interaction and positive relationships. Consider ways to build collaborative working approaches, or peer projects, and enable your staff to socialise in comfortable environments.

9. Wellbeing should not be tokenistic. Quick wins like chocolate, presents or cards give short term positives, but cultural and systemic changes bring about the greatest differences to teacher mental health.

10. CPD and training. Support staff with wellbeing training so they are aware of the available strategies, and can recognise signs and symptoms of stress or burnout.

 

For more support, try TT Education’s Improving Wellbeing for Teachers and Leaders course, or our DfE-accredited Senior Mental Health Leadership programmes and our national network for senior mental health leads.