Understanding Burnout: More Than Just Stress
Let’s begin by addressing burnout, a pervasive issue in the educational landscape. Burnout isn’t about “feeling stressed at work; it’s a chronic condition characterized by the perception that demands outweigh available resources. Many causes of burnout can be traced back to work conditions and the workplace environment. School leaders need to recognize that addressing these systemic issues can significantly reduce the rate of burnout for their educators.
A person cannot self-care their way out of burnout. We must acknowledge and address the underlying workplace factors contributing to burnout. Inappropriate, harassing, or discriminatory behaviors in the workplace can exacerbate burnout. Creating a respectful and inclusive environment is paramount.
2 Ways to Support Mental Health at Your School
Educators are the heart of your school, and their mental health and well-being are a top priority. To ensure they thrive, consider these strategies:
1. Listen to Understand
Effective communication begins with genuine listening. Stephen Covey reminds us, “The biggest communication problem is we do not listen to understand. We listen to reply.” To truly support educators through healthy, supportive listening, embrace the acronym OARS:
- Ask open-ended questions. Open-ended questions encourage deeper conversations.
- Use affirmations. Affirmations boost educators’ self-efficacy and confidence.
- Summarize crucial points aloud. This reinforces clarity.
- Reflect and act. Ensure educators feel heard and understood through your actions.
2. Foster Healthy Leadership and Supervisor-Supervisee Dynamics
Leadership sets the tone for the entire organization. By fostering healthy dynamics between supervisors and supervisees, school leaders can create a supportive environment:
- Set clear expectations. Be explicit in your expectations and provide clarification when needed. Clarity reduces ambiguity and stress.
- Empower those you supervise. Empower educators by delegating responsibilities and entrusting them with authority. Encourage autonomy and self-efficacy.
- Balance demands and resources. Engage in regular conversations with your supervisees about their workload and available resources. This dialogue supports the reduction of burnout.
- Communicate respectfully. Speak respectfully to your supervisees and encourage a culture of mutual respect. Remember that respect doesn’t equate to agreement: it involves acknowledging concerns and perspectives.
- Celebrate achievements. Create a safe space where educators can be seen and celebrated for their goals and accomplishments. Recognizing their contributions fosters a positive workplace culture.
Five Essentials for Overall Workplace Mental Health and Well-Being
In addition to addressing burnout and supporting teacher well-being, here are five essentials for a mentally healthy workplace overall (as addressed in a 2022 Surgeon General’s Report):
- Protection from harm. Ensure that educators feel safe from physical and psychological harm in the workplace.
- Connection and community. Foster a sense of connection and community among educators, creating a supportive network.
- Work-Life harmony. Promote a balance between work and personal life to prevent excessive stress and burnout.
- Mattering at Work. Communicate to educators that their work matters and is valued.
- Opportunities for Growth. Provide professional and personal growth opportunities and encourage a sense of purpose and achievement.
Support Your Teachers’ Mental Health and Well-being
You can get more strategies to support teacher mental health and well-being by watching the recording of the full webinar: Teacher Mental Health and Well-Being. Watch it free here.
About the Author
Caroline M. Poland, MA, LMHC, LCAC, CCTP, CCFP, NCC is a licensed mental health counselor, certified clinical trauma professional, and the Founder and CEO of both Poland and Associates Consulting, LLC and Landmark Counseling, LLC (a private counseling practice in Indiana).
In her work, Ms. Poland brings insights from psychology, mental health, and science to the topics of women in the workplace, decision-making, compassion fatigue and burnout, trauma, and sexual assault, with the goal of establishing healthy trauma-informed organizations. Ms. Poland has worked with organizations around the world on issues of trauma informed care, healthy workplaces, impactful leadership, decision-making, and the unique experiences of women in the workplace, leading to optimal productivity, health, and flourishing.
Her website is www.polandandassociates.com, and you can contact her at
email@example.com . You can find her on YouTube at “Poland and Associates Consulting”. Her free monthly newsletter, Conversations with Caroline, discusses topics related to healthy workplaces, including how to optimize individual well-being for success and flourishing in the workplace and in life. You can sign up at https://conversationswithcaroline.substack.com/
- McKinsey & Company Report (2023): K–12 teachers are quitting. What would make them stay?
- Surgeon General Report on Workplace Mental Health & Well-being (2022)
- Professional Quality of Life Website
- Book: The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel Van der Kolk
- Poland and Associates Window of Tolerance Playlist