As we approach the end of the school year it doesn’t seem strange that our Friday staff reading was on teacher burnout. I went away, did some research on my own and found a treasure trove of top 10 lists of things to prevent teacher burnout. So many in fact, David Letterman might be jealous. The following were some of my favorite suggestions:
My immediate reaction to these lists is always, What the what?
I am not entirely a critical jerk, I do have some other ideas that seem to have worked for me for over the last 14 years of my teaching career. I am not saying that there haven't been times that I felt burned out. There have been. But these are daily strategies that have helped me to combat those times and move forward in positivity.
1. Live the Learner Profile.
Ya, I know I sound like an IB talking head. Actually, I don’t mean it glibly, and I am the first to admit I don’t always succeed. But if I want a student to be a certain type of learner, I too have to embody the same attitudes and attributes that I profess to hold in high regard, or else I'm just a big hypocrite. The attribute that I suck at the most? Being Balanced. Balance is a skill that is hard to master. Working together as a learning community to become balanced makes for happier learners and happier teachers. Unpacking this skill for little kids is hard though. Jeff and I wrote an easy reader book to help teachers, parents and students have real world examples of how to be balanced and happy.
2. Practice mindfulness.
In The Times today I read an article that stated,
State school pupils don’t know right from wrong, says top teacher
For obvious reasons this is distressing. Kids that are under so much pressure to gain academic knowledge that they don’t know right from wrong- is that ok?
Many teachers are turning to mindful practice within their classrooms to help bring balance to their learning community. I conducted a research study on the effectiveness of 2 minute mini-breaks on the academic success of kindergarten students in an international school in Korea way back in 2006. I designed a gauge of student stress indicators and off-task behaviors that would trigger a mini-break. The breaks included, but were not limited to Yoga, mediation, short videos, dance, and computer games.
It was a very long and most likely boring paper.
However, the results were significant. In the highly academically driven culture of Korea, I observed that children were more engaged, on task and happy when mini-breaks were incorporated into the teaching and learning cycle. No new news there, but please remember, it was 2006!! I was a graduate student and I called them "mini-breaks" -cringe. Mindfulness in education hadn't become a hot topic.
Back then, Facebook was relatively new, no one was on Twitter and my 'social network' consisted of me sitting in a smoky PC Bang with a bunch of gamers, hunt and pecking out emails on Korean keyboards and sending them out into the æther hoping someone would write me back. So much has changed in the last decade. Consider,
“Educators are turning to mindfulness with increasing frequency–perhaps a good thing, considering how digital technology is splitting kids’ attention spans too. (The average American teen sends and receives more than 3,000 text messages a month.)
So what does mindfulness in the classroom look like now?
But how does mindful practice and teaching mindfulness help us as teachers avoid burnout? Being present in the moment and in control of our emotional state helps us to not become overwhelmed with the inevitable burden of tasks that teachers face. Personally, it helps me to be more present with a concerned parent, calm about those slightly overdue report cards, or more positive about that policy change that doesn't seem to make sense. It helps me put the details into the context of the bigger picture and appreciate the amazing moments I help construct within my learning community. It helps my students to focus on character education as well as academics and develop a clear connection with others. Which of course, helps them know right from wrong which reduces conflicts and builds a positive community of learners.
I dig this site to help me set the tone each day: The Mindful Teacher.
3. Give more.
Yes, you read that right. People with purpose are happier. Design your inquiry towards service learning and solve problems that are in your local and global community. Connect with other schools trying to make a difference. Empower your students to take action and feel that their learning has an impact. You may think that service or problem based learning is more work for teachers- but actually when designed well, is the kind of 'work' that teachers live for. Exciting, active, hands on, empowered and sustained.
Giving makes us aware of our circumstance in relation to that of others. It makes us grateful, it builds our sense of connection, happiness and purpose. And when teachers have purpose- we are driven. On fire, but not burned out.