Monday / April 22

Preventing Teacher Burnout Part 2: Change Your Context

preventing teacher burnout part 2

Part 2 of a 3 part blog posts series on overcoming teacher burnout. Read part 1 here.

Burned out and bummed out? It’s okay, even the most passionate and motivated educators can fall victim to burnout. We’ve all experienced the exhausting feeling of the “daily grind,” “keeping your head down,” or the never ending “spinning our wheels.” Teaching can feel more about being a good cog than acting on your passion of making a difference in the lives of students. How do we get back to making a difference? Well, actually, you still are, you just need to hear it, see it, and feel it.

Seeing the tangible impact you’re making can be the difference between feeling like you’re wasting time or feeling like you’re changing the world. In part 1, we explored how the creation of clubs, crafts, and contracts can help with seeing short term impacts. This post will focus on how the environment and more specifically a change in your environment or context affects your sense of motivation and energy. Changing your context makes the work feel fresh, even if it at first glance appears to be adding activity to your day.

Here are three ways to change your context: radially, axially, and tangentially (just go with my cylindrical coordinate allegorical nerdiness, I promise it will make sense). Simply imagine a can of soup with a pencil pushed through the top and then another pencil pushed through the side perpendicular to the top pencil.

  1. Radial: If you’re facing a can of soup, this is the pencil pushed through the side, going horizontally outward in both directions. Activities in this realm would be those that have striking correlations to classroom teaching: tutoring students, hosting an education focused twitter chat, designing and creating innovative new lessons. This is the easiest context to change because it’s most similar to what you’re currently doing in the classroom. Hence, this provides provides an extension or enrichment of your current work.
  1. Axial: If you’re facing that can of soup, this is the pencil pushed through the top and protruding through the bottom of the can. Axial activities would be those activities that affect teaching but from a leadership lens: leading a Professional Learning Community (PLC), leading a project-based learning initiative, overseeing a school-wide genius hour, etc. Providing teachers with these experiences not only provide growth opportunities, but opportunities for teachers’ to view their roles in a new and refreshing way.
  1. Tangential: Take the soup can and rotate it, while keeping an eye on that horizontal pencil. As you rotate, the pencil rotates. Tangential activities vary in relation to the scope of teaching depending on the hobbies and personal interests of the teacher: anything from spearheading a school-wide 5K to hosting a yoga class. Teachers are not only enjoying their favorite activities, but they’re giving their colleagues and students a window into their lives outside of school. This window opens up new conversations and even inspires others to pursue new interests.

By changing the context of your work in one or more of these three ways, you’re challenging traditional roles and banality. The law of physics is defied, because even though you’re literally adding another activity to your school day, you’re also creating increased energy and excitement. A change of scenery provides a new outlook, new ideas, new motivation, and another way of preventing teacher burnout.

Written by

Nathan Lang is a speaker, writer, presenter, professional learning facilitator, and Google Certified Educator. He is the co-founder of Bammy nominated #LeadUpChat, an educational leadership professional learning network (PLN) via Twitter. He is also the co-founder of #divergED, a Twitter chat focused on divergent thinking and innovations in education. He has been a speaker and presenter at both local and national professional conferences.

He is currently a National Consultant at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMHCO). Before joining HMHCO, he was the Director of Elementary Curriculum and Instruction for Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools. Additionally, he has been a high school science teacher, elementary assistant principal, high school assistant principal, university adjunct professor, and was an Education Supervisor at the NASA-Johnson Space Center.

Connect with him on Twitter at @nalang1.

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