Teacher Burnout is Real...But What Does That Look Like During a Pandemic?
May 14, 2020
When I was first asked to be a guest author for the May 2020 issue of Best Practices, I thought “YESSS!” That should be an easy gig, right? Schools will be wrapping up, all of the alternative universe pandemic chaos should be winding down, and educators will be ready for a hearty helping of humor and humanism mixed with some tips to de-stress during their summer break. We’ve just been through a real crisis, and we survived it as best we could and we are ready to move forward with some self-awareness and improvement. This’ll be AMAZING!
But then I remembered exactly what the LSU Leadership Development Institute has made its core mission: to work with educators to strengthen their dispositions so that we can prevent or reduce the indicators of burnout and turnover. And I paused for a second. And I realized how hard this was going to be.
The LSU Leadership Development Institute's core mission - to work with educators to strengthen their dispositions so that we can prevent or reduce the indicators of burnout and turnover.
During a normal, run-of-the-mill school year, teachers are exhausted at the end of May. But it’s usually this proud, serene and content kind of fatigue that comes after we know we’ve just grabbed the prize. People who climb mountains do it to see the summit. Artists who paint or sculpt do it to see the finished work of art they created. Gourmet chefs mix appealing ingredients together and put in the time and effort to celebrate the masterpiece of tasting the finished dish. The journey leads to a destination, and that destination is worth the struggle.
What makes this year so tough is that we were denied that destination.
We all started off the year like always, bringing our idealism and our A-Game to August with a new group of students and we hit the ground running with eager anticipation, unparalleled work ethic, and a renewed desire to achieve our goals. We worked eagerly toward our targets and we retaught, reframed, and reflected as we went, making adjustments and progress. We torpedoed all the way to the needed (MUCH NEEDED) Thanksgiving break, and we limped along to Christmas vacation. January brought our second semester as it always is - we are as renewed as we are going to get, so LET’S FINISH STRONG. And we continued...pushing through February and into March, we could see the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s right there: TESTING WEEK! PROM! ATHLETIC BANQUETS! RING NIGHT! KINDERGARTEN GRADUATION! FOURTH GRADE CROSSOVER! THIS IS WHAT WE’VE BEEN TRAINING FOR!
We were robbed.
It’s right there: TESTING WEEK! PROM! ATHLETIC BANQUETS! RING NIGHT! KINDERGARTEN GRADUATION! FOURTH GRADE CROSSOVER! THIS IS WHAT WE’VE BEEN TRAINING FOR! Robbed. We were robbed.
And yes we technically finished the race, but we hit the wall at the 48th lap and spun out. It feels like all of our hard work and efforts that were building to Beef Wellington got burned, and now we are stuck with plain ole Hamburger Helper. The Great Value kind.
A Critical Need in K12 Education
The critical shortage of people entering and remaining in the teaching profession is a well-documented problem, and research is very clear as to the indicators of turnover. We know that stress, burnout and job-dissatisfaction are the primary reasons that educators choose to quit, and we know from our LDI model that we can make a difference by coaching educators through the effective development of the dispositions they need to decrease stress, avoid burnout, and increase job satisfaction and retention. What we don’t know is how effective these strategies will be in an unprecedented crisis and the chaos of a global disaster. But we’d like to find out.
Dispositions - Burnout & Prevention
The Leadership Alphabet of Disposition Development Engagement and Reflection (LADDER) is the evidence-based, research-driven tool that was created as a result of more than 8 years of data-collection surrounding the important dispositions that educators need to develop to be successful.
Schools and colleges of education now need to include disposition development as a component of their accreditation process, and pre-service programs have begun to adopt LADDER as their model. In-service educators and administrators can use LADDER to identify their own “pain points” or the areas of their own disposition that may need development and growth. Strengths-based leadership is a sound strategy, but stress and frustration stem from undeveloped areas of weakness, so those areas shouldn’t be ignored. Through LADDER, we hope to help educators across the state and the nation to increase their capacity to cope with stress and to be proactive, thoughtful, and self-aware in protecting their own mental wellness.
At a Glance | LADDER: Leadership Alphabet of Disposition Development Engagement and Reflection TM
The Consonants are the challenges to leadership development that affect climate and culture.
B | Balance
C | Communication
D | Direction
F | Fairness
G | Generosity
H | Hearing
J | Judgment
K | Knowledge
L | Learning
M | Mediation
N | Navigating
P | Prioritizing
Q | Quality
R | Relationships
S | Stamina
T | Trust
V | Voice
W | Worldview
X | Experiential
Y | Yield
Z | Zeal
How can my school/district/university use LADDER?
In K-12 schools, we often use the term “leadership” to mean “administration,” but at the LDI, we develop the capacity to lead in each individual by identifying strengths and "pain points" to develop the dispositions of effective educators.
Every teacher that ever stands in front of a classroom and is charged with motivating students to achieve is a leader. We build institutions with cultures of leadership infused into every aspect.
Each individual must be accountable for his or her own behavior and development and self-awareness is critical. In addition to workshops and classes, the LDI conducts individual assessments and coaching specific to each person to give each teacher a voice in their own growth.
If you want to construct a strong school culture, we can help you build that. And if you want to deconstruct a poor school culture, we can help with that too. Personal and interpersonal relationships are the most critical variable in any workplace culture. The LDI works with stakeholders, faculties, staffs, administrators, and districts to identify their own goals and develop the leaders who will accomplish them.
Disposition development is now a component of the accreditation process for teacher preparation programs, and pre-service programs have begun to adopt LADDER as their model.
LDI's customized evidence-based leadership development includes: identify, assess, plan, coach, and maintain.
The Most Important Investment an Organization Can Make - Investing in Its People
The most important variable in the classroom has ALWAYS been the teacher, and it’s never been more critical to make sure that we are nurturing and cultivating their growth as individuals. Teachers invest everything they have into a life of service for their students to create a more literate society and a better world.
It’s time to invest back in them.
Teachers invest everything they have into a life of service for their students to create a more literate society and a better world. It’s time to invest back in them.
We believe that equipping them with the skills to manage that uncertainty in a productive, healthy, and meaningful way is a top priority.
So teachers, you have permission to acknowledge that the year just wasn’t great. You have permission to use more colorful language than that if you want. You have permission to feel victimized and robbed. You have permission to grieve and worry and miss your students. You have permission to hate Hamburger Helper. Take all the time you need. And once you’re done, and you’re ready to look toward the future and what you can do to bring your very best self into the next step, let us know. We’ll be here.
For more information on LADDER and the LDI model of training and development, please contact us.
Written by: Leslie Blanchard, PhD
Dr. Leslie Blanchard has worked in the field of education for 23 years. She currently serves as the Executive Director of the Leadership Development Institute at Louisiana State University. From 1996 to 2008, Blanchard worked exclusively in the K-12 world. As a classroom English and Secondary Science teacher, she was both a school and district level teacher of the year, as well as the Louisiana recipient of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching given by President George W. Bush in 2003. For ten of those years, Dr. Blanchard served as a professional development specialist in the areas of New Teacher Induction, STEM, and Technology Integration in Curriculum. She is also a talented grant writer who has procured more than $13 million in state and federal funding for her districts.
Dr. Blanchard moved to LSU in 2009 where she served as the Operations Manager for the Masters of Natural Sciences degree in the Cain Center for STEM Literacy. She directed the processes for multiple grants ($5 million and $16 million, respectively). Both programs supported middle and high school STEM teachers to pursue advanced degrees including leadership development components taught by Dr. Blanchard. In 2013, Dr. Blanchard assumed the role of Assistant Dean of the College of Agriculture where she served for five years. She accepted the position as Executive Director of the LDI in August of 2018. She has directed her efforts toward improved outcomes in K-12 schools and districts through customized, strategic, and deliberate leadership development. Dr. Blanchard’s research focus is in the areas of leadership development and evaluation, particularly in K-20 education. Her dissertation researched the method of using self-assessment of efficacy and student feedback as a component of K-12 teacher evaluation, and she continues her research as it relates to leadership development and evaluation across all workforce areas in the human services sector. Her passion is to “develop the people that develop people,” and she hopes that her efforts to cultivate great leaders in the human services field will have a positive lasting impact on the communities that LSU serves.