A Coaching Power Tool Created by Sarah Douglas
(Teacher Coach, CANADA)
Although feeling burnt-out is different for every teacher, it has been described as when a teacher feels emotionally exhausted at the end of the day, appears cynical or uncaring about what happens to students and feels as if he or she has reached few personal goals (Parker-Pope, 2008).
It has become a buzzword in the recent years due to more demands being placed on teachers such as standardized tests, new technology, strained budgets, constant curriculum reform and increasing learning and behavioural issues in classrooms. Teacher burnout results in good, caring, qualified teachers leaving the profession. According to U.S Department of Education statistics, 8.4 percent of teachers quit the field in the 2003-2004 school year, with the majority stating that they left to pursue another career or because they were dissatisfied. The National Commission on Teaching has stated that nearly a third of all new teachers leave the profession after just three years, and that after five years almost half are gone. Despite burnout being an unfortunate personal state for a teacher, it also has negative impacts on students’ learning. It has long been established that burnouts who remain in the education system provide less hands-on, active learning opportunities , and fewer positive reinforcements to their students, which has a negative effects on students’ performance (Haberman, 2004).This power tool explores how an Instructional Coach can support teachers to prevent burnout, and inspire teachers to instead burn brightly in their classrooms to improve learning for all children.
Burning Brightly vs. Burning Out
Imagine you walk into a classroom and you can feel the lightness of the room as soon as you enter. The environment is organized, colourful and student-centred. The students are engaged in their task working in groups. The teacher is standing tall and is vibrantly and joyously moving about the room encouraging students and redirecting as necessary. You glance at the teacher’s desk and her day planner is open and the lesson plan visible. She signals to them that they have 2 minutes left to complete their task. An excited hum is ignited as students quickly try to get their thoughts down into their assignments. There is genuine, authentic learning occurring. You are witnessing a teacher that is burning brightly.
After visiting this classroom you walk down the hall to the next classroom. Before you even enter the classroom you can hear the teacher shouting at the students to stop talking. As you enter the classroom, you can see about half of the students are working individually at their desks, while other students are up out of their seats talking, moving around the room, sharpening their pencils, or looking out the window. The displays on the wall are faded and dated. The teacher is seated on the edge of her desk, shoulders slumped, bags under her eyes and arms folded across her chest. Her desk is covered in stacks of papers. She says to the class, When I count down to 10 you should be sitting at your desk working on your task. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 . . . I’m already at 5, get to your desks.. .6, Joe I am looking at you….7, 8, Kara please go to your seat, 9, 10….
As you look around the room you can see that some students are still out of their seat and not all students are on task. The teacher then says,
You have one minute left until break time. If you do not finish your work you will not be going out for break and I will call your parents.
Most students then reluctantly return to their desks and continue their work. The bell rings and students jump up and leave the room to head outside. The teacher then lets out a big sigh and slowly stands. She picks up her empty coffee cup and heads to the staff room for a refill. You can easily see that this teacher is burning out.
According to the book, Beyond Burnout (Cherniss , 1995), the factors most likely to lead to teacher burnout include:
- Lack of preparation for dealing with learning and behavior problems
- Resentment towards administrators, parents, board members, and others who usually have little idea about what it’s like to teach today.
- Lack of sense of accomplishment that is so important for any professional.
- Lack of support and opportunity to engage in meaningful exchanges of ideas with other teachers
If a teacher is not only aware of the risk factors for burnout, but also aware of where they lie on the spectrum, he or she can take steps to prevent burnout from happening and instead work towards burning brightly. This awareness can occur through working with a coach and using self-reflection tools. A common tool that is used by coaches to promote self-reflection amongst their clients is the Wheel of Life. As described on the Mind Tools website, the Wheel of Life allows us to take a helicopter view of our life to identify areas that need more attention. Similarly, teachers can take stock of how they are doing personally and professionally by reflecting on areas that most affect teachers. This Wheel of Teaching was created with educators in mind:
Working with the coach or independently, the teacher-client would rank themselves on each area from 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest level of satisfaction. To help reflect, the client could answer the following questions:
- Classroom environment – Is my classroom organized with a sense of purpose? Does the set-up of the class allow for flexible grouping and access to materials?
- Classroom management– Do I understand the needs of the learners in my classroom? Am I taking a proactive rather than reactive approach to behaviour management?
- Knowledge of curriculum – Do I understand all areas of the curriculum? Am I able to plan creative units that allow for authentic learning? Am I using diagnostic, formative and summative assessment to target the needs of my students?
- Relationships with parents, staff and students– Do I feel like I am part of a community? Do I feel supported by the parents of my students? Do I feel supportive by the administration? Do I have a support network?
- Planning and preparation– Am I prepared each day before the students arrive? Have I met all deadlines required by administration? Am I caught up on my marking and lesson plans?
- Physical Health -How is my energy throughout the day? Am I getting enough sleep and exercise? Am I arriving to work on time and able to focus throughout the demands of the day?
Hearing your client’s answers to these questions and seeing how they rank themselves will begin to give you and your client a good idea of where they lay on the spectrum of burning brightly vs. burning out. From that reflection, the teacher can identify areas that need support and the coach can hold the teacher accountable to those actions. It is important for coaches to approach this relationship as not only non-judgmental and non-evaluative, but also collaborative. Instructional Coaching is unique in that it allows teachers, once they have identified areas of potential growth, to practice strategies related to these areas, and to be open to descriptive – not interpretive – feedback from the coach (Marzano et al., 2013).
In the article
Characteristics of Good Teachers and Implications for Teacher Training, Hamachek (1969) wrote, Good teachers are more likely to see themselves as good people. Their self -perceptions are, for the most part, positive, tinged with an air of optimism and colored with tones of healthy self -acceptance. I dare say that self-perceptions of good teachers are not unlike the self-perceptions of any basically healthy person, whether he be a good bricklayer, a good manager, a good doctor, a good lawyer, a good experimental psychologist, or you name it. (pg. 343) This quote highlights the need for teachers to be self-aware of their personal and professional lives in order to make good teaching and learning experiences possible. Good teaching not only has a positive impact on student achievement, but can also prevent factors related to teacher burnout. The less burnout we have, the more accountable teachers will feel towards students learning. Thus, as coaches we can not only positively impact teachers’ lives but also classrooms full of young learners.
Cherniss, C. (1995). Beyond Burnout:Helping Teachers, Nurses, Therapists and Lawyers Recover from Stress and Disillusionment. Routledge: New York, NY. Haberman, M. (2004).
Teacher Burnout in Black and White. Retrieved from: http://www.habermanfoundation.org/Articles/PDF/Teacher Burnout in Black and White.pdf
Hamachek, D. (1969).
Characterisitics of Good Teachers and Implications for Teacher Education.
Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 50 no. 6 pg. 341-345. Parker-Pope, T. (2008).
Teacher Burnout? Blame the Parents. Retrieved from: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/01/02/teacher-burnout-blame-the-parents
Marzano, R. et al. (2013). Coaching Classroom Instruction. Marzano Research Laboratory: Blooomington, IN. Mind Tools – http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newHTE_93.htm
National Commission on Teaching – http://nctaf.org
US Department of Education – http://www.ed.gov