Schools have never before faced the challenges that Covid-19 has produced. Caring for pupils and staff; supporting disadvantaged communities; implementing remote learning; and being pressurised to ‘make up’ the educational ground ‘lost’ during partial opening between March – July, have increased an already excessive workload.
The risk of burnout
There is an increased risk of teachers and headteachers burning out. Christina Maslach, an expert on burnout, produced this definition: ‘[Burnout is] a psychological syndrome involving emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a diminished sense of personal accomplishment that [occurs] among various professionals who work with other people in challenging situations.’ (Maslach, 1982).
Maslach identified six factors that cause burnout:
Work overload: When the quantity of work required exceeds the time available, or when a job is simply too difficult for an employee’s current resources.
Lack of control: For example, over decision making, resources, curriculum design, data collection and how to teach.
Lack of reward: Not necessarily pay – social recognition, praise and thanks are just as important.
Absence of community: Maslach identified that employees thrived in communities where there was praise, personal comfort and people were happy. Lack of fairness: For example, a belief that promotions are biased.
Conflict of values: When your values as a teacher don’t match those of the government and/or your school.
Preventing and tackling burnout
Maslach believed that workload, by itself, would not cause burnout. It was the interaction between workload and the other five factors that led to breakdown. In other words, if none of the remaining factors were present, work overload was better tolerated.
Below, I set out how you can reduce the risk of burnout by addressing Maslach’s six factors. Create a six column grid in Google Docs so that you can make changes online.
- Put Maslach’s factors in order in the second column, based on the extent to which each is adversely affecting you. The factor affecting you the most should be listed first.
- In the far left-hand column, write each factor’s rank order number from 1-6. Beginning with the first factor, write down what action you can take to reduce its impact or to negate it.
- In the third column, enter why each of the factors is negatively affecting you.
- In the fourth column, make a note of actions you will take to/prevent tackle each factor.
- In the fifth column, enter what is outside your control.
- In the sixth column, write a deadline date by which you will complete the action.
Burnout often leads to trying to change what cannot be altered. When you focus on factors which are within your control, you take back control and reduce your risk.
Steve Waters has over 40 years’ combined experience in teaching, LA school improvement and independent consultancy, and is founder of the Teach Well Alliance and a Founding Fellow of the Chartered College of Teaching.