This is the fifth installment of my “journey as a new administrator” series. To get the whole story, you can binge-read the first four installments at the bottom of this article.
I’ve been teaching teachers for at least 15 years. Since I became an administrator, my role and responsibilities have changed. My days of teaching teachers may not be completely over, but they are greatly diminishing. In some ways, this makes me sad. That being said, I noticed that I was growing bored because I have been teaching the same classes over and over for several years. Don’t get me wrong; I loved the classes, I loved seeing teachers ”get it,” and I loved playing a role in the evolution of their teaching. It was satisfying to see teachers excited about teaching again because of something I taught them. But I needed a change.
Prior to getting my current position, I threw myself into earning various certifications, including all of the Flipped Learning ones offered by FLGI (Level I, II, Trainer I, II, Differentiation, Lesson Planning) and joining the International Faculty. This learning and community experience greatly impacted the work I was doing in my day job. I was able to cross-pollinate between my “day” job and my new “night” job by sharing my Flipped Learning practice with others and learning from other Flipped Learning practitioners around the globe.
I’ve discovered that once I have mastered something, I am ready to learn something else. I think that’s the key to avoiding burnout for me. Not that I was anywhere close to burnout in my previous position, I was just searching for my next goal.
This past week, my staff and I started scheduling all of our professional learning classes for the school year 2019-2020. This task was something that I typically handled for our department even before I became the boss. Now I am guiding the process, but not assigning any of the classes to myself. This was a strange experience. Taking myself out of the mix of facilitators was difficult because it means a heavier workload for the rest of the staff. We have a couple of new people who are not quite ready to be lead facilitators, so trying to achieve a good combination of veteran/newbie facilitators added to the challenge. As an administrator, I need to make sure my staff (of seven) isn’t overloaded, so they do not get burned out, while still being able to offer enough classes to meet the professional learning demands of our large district (3600 teachers).
Additionally, the classes we facilitate are not the only projects we manage. It’s important for all administrators to ensure a work/life balance for those they supervise. Too many teachers feel that they have to give their entire selves to their job, but this is not good and it’s not healthy.
In her article on Cult of Pedagogy, We’re a Family and Other School Norms that Can Cause Burnout, Jennifer Gonzalez writes, “…one thing that’s got to change is this idea that teachers should be willing to pick up the slack all the time, no matter what. That if we’re not willing, even eager to do this, then clearly we don’t really care about kids or about our colleagues…Being the teacher who is willing to go the extra mile makes us look good, and that creates a competitive environment where everyone is expected to go well beyond their job description.” This concept really resonated with me. (I strongly recommend reading this entire article for some interesting insights into how seemingly positive staff norms can produce negative results.) Before I became the boss, I had a pretty strong reputation for basically working ‘round the clock. What I didn’t realize is that my work habits were putting undue pressure on the rest of the staff. Once I became the boss, I had to make it clear that no one is expected to answer emails in the evenings or on weekends unless I specifically NEED them to (and if that should happen, their time would be compensated). Making the most of our staff’s time is the privilege and responsibility of any administrator.
I am doing my best to give them a voice in what they can handle and make sure they know they can either say “no” or try to figure out a better solution. The work that our department has been doing since 2012 has built a strong foundation for empowering change in our district. Now that we’ve gotten hundreds of teachers changing their practice, administrators wanting to transform their schools, and new schools opening with a 1:1 model, the need for professional learning around student-centered, active learning will continue to increase.
So, how do I protect my staff from burnout?
Like all teachers, we get creative when trying to solve problems. In an effort to address the professional learning needs of our teachers and administrators, we have designed several options for two of our most in-demand classes: Practitioner Badge and Digital Learning with Microsoft Teams and Tools.
I have shared the Practitioner Badge class content in my blog series, “Becoming a 21st Century Educator”. Every school year, we can get approximately 120 teachers through this 30-hour flipped professional learning class. Since 2015, we have had 680 teachers earn their Practitioner Badge. Our district has 3600+ teachers. At this rate, it would take us 17 years to get the rest of the teachers through the program. That’s way too long. Several schools contact me every year to see if we will come to teach the class for their staff. We just don’t have the capacity to do that with seven people on staff. This year, we began a Becoming a Practitioner Facilitator option for teachers who have completed the Practitioner Badge and Leader Badge courses to learn how to facilitate the class for their own staff. We are expanding our reach and empowering teacher-leaders at the same time. I’m hoping this will relieve some of the pressure from my team while still meeting the needs of schools.
As mentioned in previous parts of this series, we have had TONS of technical “trainings” provided by Innovate 2 Educate (i2e). Considering the number of teachers and administrators we have in our district (rounding 4,000), it would take about four more years to get everyone through the “trainings” (and that counts on having the same funding available). No can do. We can’t wait that long for all of our teachers and administrators to be proficient with these tools. We don’t have the funds it would take to hire i2e to provide in-person training for every teacher and administrator in our district, so we had to get creative. We are developing a self-paced online course for teachers/administrators to take, offering open labs for in-person support, and having several one-day events in July. We will continue to offer online and flipped versions of this training throughout the school year. I just hope that this push for teachers to complete training during their already short summer (6 weeks) won’t contribute to their feeling burned out. (Fingers crossed!)
Even though I know it is hard for people to change their pedagogy and/or learn how to use a digital learning environment, I am hopeful that once they jump in with both feet, their lives will become easier. Teaching is such a hard job and challenging teachers to make changes when they are always teetering on the edge of burnout may give them a big shove right off the cliff. I have faith that once they get on top of the Flipped Learning experience, they will be energized, taking several steps away from the edge and never looking back. Dan Jones’ piece on how Flipped Learning saved him from complete burnout beautifully illustrates this point from a teacher’s perspective.
Thanks for accompanying me on this journey. I find comfort in knowing that everyone who reads this may find one small nugget that resonates with them. If something does, please post a reply below! It will help me take some steps away from the edge myself!
Your turn: What are some ways that you try to keep yourself or your staff from burnout?