- Matthew Howell, a middle school principal in New Jersey, shared with Edutopia some of his strategies for connecting with people in the school building, managing work efficiently, and measuring signs of stress and fatigue among teachers and students in maintaining positive momentum throughout the year.
- While listening to teachers' needs and finding ways to maintain a work-life balance is important, using their work hours more efficiently is vital — especially as the end of the school year draws near, Howell writes. Principals should also rethink how much time is spent in meetings, think critically about what initiatives to take on and start small when rolling out new programs.
- Communicating with intention is also important as principals encourage teachers and students to stay the course, as well as help them realize their shared purpose. Listening to staff members — in meetings, in the hallways and in other informal conversations — can create inspiration, insight and ideas, but Howell also emphasizes that leaders must listen to themselves, too, and recognize when they might be feeling fatigue.
While many teachers start the school year with some degree of energy and optimism, by the last few months, some may be lagging in their purpose or motivation. Students are also prone to feel similarly, as the buildup of stress over the course of the year, as well as looming year-end tests and projects ahead, can be overwhelming. Sheer exhaustion can set in, adding to the overall effect of burnout for everyone involved.
As school leaders and, in some way, the institution’s cheerleaders, principals need to listen and observe the school community around them. In addition to making sure their school is safe and successful in its goals, a key part of this is watching for signs of exhaustion and burnout. As Howell observed, sometimes listening is enough — allowing teachers to share their struggles and feel their feelings in a safe environment helps them feel understood and supported. They understand that they are not alone and are not expected to be superheroes — two feelings that can have damaging effects when unaddressed.
Respecting teachers' time is important as well. As the school year ends, there can be more tasks than usual to attend to as exams draw near, paperwork has to be completed, and goals have to be acknowledged and met. Principals can recognize this and try to relieve the burden as much as possible by not holding unnecessary meetings and keeping the meetings they do have as short and to the point as possible. Using Google Forms for surveys and emails to convey messages, Howell writes, can also be more efficient when feasible.
At the end of the year, many teachers are making decisions about whether they will return to their classrooms the following year. In addition to a continued teacher shortage, it is key at this time of year that principals provide ways for teachers to decompress and relieve stress and feel supported, so these teachers don't burn out and don't want to leave the district or the profession entirely. They also need to encourage teachers to practice self-care so their effectiveness is not diminished. However, as principals work to support teachers, they need to make sure they are maintaining their own work-life balance. By doing so, they will be in better positions to lead, have a more positive outlook to pass on to others, and set a good example for others.