How to Beat Burnout with More Than Just Bubble Baths

The World Health Organization has officially declared burnout as an ‘occupational phenomenon’ in the International Classification of Diseases (2019) Burnout is defined in ICD-11 as follows: “Burnout is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:

1. feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
2. increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
3. reduced professional efficacy.”

Burnout an “occupational phenomenon”: International Classification of Diseases

Educator burnout is an all too common occurrence. Stress levels are high with the various demands of the job plus making an exceeding number of decisions a day during hundreds of interactions with children, parents, families and staff. It’s a lot to say the least. Teaching is one of those careers that people often describe as a ‘calling’ or something they ‘always wanted to do’ and yet teachers are protesting, quitting their jobs and even leaving the profession at an alarming rate – stating stress, developmentally inappropriate expectations, seemingly never-ending testing and a lack of respect as the main reasons.

BUILDING RESILIENCE
Seeing teaching as a calling can actually end up being quite detrimental to some educators. You’re not just born into it and that’s the end of it. It takes hard work. Teachers do not know the answers to everything (this may be brand new information to some!) We all have our bad days when we run out of milk, don’t have time for a coffee (or tea for me!), we’re worried about our own sick loved one and now we’re late for work because of traffic…and that’s just one ‘normal’ morning, it doesn’t even begin to contend with everything the pandemic is throwing at us!!!

SINK OR SWIM
Building teacher’s capacity for resilience so they can not only bounce back from adversity but bounce forward must be a top priority for leaders. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way”, is all very good if educators are already motivated, want to learn better in order to do better so they can BE better – better PEOPLE that is, not just better teachers. But we have to help map out those pathways so there IS a clear way. You can have all the will in the world but if you are mentally and physically exhausted, have no control over how you can work in the classroom and are constantly swimming in staff rooms full of gossip, bitching and competition for who has the best door decorations then you will sink. It’s hard to tread water when you feel like everyone is dragging you down with them. Everyone has a breaking point, I know this all too well from my own experiences with anxiety, depression and panic attacks – all stemming from my job as an educator. We have to do better.

FOLLOW THE YELLOW BRICK ROAD
We must encourage teachers to gain autonomy in their work by allowing them to set their own goals that are meaningful to them in relation to the children that are currently in their care. Following that, a path needs to be laid out so they can get there with support available along the way to hold them accountable. Dorothy didn’t get to Oz on her own. She needed a team around her and a yellow brick road to follow. No amount of training will help if you don’t make a plan for action. We also need to be curious with teachers, hold judgement at the door and find out why some things are going well and others not so much. How many well-being or self-care trainings have you sat through recently? Have any of them actually given you actionable items beyond “exercise, eat healthy meals, sleep well and get a bubble bath every so often”? Have any of them looked STRUCTUALLY at your environment and the systems in place that create educator burnout? Systematic change needs to happen in our classrooms as well as what you bring yourself as an individual. Individual process ≠ individual responsibility – as human beings we instinctively seek connection, we work better as a community. When each individual in that community can show up as their best selves, the community works better as a whole. But when one person is having a hard time and that community HAS THEIR BACK, the community works even better.

I mentioned earlier about how mental health and well-being training often looks like sleep well, eat well, exercise regularly and bubble baths. Of course, these are important. But for me, and the reason why I do what I do, the most important piece is your brain. You can have a bubble bath and still be angry or stressed (my favourite visual for this scenario is Pingu having some towel time!) When you learn how to see your thoughts as optional, you can choose to have a mindful bubble bath versus a recovery bubble bath because you’re at the end of your rope. You can intentionally create opportunities to fill your cup up before it needs filling when you think differently on purpose.

Sometimes you just need someone to help you see those sneaky thoughts and beliefs that lie underneath what you see in the outside world – and that’s where I come in! My favourite part of coaching educators, directors and administrators is watching the trials and tribulations as they work out what feels right and what doesn’t, then being witness to their own reflections of how to overcome these barriers. Taking action cannot happen until you figure out what you are thinking. Helping them see their own thoughts and be witness to watching them explore the results those thoughts are creating for them is my jam. Careful questions lead me to intentionally discover what the real problems and motivations are that lead to actionable change. Teachers on the whole are people filled with positivity, empathy and a desire to do their best for not just themselves, but for the children. We cannot afford to lose these core values that help us create a classroom full of joy and wellbeing for EVERYONE. But we can’t do that unless we put educator’s humanness first.

My final thoughts on this matter (for now at least, ha!) are to take another look at those three factors of burnout for adults – but this time imagine you are a child…

1. feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
2. increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
3. reduced professional efficacy.

Think of a child’s ‘job’ as BEING a child, enjoying childhood without the burdens of the world on their shoulders. Think of their ‘professional efficacy’ as being allowed and able to DO childhood well. Now, can you think of one word that could be an answer to these three problems? For both children and adults? I’ll give you a clue. It begins with the letter ‘p’ and ends in ‘lay’…now that is a superpower we can all use more of!

WHAT DO YOU THINK?
I would love to know what thoughts you have around self-care and burnout in the education community. Please leave a comment or send an email to me. If you would like to learn more about the process for becoming aware of your thoughts and intentionally choosing new ones, consider hiring me for a training session for your team or hiring me as a 1:1 coach.

💌
emma@makeyourownrainbows.com

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