Since the pandemic, our education systems have experienced multiple crises at the same time including high teacher turnover, increased burnout, and falling retention rates. But at FuelEd, we help school systems navigate these problems.
As we sort through the grief, loss, and exhaustion of the post-pandemic world, many humans are questioning their work, their purpose, and how to spend their one precious life. With this being said, teachers, of course, are not new to toxic cultures and burnout. In many ways, teachers expect to perpetually live on the edge of burnout and may even reach it.
The past couple of years have arguably been the most stressful years in the history of teaching as educators are out of “surge capacity” and the “can-do” attitude. It has hit a point where they are unable to cover the layers of symptoms and emotions that have been associated with their job for far too long: fatigue, numbness, sadness, anxiety, headaches, GI distress, irritability, sleep problems.
Thus, the education system is facing multiple crises at the same time, which include high teacher turnover, increased burnout, and plummeting retention rates as the strings holding educators to their jobs are worn down to a tiny thread. A recent article posted by EdSurge truly hits the nail on the head:
January usually begins the emotional upswing, but this year we were greeted by news of omicron and a wave of teacher absences, followed by predictions that ‘The Great Resignation’ will soon hit our schools. Evidence abounds that this is a hard moment, from an announcement out of Texas that nine superintendents in one region are departing, to news from New Mexico that due to a lack of available educators, the governor would be jumping in to serve as a substitute teacher, to reports nationwide of hundreds of schools closing for days.
-Jenee Henry Wood
According to another article published by NPR, more than half of teachers say they are “looking for the exits.” As an organization that works with educators on a daily basis, we see how tempting it is to mobilize a panic-and-triage approach, but that’s like asking educators to return to a burning building. When the building is on fire, it’s time to take a long, hard look at the root of the forever problem of teacher turnover. Where and how did the fire start, and what can we do about it?
At FuelEd, we have a unique perspective on teacher turnover. Over the past decade, we’ve delivered 12,968 individual counseling sessions to 1,300 educators in 108 schools. One clear finding from our work over the years is this: It’s not the students—it’s historical systems and the other adults in the building that often make it so challenging for teachers to stay. The bottom line: Educators are often choosing between a profession they love and a job/work culture they hate.
Many solutions to this problem focus on implementing better hiring practices or finding the “right” people. But what if, instead of focusing on not only on finding the right people, we focus on growing the right people?
We’ve seen the power of growth in educators by focusing on helping solve problems like teacher retention through intentional practices. For example, through our fellowship program, we have seen firsthand how educators can grow through flagship curriculum, community support sessions, and professional development paths.
Additionally, these educators consistently reported that change was a collective process. This was because others were committed to nurturing their growth, taking risks, and being vulnerable. The fellows not only grew themselves but were able to help others grow as well. Participants of the fellowship program also reported an increase in their empathy skills. Furthermore, our fellows stated that taking these steps helped increase the likelihood of the educators into staying at their jobs. One individual stated, “Without the skills I've learned, I probably would have easily quit this summer.”
At FuelEd, the structures and practices provided during the fellowship served as a trellis on which all participants could recover and grow.
The underpinning of this growth is recognized as these core beliefs: 1) All humans have tremendous potential for growth across the lifespan and that 2) growth happens in the context of safe, secure relationships.
When these core beliefs are held by leaders in a system, they can flow into norms, policies, and practices that shape culture. In this way, secure leadership is more about cultivating the conditions for human growth and development than it is about simply making sure the school is fully staffed.
As we all know, it’s an exceedingly tough time to be a school or district leader, as many leaders are themselves exhausted to the point of leaving. But for those who need to and want to stay, we have various tools and resources for educators to utilize that focus on how to handle high teacher turnover, increased burnout, and retention rates. Some of the other topics we offer resources on are: SEL, self-care, empathy training, mental health, and mindfulness.
To us, it is important to create a space where educators feel consistently seen, heard, protected, and supported. How are you showing up as a secure leader for your teachers? Download the free resource below to find out.
In order to see each other, in all our complexity, we must first work to see ourselves more clearly.
In this third of four foundational posts, we take a look at an essential ingredient in an educator’s ability to build secure relationships: their own self-awareness.