Guest Blogger: Emma Tempest – The Play Coach

You can find out more about Emma as The Play Coach on her website.

Emma takes a closer look at teacher burn-out in this next installment of her Play-Life Balance series…

The World Health Organization has officially declared burn-out as an ‘occupational phenomenon’ in the International Classification of Diseases (2019).

Burn-out is defined in ICD-11 as follows:

“Burn-out 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.

Burn-out an “occupational phenomenon”: International Classification of Diseases

Teacher burn-out 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. 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 be quite detrimental to 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 sick pet and now we’re late for work because of traffic…Oh yes and when you got to work you had to attend a before school meeting instead of being afforded the luxury of spending time in your classroom preparing for the day and having a few moments to JUST BREATHE…sound familiar? And that’s just one morning…

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 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. My favourite part of coaching teachers, 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. Carefully scripted questions lead me to intentionally discover what the real problems are and what are just excuses (sorry not sorry!). 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.

My final thoughts on this matter (for now at least, ha!) are to take another look at those three factors of burn-out 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! 😉

Tell me in the comments how you are going to use the power of play to build resilience in your work with children!

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