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Burnout and Educators

Thursday, September 18, 2014

As globalization and technology continue to change the way in which businesses function, the need for highly skilled workers possessing the ability to synthesize, analyze and communicate will be the litmus test separating successful from unsuccessful economies. Where does the US fall in light of this? Can the US produce sufficient highly skilled workers to meet the demands of an ever evolving society? If the 2010 results of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) is any indication then the US was found wanting.

The test results showed US students lagging behind many of their peers from other countries in core subject areas. This realization has once more invigorated the consistent intermittent debate surrounding quality education in US schools. In the aftermath of the report, the brainstorming sessions that follows will once more seek to unearth the impediments to the creation of a better education system. What will be discovered? An examination of prior measures unveiled to address the shortfalls of quality education to date, seems to focus consistently on educators as a causative element.

The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) (2002), as well as research which hints that a high quality teacher is the single most important factor that influences students academic performance give credence to the prior statement. These avenues which seek to focus on ways to increase academic achievement seem to hint that educators are the most critical element impacting the ability of students to perform academically. This conclusion has led to extreme pressures on educators to increase academic performances. These pressures while not new, for as Popham stated they existed prior to NCLB (2004) will increase in magnitude as the world continues to change. Can this continuous insistent pressure result in adverse effects for educators? What are the implications for the teaching and learning environment and invariably society?

Relentless pressure to perform in environments that are highly volatile is often conducive to burnout. This burnout is a nemesis to the creation of an education system that is capable of producing students equipped to deal with 21st century workplace challenges; skills which are critical to any country hoping to maintain or achieve a competitive advantage. Drucker makes this point when he coined the term "knowledge workers' and highlighted their importance for the success of 21st century businesses. This paper examines the principles of rest and highlights the value of rest to educators operating in contemporary educational environments.

The paper pinpoints the challenges facing contemporary American education system which may inhibit rest and brings clarity to the dangers of burnout - a condition created by lack of rest. Leaders in education as well as stakeholders are provided with clear guidelines which may be used to prevent burnout and promote rest. The paper ends with a plea for education leaders to adhere to the necessity to rest in order to construct learning environments capable of creating students with the analytical, synthesizing and communication skills that are critical to ensuring the demands of contemporary and future organizations.

The day started with an Individualized Education Plan for one of my students. Once the meeting was finished I analyzed the results from the summative assessment for forty students from the previous day. I realized that fifteen of my students did not grasp some of the key concepts from the lesson and so I commenced planning intervention strategies. Two strategies had to be different to accommodate two of my students who needed modified assignments. This activity took almost fifty minutes and so I had just enough time to adjust my lesson plans for the day. It was now five minutes before the start of class and as I checked my calendar I realized that I had a meeting at the end of the day with teachers from my department. I made a note to myself, just before I leave for the meeting I must remember to call the parents of three of my students as they were not completing homework and had started acting up in class. As I jotted the note, I glanced at the other meetings and forms that needed attention by the end of the week. As the bell rang one teacher passed my door and as I smiled politely and asked "how are you;" she looked at me and stated "I am overwhelmed, there seems to be so much to do and with all these meetings I am quite frankly exhausted."

Rest -the principle
"After God created Heaven and earth on the seventh day He rested (Genesis 2:2)." According to Botterweck, Ringgren & Fabry, this day, often recognized as the Sabbath stems from the word Sabat, symbolizing cessation from work (2004). Genesis 2 therefore set the precedence for mankind to take a break from work. As one journeys further into scriptures Hosea 10:12 "...fallow your ground..." when examined through Robbins Social Approach to understanding text represented a call for mankind to desist from their activity. While the verse may have held cultural implications for the Jews as they were farmers, the ramifications for mankind in contemporary society are no different. The principle demands that mankind be removed from the confines of work; that time be taken away from the everyday tasks.

The value of rest
The necessity for educators to rest is vital to the creation of effective teaching and learning environments. Outcalt (2005) believes that rest allows one to regain strength through the renewing of the mind. Rest is akin to the lubricant between two joints; it provides the conditions necessary for smooth operation without complications which may inhibit action. Rest is the indispensable ingredient that fosters motivation and drives creativity, without this ingredient motivation is stifled and the death of creativity fast-forwarded.

The value of rest and renewal to educators is critical to the creation of an effective and sustainable education system. As the world continues to evolve and the momentum of change accelerates, the pressure on educators to produce students who are academically proficient to manage the demands of the 21st century will continue to increase. This increased demand will force leaders and stakeholders to demand more from educators; a move which has the potential to drain educators physically, emotionally and spiritually as they work overtime to increase students' performance. Maslach and Leither (1997) convincingly made similar points when they stated that the speed and rate at which organizations are bombarded with changes may result in leaders and followers becoming physically and emotionally exhausted. In a bid to meet these demands the possibility that workers will lose rest is likely and unfortunate. Without rest creativity is stifled, motivation becomes a fantasy, competence is sacrificed and mediocrity flourishes. These outcomes erode creativity, innovation, collegial relations and productivity, the end result is that rest is sacrificed and inefficiency is given room to grow.

In a society where change is a constant and stability is a pipe dream the need to be constantly moving to be in sync with societal changes has the propensity to hinder rest. Managers and employees are often driven to work harder and longer to avoid mergers, downsizing, acquisitions and restructurings. The same holds true for educators; as standardized tests show many students not meeting the proficiency bar; as drop-out rates climbs; as more students exercise their first amendment right to explain how entertainers make big bucks with little education and therefore education is not important; and as law makers continue to increase the pressure on educators to produce better quality students, the necessity for rest often becomes blurred. For many educators when the pace and workload become too hectic depression, anxiety and stress are only a few outcomes. Muller made similar arguments when he stated that in today's world, with its unrelenting emphasis on achievement and efficiency it is possible to lose the essential rhythm of life and how best to create an equilibrium between work and rest (Muller, 2000).

In a world driven by competition, where only the best shapes an organizations competitive advantage, it is easy to overlook educators as people and not machines and it becomes easy to under-value the job they do. It is also very easy to target education systems as the place to make adjustments in order to address societal ills and its inability to produce only the best.

The onus placed on educators in the US to produce first class students in a constantly changing environment, creates an environment of high demands. These demands often unrealistic in nature (as education is by no means the sole responsibility of teachers) often result in stress and lethargy in the affected. Maslach and others (1997) succinctly made similar points when they stated that the burden placed on workers to increase productivity creates conditions that are conducive to burnout. Burnout takes away an individual's vigor, promotes lethargy, and reduces motivation and efficacy. Such end results negatively affects individuals ability to perform and thereby subtracts from any efforts to maintain or promote long term sustainable achievements.

The foundation of burnout

Burnout according to Maslach et.al (1997) is a symbol of foremost failure of the organization to function normally, which is associated more to the state of mind of the organization rather than its followers. It may manifest itself in detachment, disinterest, hopelessness and de-motivation. According to Maslach et.al (1997) these expressions are damaging to the individual on a personal as well as on a professional level. On a personal level, stress, health issues and anxiety are some of the end results. These personal afflictions spill over into the professional life and slowly drain the individual's ability to function at their fullest potential.

Burnout incapacitates the ability to think; to be innovative in coming up with new ideas; it limits creativity. It increases workers attrition which may show itself in increased absenteeism, distractions, loss of vigor. Follower's dedication diminishes and efficiency may ultimately suffer.

Eradicating Burnout
To prevent burnout Halgesen (2001) calls for both leaders and followers to create an environment of partnership where parties recognize the value of each other. Maslach, et.al (1997) support this hypothesis when they call for organizations to ensure that they develop values clarification which they define as the expression of personal values and shared values resulting in the endorsed values by the organization (p. 133).

According to Maslach and Leiter building engagement with work is the solution to burnout. To this extent they noted some factors which if addressed will help to minimize or eliminate burnout.

• Sustainable workload: As 2011 budget debates begin, the need to cut budget for education is once more on the table. The teaching staff and support staff for many schools will once more be targeted. Leaders need to recognize that by removing well needed staff especially in failing schools, they are creating additional pressures on teachers. Evans (2001) posited that the continuous involvement of teachers in their work can lead to burnout; too much work has the ability to compound the situation. While teachers are afforded a long summer break, is it possible to shorten the summer break and distribute "rest days" evenly throughout the semester?

• Feelings of choice and control: Policy makers need to ensure that any policy created to promote academic achievement should give educators the impression that their voice counts and that they have control over aspects of the teaching and learning environment that counts.

• Recognition and reward: High quality education is a definitive factor that favors countries with a competitive advantage. This quality education if often accessed through educators, yet education is arguably one of the lowest paying professions. What can be done to change this?

• Fairness, respect and justice: As the debates continue to find the qualities to define quality teachers, the impetus to align pay with performance may be a
tempting morsel. This morsel should be discarded on two accounts. The first is that research against extrinsic motivation hints at the negative effects of this manner of getting results. Secondly, in an era when Learning communities are expected to be sharing medium where teachers utilize best practice from these sessions; how many teachers will be willing to share their best practices?

Conclusion
While the necessity to increase student's performance continue to reign as a topic worthy of discussion, budget cuts in areas of education seems to put the debate to rest. This has resulted in fewer educators, with heavier workloads and longer hours. This new trend goes against the demands of an era where students with analytical, synthesizing and communication skills are necessary to fulfill its demands. These decisions have the propensity to undervalue educators and may result in burnout; a condition which fosters inefficiency and mediocrity- traits which are not conducive to the creation of effective teaching and learning environments. To avoid this pit fall, leaders must be willing to examine techniques to prevent burnout, if any serious attempts are to be made to produce students with the skills necessary to function in 21st century environments.

References:

Botterweck J., H. Ringgren & J. Fabry (2004) Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament
Wm. B. Eerdsman Publishing Company Grand Rapids. Michigan.

Halgesen. S. (200) Thriving in 24/7: Six Strategies for taming the new world of work
Published by Free Press. New York. New York.

Maslach C. and Leiter M. (1997). The truth about burnout
Published by Josey-Bass. San Francisco. Calfornia.

Outcalt. T. (2005) The best things in life are free.
Published by Faith Communications. Deerfield Beach, Florida.

Popham. J. W. (2004) America's Failing Schools
Published by Routledge Falmer. New York. New York.

Educational Software Companies

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Educational software companies were among the first software developers in the early days of desktop computing. They recognized the potential of using computers for learning purposes, and were quick to develop products that helped make this happen. But because of market changes and fast-changing technology, these educational software companies have to face unique challenges now more than ever.

Problems facing educational software companies

The costs of education are running high, and this its toll on educational software companies. Schools are now hesitant to install additional infrastructures such as networks that are needed to run school-wide educational software.

The peripheral expenses involved in implementing educational software are getting higher, and schools usually can't afford to squeeze them into their already tight budgets. And even when administrators do request for budget realignment or additional funding from the state boards, their requests are denied more often than not. This is because state boards usually have budgets strictly set well ahead of time, and is almost never any room for deviation.

External financing is the obvious solution, but it may take years for schools to find this kind of money, if at all. Meanwhile, educational software companies suffer the losses and scramble to find viable financial means to subsist while schools that have already signed up to buy their educational software systems find ways to raise the funds to pay them.

The future of educational software companies

Companies that develop educational software are on shaky ground. They are very easily disturbed by downturns not only in the software and web industries, but in the educational system as well. The overall sales of both school-wide educational software systems and individual CD ROM-based systems has significantly decreased because of major changes in all these three stimulant industries around the year 2000. This is why many software companies have either closed or downsized.

The Business of Education in America

Sunday, September 14, 2014

For over two hundred years the American education system has been based on the right of all its citizens to an education. Through this guiding principle America has led the world to expanded education opportunity for women, oppressed minorities, and populations generally. As the world has come to embrace the American philosophy, America is abandoning this core belief and dividing education into the wealthy, who can afford education, and the rest of the country that will not be able to afford it.

For several decades, American education was in retreat in the technical areas of science and engineering. To address these deficiencies, technical schools in secondary education and for profit colleges came into existence. They encouraged students not inclined to pursue additional education to enter technical fields and pursue higher education. Students that would not become engaged in a process of learning were suddenly involved. Students who could not make passing grades were suddenly making the A's and B's in vocational technical courses and for profit technical institutions.

Today, these two areas of education constitute a growing number of successful students actively involved in higher education. Vocational schools and for profit colleges are designed to encourage students to become involved in technical careers, and are often structured without much of the liberal arts training that accompany traditional degrees. There's been a longstanding disagreement as to whether students should be funneled into specific and very narrow technical educational streams, or weather all students should be forced to obtain a more generalized education designed to move them toward undergraduate degrees and eventually to graduate degrees.

Although this disagreement has ragged for several generations, the effect of vocational training and for profit technical institutions cannot be denied. They have successfully moved a large segment of the population into technical careers very successfully. However, in recent months the department of education has begun to take issue with the success of the schools because they cannot guarantee that their graduates will be able to meet income guidelines created to show the success of American education of dollars that are being spent for these programs. Vocational schools and secondary education are being cut across the nation in response to the economic downturn our society is currently facing, and this policy of the department of education. Rather than address the more complex issue of how we can meld traditional, and technical areas of education into a single educational system, federal funding to provide vocational training and technical education is being slashed by the Federal government.

At a time when the administration and the business community l recognize the need for a stronger commitment to technical education throughout the country, we are reducing the ability of students to obtain the education loans necessary to pay for their education because we have a fundamental disagreement as to whether there should be more general education in English, literature and the arts, and less a single minded focus on a narrow technical field. This seems to be an argument without merit since both have the single purpose of trying to educate the American public to be competitive in the marketplace of tomorrow. This is occurring at the same time that a recent study has demonstrated that the effect of a college education benefits all students whether it is in their field, general education, or in a narrow technical area. Rather than building on that premise to encourage students across the country to pursue higher education, our focus has turned to the ability of students to repay the loans to banks as the single determining factor as to whether the education was useful. The standard being put forward by the department of education does just that.

It focuses their efforts on seeing that students can make enough money to repay the loans, rather than focusing on why education costs are rising so dramatically. Their focus is on making sure that students repay banks. With businesses making arguments that they need to import more foreign workers to meet the growing technical demand of high tech industry, we're forcing American students out of the educational system as we argue their ability to pay back a bank is the single determining factor as to the quality of their education. This would not be so absurd if it were not for another of movement that is taking place in grade schools around the country today.

For people who have money, there is a growing need for private preschools that are for profit in nature to prepare their children for the prestigious schools that select only a handful of American students each year. This for profit model for primary and secondary schools is becoming as popular in United States as it is abroad in countries such as Europe and Asia. Parents of wealth are quick to hand over as much as $40,000 a year to have their children placed in preparatory schools that will prepare them for prestigious colleges. Currently, a number of private investors are putting up as much as $200,000,000 to fund these types of for profit institutions. It is a growth industry that will find a burgeoning market place with in this country and abroad as the division between haves and have-nots in education continues to broaden.

These parents have little faith in the public education system in this country. They are putting their money, and their children in the hands of for profit institutions that they believe will make them better able to compete in the highly technical world of tomorrow. As Madison Avenue at the American banking system find a new profitable market, they will exploit it as fully and as completely as they have the traditional American education system, to the detriment of the larger society. Education in this country is becoming a tool of banks and the wealthy and not what was envisioned by the founding fathers or the many men and women who helped create this country over many generations. It is no longer serving the public need and only looks to the needs of the wealthy, and the financial institutions whose profit motive is the single driving force for their existence.

While the rest of the world is adopting the American model of an educational system that is the envy of the world, we are abandoning that system to move toward one that cannot serve the nation or the society. If we continue down this road our nation will be forever looking to the educational systems of other countries to provide the technological expertise, and the innovative thinking that will move the world and the society forward. In one breath the department of education for our nation is telling us that for profit institutions do not work and we must regarded with suspicion graduates at any college level from these institutions, while at the same time this same model is being instituted at grade schools and in elementary schools across the nation because there is a growing need for a better education system to meet the standards of tomorrow. However this growing need excludes much of American Society. If we follow this path it will only the wealthy will receive an education in this country.

 

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