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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.

 

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