How to Support Your Exhausted Teachers with Intention & Strategy

Like many education leaders, I have great concern for the current condition of public education in our country. The challenges facing the adults who have dedicated their careers to the service of our future — our children — are many. Staffing shortages and increasing logistics complexities are overwhelming and paint a perilous picture of our essential public school system. School leaders are pressured to find workable solutions before the great resignation leaves their classrooms empty.

When asked “What percent of teachers quitting would create a cataclysmic drop in your organization’s ability to educate young people?” one superintendent responded, “One. One teacher quitting would hurt us in a big way.” 

It’s important to note that the potential for the mass exodus of education professionals isn’t necessarily going to be reality, as many in the profession can’t simply up and leave. This has the potential to leave us with an exhausted, overwhelmed, stressed workforce that shows up only because “they have to.”

This of course isn’t absolute, but it should be cause for significant concern and should elicit intentional, strategic thinking on the part of leaders who support the adults who are so important to the children in their classrooms. 

As a school leader, you may feel inundated with ideas but struggle to determine which ones could realistically be implemented and, more importantly, which ones are worth the time, effort, and funds. Based on our experience working with districts of all sizes and hearing from teachers firsthand through coaching conversations, here are four actionable ways to help teachers feel supported in a meaningful, authentic, and relevant way.

01. Don’t Fear Strategic Abandonment

It’s no mystery why teachers are overwhelmed. Teachers have always had a lot on their plates, and the pandemic ushered in even more instructional methods and initiatives that teachers have been required to implement. So what if it’s not about what we could do more of but rather what we could stop doing? 

Steve Jobs once said, “Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do. You have to work to get your thinking clean and simple.” While it’s easy to think there must be something more that can be done to solve a problem, maybe the answer lies in removing things that aren’t adding value instead. In other words, the key to reducing teacher overwhelm is not to have them do more things but to have them do more effective things

At e2L, we often refer to the One Thing philosophy, in which author Gary Keller asks:

“What is the one thing you can do, such that by doing it everything else becomes easier or unnecessary?”

Consider all the things teachers are being asked to do, and compare the ROI of those things to the toll on their mental and physical well-being. Then, identify and strategically abandon the things that are ineffective, duplicitous, or simply unnecessary.

ACTION: Complete an initiative inventory to see what you could take off of your teachers’ plates. Not sure where to start? Utilize our free Initiative Inventory Workspace resource! 

02. Make Data-Informed Decisions

We can all agree that the best decisions are data-informed decisions. This is especially true in education, where time and funding are precious. 

While practices for utilizing student growth data to inform instruction currently exist, they often fail to include educator growth data. With research showing teachers have two to three times the effect on student achievement of any other school factor, it’s critical to analyze teacher growth data as a means of informing instruction in ways that will maximize student achievement. 

Currently, the one-size-fits-all approach to professional development is not meeting the most pressing needs of individual teachers. In fact, a research study by TNTP showed only 3 out of 10 teachers demonstrated substantial improvement as a result of typical professional development practices, while some even demonstrated a decline in performance. 

There is a constant push for differentiating instruction to meet the needs of all students, so why shouldn’t the same philosophy be applied to professional development to meet the needs of all teachers? The first step in personalizing professional development is utilizing a system that tracks individual educator growth data in order to identify strengths and areas in need of improvement. To make it easier for public education leaders to do just that, we recently launched the Reports Dashboard within eSuite®, our online educator platform. The dashboard provides leaders with an easy way to not only visualize data from different sources in one place, but to also analyze and interpret that data in order to identify correlations between specific teacher behaviors and student achievement.

eSuite Reports Dashboard: Badges Earned by Standard
Badges Earned by Standard in the eSuite Reports Dashboard

Determining the least effective instructional practices allows teachers to stop doing the things that aren’t working well, determine their level of proficiency in the things that have the greatest impact, and focus all of their efforts on growing in those practices. Utilizing better data will more effectively inform how you decide which initiatives to strategically abandon and which professional development practices will have the most impact on the overall well-being and capacity of your teachers. 

ACTION: Analyze your classroom data to find correlations between teacher growth and student achievement. Don’t have a way to do that? Check out a free trial of our eSuite® platform with a new dashboard that does all of the data work for you!

03. Clarify Expectations

One thing teachers always lack is time. Providing teachers with clear expectations along with the targeted resources to help them meet those expectations will save them time in trying to determine what exactly they need to be concentrating their efforts on. This also helps eliminate the frustration of trying to implement a dozen different things, when only a few of them are necessary for accomplishing instructional goals. 

In short, setting clear expectations saves you, your teachers, and their students precious time. 

Within e2L, for example, one way we provide team members with clarity is through the use of leveled rubrics. Each team member is coached on a rubric unique to our organization and with standards specific to either operations or coaching. With a clear set of standards and the respective defined behaviors, team members are able to self-assess, determine where they are on the rubric, and set goals on areas for improvement. 

When coaching our partners, we also use e2L-curated rubrics specifically for teachers, leaders, and/or instructional coaches, as well as customized rubrics unique to each district’s standards. Our e2L 12 Life Ready Best Practices© rubrics consist of high-impact instructional strategies that provide classroom teachers with the essential tools to master the art of rigorous, standards-aligned instruction while maintaining a laser-like focus on student learning outcomes. 

Here’s an example of a rubric for the Differentiation & Scaffolding best practice:

e2L Best Practice Example: Differentiation, Scaffolding

Providing teachers with these clearly defined and codified instructional behaviors keeps the guesswork out of the design and facilitation of the desired learning experience. 

ACTION: Define and codify instructional behaviors to provide your teachers with a clear roadmap of expectations. Be on the lookout for our CEO Shannon Buerk’s upcoming book, where she explains our proven process to do this effectively through designing a Buerk Rubric. Don’t want to wait for the book? Click here to ask us a question or schedule a call with us! 

04. Persist in Being Human-Focused

The real danger in the context of today’s unique challenges is the potential of forgetting that human beings are at the center of it all. As leaders, we must persist in remembering that the adults in our school systems are humans who are bearing the brunt of an incredibly difficult situation. 

In a recent district leadership roundtable facilitated by our CEO Shannon Buerk, we brought key district leaders together to share ideas about how to support and retain teachers in the midst of the current conditions. Several leaders shared many important ideas, but one critical thread rang through all of the shared sentiments: This is a human-centered endeavor and we MUST stay focused on meeting the needs of the people in our care, both students and adults alike. 

One superintendent offered sound advice that I feel is important to heed and share: ”Be seen by your people. When you go to their classrooms and you talk with them, ask them sincerely how they are doing. This may well be the most important thing we can do as leaders during this crazy time.”

ACTION: Download our recent white paper, "Tackling Teacher Turnover: Retention Strategies That Work," to learn about what ed leaders around the country are doing to support and retain their teaching talent.

Things may seem uncertain for the future of public education in these trying times, but there is hope. If we seize the opportunity to take intentional, timely, and effective action, we can turn the tide.

Want to learn more about e2L’s customizable services and teacher support tools? Click here.