Taking a bath and walking the dog not helping with your feelings of burnout and compassion fatigue? You’re not alone.
A large-scale survey of educational workers in Alberta, Canada, conducted over the past year and a half found that many respondents were relying too heavily on self-care personal routines when faced with difficult and challenging workplace problems.
Researchers instead suggested that system-wide interventions, such as administrators and policymakers helping reduce educators’ daily workloads, increasing supports for inclusive classrooms and allowing educators to take a break during the school day, are needed.
The survey found that compassion fatigue was impacting the emotional health of 53 percent of respondents and that 80 percent were experiencing two or more symptoms of burnout. In a recent Education Week column Shayla Ewing, a high school English teacher in Illinois, says that this indicates “a silent epidemic in education: educators with nothing left to give.”
To truly address the healing process, Ewing says, educators and administrators can start by reframing the conversation. Her advice (abridged):
1. Don’t use language detours.
Calls for educators to be “resilient” can be harmful, making staff feel like they should be able to sustain unmanageable workloads or brush off signs of burnout. And pain-hierarchy language like “They need me more” or “Do it for the kids” enforces unhealthy martyr mindsets. Calling out and correcting these and other language detours can help educators better uncover symptoms of compassion fatigue and set healthy parameters for defining their own success.
2. Celebrate teacher well-being.
Teachers are frequently celebrated for achievements resulting from toxic work habits. Leaders who exclusively recognize educators who work endless hours set the expectation that this is a prerequisite for success. Educators who are already emotionally depleted feel like “bad teachers” when they fail to meet this expectation. Why not publicly acknowledge teachers who practice mindfulness, educate themselves about appropriate self-care, and invest in their own well-being outside of school?
3. Normalize language around compassion fatigue and healing.
Teachers are expected to be positive people, but this expectation can be harmful. When teachers express their struggles, they may be met with “Look on the bright side” or “Don’t be so negative.” Meeting mental health concerns with toxic positivity gaslights educators, making them believe that their compassion fatigue can be cured by thinking positive thoughts. Instead, schools should help teachers identify and monitor symptoms, report concerns and seek help.
If compassion fatigue is not addressed, it can manifest in more serious mental and physical health issues. School and district leaders have a responsibility to establish an environment that not only allows educators to heal but encourages it.
Other stories in this special section on Ways to Wellness:
- Back on track – expert tips on creating a stronger, healthier you
- SEL for you, too – Social-emotional learning for educators
FOR YOUR STUDENTS
- Movement matters – PE teachers’ plans to get students into tip-top shape
- Conditions to thrive – School counselors, educators on easing kids back into routine
FOR YOUR SCHOOL COMMUNITY
- Reimagining schools with equity at the center