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Field Trip: Beating Teacher Burnout
Teacher burnout is real. What causes it? And what can administrators do to help teachers combat the emotional exhaustion they feel?
Adam Brown, Ed.D. is an assistant principal for Virginia Beach City Public Schools. As a new teacher, there were days he wanted to call it quits — but he had great support, and got through those tough times. And his research into what causes teacher burnout is packed with insights for teachers, leaders and mentors.
Today, we speak with Dr. Brown and with Basil Marin, also an assistant principal, about their experiences dealing with teacher burnout and what administrators can do to fight it in their schools and give teachers the support they need — whether they’re new teachers or have been in the classroom for decades.
- What this issue looks like for novice teachers and for veteran teachers
- What the research says about the causes of teacher emotional exhaustion
- The impact it has on teacher recruiting and retention
- How principals, mentors, coaches and other leaders can support teachers through challenging times
Concerned about teacher retention? Check out these resources:
- Calculator: How much does teacher turnover cost you each year?
- Data sheet: Special Eduation by the Numbers. When districts struggle to fill positions, special education teachers are often asked to do more with less.
ADAM BROWN: I remember the first four weeks, it wasn’t the students. I mean the students were challenging, but it was things like getting feedback from my supervisor that terrified me. It was having to complete progress reports and I’ll be completely transparent. I remember one night, it was my fiance at the time, but I was in tears trying to figure out how to fill out progress reports. It was so overwhelming, and it was all these things I wasn’t expecting about just being in a work environment, a teaching work environment, that it just kind of took its toll on me. And I was lucky enough to have great support to get me through that first year. But I thought about what, “Where would I be if I didn’t have that first year support that I got? Or the types of support that I got through my first four years of teaching?”
It’s such an important topic, because you see all the reports of the applicant pool for teaching and the teaching candidates, teacher preps, getting thinner and thinner. And then if you look at the statistics for working with students with disabilities or alternatives or self-contained settings, it’s even less than that. They’re basically recruiting and trying to reach out as far as they can to look at anybody who might qualify, and it’s out of necessity. It’s so, so important that we look at, when we do get these teachers in, what can we do to retain them to develop their skills for them to be successful?
If you’ve ever been a teacher, or been close to someone who’s a new teacher, you can relate: teaching is a hard job. And when teachers walk into that classroom for the first time, become responsible for 20 or so kids, have to write lesson plans, often spend their evenings grading papers and doing other paperwork… it can be overwhelming.
BASIL MARIN: My former principal will tell you I tried to quit six times.
Today, we’re looking at emotional exhaustion in teachers. Sometimes, people might call it “burnout.”
BASIL MARIN: The teacher burnout, it’s like a slow leak. You see it happening, but it’s how do you support those teachers to make sure they get rejuvenated, and that every summer it’s not, “Am I going to retire this year? Am I going to leave this year?”
From Frontline Education, this is Field Trip.
Dr. Adam Brown is an assistant principal for Virginia Beach City Public Schools, and teaches at Old Dominion University in the ed leadership department. But he used to work at an alternative school for students with challenging behaviors, as a teacher, then as a principal. I got in touch with Adam because of his research: When teachers, whether they’re new teachers or not, get overwhelmed or exhausted, and when so many new teachers leave the profession within 5 years, what contributes to that? And what can schools do to support them and help keep it from happening?
ADAM BROWN: I think for me, when you’re looking at burnout and, you know, you use the term “burnout,” but I also look at stuff called “emotional exhaustion,” that’s another term I think is more appropriate. You have to look back and you have to reflect on why is this occurring. I look back at my first year of teaching, and I went into the setting because I had not gone through student teaching yet and they were the only division that would offer me, “Hey, we work really challenging students. We’ll provide you your license, but just come in and work for us while hiring a provisional.” And I said, “Okay, I might as well get a teacher contract while I’m getting student teaching, and I’ll work with,” I called them at the time, “the bad kids.” I said, “I’ll do that for a year and then go into a comprehensive setting.”
He ended up loving it. But like you heard at the beginning, those first few weeks were rough.
ADAM BROWN: I thought about, “Where would I be if I didn’t have that first year support that I got or the types of support there, my first four years of teaching?”
Schools that serve students with disabilities or behavioral challenges feel this issue even more acutely. It’s hard to hire people to fill positions, and for leaders in those schools, providing support is critical to keeping those teachers.
BASIL MARIN: My former principal will tell you I tried to quit six times.
That’s Basil Marin. He’s an assistant principal at Chamblee Charter High School in DeKalb County, Georgia. But at the beginning of his career, he worked elsewhere – at the school Adam spoke about, with challenging students. There, Basil and Adam worked closely together and became good friends.
BASIL MARIN: I really need you to understand that the velocity of the place we worked at. I mean, you got cursed out every day. That was a given. Tables thrown at you, staplers thrown at you. I mean, these were some really great kids, but they had some baggage with them. And so for me, working at former alternative school before that as a behavior specialist, I thought I was coming to a school where I really was coming to teach, get better at my content, get better at my pedagogy and really teach. And that stuff did grow, but it was really some of the some of the rituals and routines we had to learn first.
I wanted to quit because it wasn’t what I expected. I didn’t, at first, feel the support from my administration. I didn’t feel the other people, our teachers around me, they knew I was new, but it was kind of like, “Hey, he’s floundering but he has to figure it out.” And so that didn’t feel good to me. And I’ll be honest, in terms of education, we are 2% of the teaching force and so I didn’t see a lot of other educators look like me. So that was important to make sure that I get what I needed from my environment.
RYAN ESTES: When you say educators that look like you, what do you mean?
BASIL MARIN: So there wasn’t a lot of black educators, black male teachers, I will say. So that was another thing where I felt I was in my own silo and couldn’t get what I needed from others around me. I built community, but I didn’t see someone look like me right away.
Adam’s research looked specifically at teachers of students who have emotional challenges, behavioral disorders, disabilities, and other at-risk populations. I asked him to compare what teachers who work with these students experience compared with teachers of the general student population.
ADAM BROWN: Yeah, and that’s a great question. So going into the study, me being a teacher, working with these students before, I had these inherent biases of what I thought the research or my findings were going to state. So I thought that it was going to be that the students’ behavior is just so overwhelming that they can’t handle it, and that’s what burns these first year teachers out. It’s that students not really getting the consequences at times that teachers might feel like they need, that might burn them out, they feel like they’re not supported by administration that way. But what I found when I was comparing what research was available for those students with disabilities and with teachers in a comprehensive school was, it was almost the same, which was unique to me.
What was different about teachers working with students with disabilities, in particular, emotion disabilities, was that the common everyday factors that burned all teachers out, I guess you could multiply it maybe by two due to the behaviors that they faced. It was, you’re dealing with challenging students and then you get feedback that’s not the best. Or you’re working with a challenging student and then you’ve got to update grades that night because you didn’t have time. So it’s that type of factor that can really impact those teachers and it really can impact their emotional wellbeing at times.
RYAN ESTES: And I would imagine that it’s also the kind of thing that has a snowball effect. When a school is experiencing high turnover because some of their teachers are just exhausted, of course, that has downstream effects. If they can’t find teachers to fill a slot, they might have to look to those who aren’t certified yet or who are teaching in a different content area, for example. And then of course, that means those folks are, I’m guessing, more likely to experience that same sense of being overwhelmed. Is that a reasonable way to think?
ADAM BROWN: I think so. And when you look at behavioral terms, it’s almost like a behavior trap. What are some unique ways we can recruit new teachers? What are some unique ways that we can keep our veteran teachers? But even veteran teachers in this type of setting, they can get burned out even though they’re doing a great job and they’ve learned how to really balance themselves, it still is a very challenging position and they look, at times, for other opportunities. So it’s that constant cycle. I think I would challenge teachers and administrators and districts that are looking to recruit teachers, specifically for students with disabilities, to increase the amount of support that you provide during the year, and make it specific to those teachers. And if you want to retain them, I would almost challenge them to take part of the recruiting budget and put it into additional supports, and see if it retains more teachers than you expect. Because if you can keep it going, they feel supported, that will balance out the recruitment efforts that you have to do all the time.
Adam said when he began his work, he found extant research about why novice teachers get exhausted and why they leave. But he didn’t find anything about what keeps them motivated, what keeps them inspired. And he didn’t find much research about veteran teachers – either why they’re likely to stay in a position, or what burns them out. So he asked them.
ADAM BROWN: What I did was, it was a strictly qualitative study, so it was all interview-based, and I just asked them questions along the lines of, “What keeps you motivated? What burns you out? What type of supports do you think you need? What advice would you give to an aspiring administrator looking to support? What advice would you give to your immediate supervisor right now?” And I asked the same questions for the novice group and then the veteran group, and then I did a cross analysis and compared, what kind of trends or what kind of findings were related? What were completely different? And I what I found was pretty unique and it helped me push forward what I think are great practices and strategies that you can use within a school.
RYAN ESTES: So let’s talk about your findings. I’m thinking about teachers who are new to the field, contrasted with those who might have 20 years under their belts. Both can experience burnout, but I’d imagine that it’s different for different reasons.
ADAM BROWN: Absolutely. And I guess I want to have this disclaimer, if you can include this on the podcast too, that providing these strategies, that does not mean that I’m practicing them with one hundred percent fidelity. I strive to be a better administrator, and I’ve had really strong years of providing support, and I’ve had years where I really needed to work. So when I provide the strategies I’m not by any means saying that I do this with fidelity, but I strive to get to this point. So with the novice teachers, some of the burnout factors were common things that you wouldn’t really think about, and this is pertaining to all teachers, when they get into a work environment, or they go into the pre-service week, it’s things like, “Where do I park? How do I log into my email? What do you mean I have to develop a lesson plan for the first week by day two for my supervisor?”
It’s all of these unforeseen things that we don’t really think about when you’ve been in the system for a while, that you already have planned back in June before August hits. And then it’s also, when you walk into the pre-service week and you go into the huge auditorium or the cafeteria, it’s, “Where do I sit?” It’s kind of being like a first year kid.
I remember I grew up in a very small town that had 900 people in it. And then I went to a high school that had 2,700 people in it. And I remember the terror that I experienced going into that cafeteria the first day, and I felt the same terror. I was just a little bit more mature to handle it, being a first year teacher. So when you think about that, start planning for novice teachers, that first week, just helping them and holding their hand through the first few weeks, giving them exactly what they need.
And what I found from novice teachers, they said, “Just tell me what I need to do, so I feel like I’m doing my job right. Try to eliminate surprises, give me an exemplar that I can work towards, just hold my hand, and then I’ll feel more confident.” So the self-efficacy part with novice teachers was huge. And that’s throughout the first year. And it’s things like, and I’m drawing from my own experience, if you don’t know how to do progress reports, having a professional learning opportunity where they walk through it hand in hand with someone. Having a really good mentor is really good. But it’s also other things like, when you receive feedback, what I found for novice teachers is, “My supervisor told me I was doing a good job, but maybe they were just saying that. Maybe they had a hidden agenda behind that. What did they mean by ‘a good job’?”
They can’t accept feedback, or they don’t know how to. And it’s going through, working through the social dynamics there and how to accept feedback, how to receive feedback from administrator. Another one is, novice teachers felt like they were not able to ask for support, or too afraid it might feel like they can’t do their job. So what was unique about that is, you almost have to have a safe channel or a safe way for teachers to reach out and ask questions and not be criticized or feel like they’re not doing their job well. If you can accomplish in developing their self-efficacy in that first few weeks and get them through the first six, seven weeks where they feel like they’re doing okay and they start to gain some confidence, you’ll really see a larger retention rate.
Then you also see the burnout factors really start to fade away, or not fade away, but be controlled. The type of motivation that administrators can provide is, telling them that they’re doing a good job, if they are doing a good job. Telling them exactly, “Okay, this is what we need to work on, but let’s work through this. Let’s talk through this,” and showing them that it’s going to be okay if they make a mistake, they’re not chastised for it. So it’s things like that. I also found with novice teachers, they have no way to disconnect from the work day. Personal habits, healthy habits, workout routine, every single person said, “When I get in my car, I’m thinking about what I didn’t accomplish that day. I get home, I open up my laptop. Sometimes I’m just so exhausted, I go right to sleep. I don’t work out anymore. My diet that I had during the summer is completely gone.” And that starts to consume them too. So something that we’ve tried is providing ways for novice teachers to disconnect. So we get gift certificates, from yoga places to gym memberships to giving them gift certificates to restaurants. And we’re saying it is okay at 4:00 PM, when you go home, to not think about work tonight and go to do some hot yoga, go run for a mile.
RYAN ESTES: And simply simply telling them that, makes a meaningful difference.
ADAM BROWN: Right. You can tell them that, and the novice teachers still say, “Well, maybe that’s a trap. Maybe that’s a trick. Maybe they’re setting me up.” So maybe some type of support group within your school.
Anything to show them that it is okay to separate yourself and to just take care of yourself, because if you’re not taking care of yourself, you’re not take care of your kids. What was unique about the veteran group was they’re very proficient at disconnecting. Every single veteran teacher was like, “This is how I disconnect. I don’t answer emails when I get home,” or “I go to hot yoga every day. I know exactly what I’m going to do to disconnect and it helps me balance. And if I don’t have that, I’m going to get burned out.” So they’ve got that skillset. The self-efficacy is there a lot for veteran teachers. “I know exactly what I have to do. I’ve already got my lesson plans going.”
Where their support was — and again, this is in my own practice I have to work on — those veteran teachers who you never have referrals coming out of the room, you feel like they’ve got everything set, they often cry for help in terms of, “I want an administrator in there to give me some type of feedback. I still want to grow professionally. I want to be challenged, but I never see my administrator. And I’m not going to complain when you give me the hardest students, but I still would like that support and I’m not going to go out and seek help from you. But I would like to see you every now and then, and not just once a year to let me know, ‘Hey is everything good?’”
The other thing is they want to feel valued or empowered in terms of decision making. So if you’re making new initiatives they want to say, “Okay, I’ve been in this building for 12 years. It would be nice if you reached out for help, if you would like my opinion,” that type of empowerment.
Teachers of all kinds also told Adam that their workloads are getting more and more intense.
ADAM BROWN: I had one veteran teacher talk about how at one in the morning, she hadn’t gone to bed yet because she had to continue writing her IEP. And there was paper spread all across her bed as she was trying to make sure she got everything done by 4:00 AM that day when she had to wake up. And she just started crying. She’s like, “I haven’t experienced this before.” The trend between both groups was that the workload is just astronomical. And that’s another thing for novices, teach them an organization method of how to keep track of what their tasks and responsibilities are, because that’s something that they’ll struggle with for years.
RYAN ESTES: As an assistant principal right now, Adam, talk to me. You’ve already touched on a number of these things, but as you think of the whole overview of how you address these issues in your schools, how you provide the kinds of support that both novice teachers and veteran teachers need, what other things are you doing? How have you changed your thinking around your role to provide the support that they need in order to thrive?
ADAM BROWN: So I find that, and again, I was transitioning into a new role last year, and at times I struggled being the type of leader that I wanted to be, and that’s just full transparency. I experienced some type of administrative burnout at times because I was trying to tackle the world. I felt like I was working nonstop trying to prove myself, and it really impacted, I think, myself as a leader. So my goals for the upcoming school year are really getting into the classrooms more, talking to people and just ensuring that they’re doing okay and what their wellbeing is, talking through issues with them. I’m happy to say that I’ll be overseeing new teachers this year, so I’m excited about that.
Some of the strategies that I’ve used for them are opening up an online chat call, it is called the Voxer app. it’s a group chat where people can safely ask questions and seek support from me as well as our teacher leaders, and as they go through the year for new teachers, when they’re driving home, can they say, “Hey, I really struggled in this place today. I felt like I’m not making any type of impact with these kids.” And then they have that instant feedback from me right away. We’re looking at some book studies. We’re continue to do gift certificates for our new teachers. For veteran teachers, I’m seeking their feedback this year in terms of when I make decisions, I’m reaching out to them and saying, “How does that impact you? What would you have done differently? Okay, based on that feedback, can we adapt what decision I’ve made so far and can we work together to make this more adaptable to meet your needs as well?”
That’s what I strive to be. I think the most effective time I’ve been as a leader, it was my first year as a principal was at elementary school, and I really connected with the staff in terms of getting to know each person and every single day checking in on each person. And I saw a lot of growth from them. I remember there was a teacher assistant who had started college and got some credits and dropped out. And so collectively as a group, we supported him getting back into college and supported him with his admission fees and stuff like that. And I found that when I was supporting them to that degree and focused so much of my time on making sure that they were good and, you know, still holding them accountable but providing the support they need, that I saw the most impact on their daily practice. They were at a place where they were ready to teach. We say sometimes our students aren’t ready to learn. Sometimes our teachers aren’t ready to teach. So it’s being there, being supportive, being there every day, being present about their emotional wellbeing and doing everything you can within your power to help support them. And so that’s what I’m striving to do this year.
Basil, like I said, is an assistant principal at a charter school in Georgia. And when I spoke with him, he was in his few weeks at that school. During the call with him and Adam, I could see on the video screen that he was answering emails at the same time. He had to take another phone call at the same time – he chatted a message to us saying, “Sorry gentlemen, the work is never done!” So he can relate to what new teachers are feeling. And he said from his perspective, providing the support that they need is all about relationship.
BASIL MARIN: It’s weird when you’re an administrator and your teachers are coming to you, you’re supposed to have the answers, right?
And so you kind of have to smile through some of the questioning and say, “Hey,” and I’m real with them. I said, “I’ll get back to you. I don’t know that answer, but I’ll get back to you.” But I want to be clear, that’s the time of building relationship, and so you really have to get back to that teacher and follow up, even if you didn’t know the answer. Even not knowing is okay, but the followup is what builds that trust.
RYAN ESTES: What kinds of things are you doing or will you do or do you want to do to address some of the issues that your teachers might be facing? And as a followup to that, what kinds of things can people who are supporting principals and APs do to support administrators?
BASIL MARIN: Absolutely. So one of the things I’m going to definitely look at this year is the mentoring piece. As I just spoke about, I’m new and the uneasiness and trying to figure my way. So I know there’s some teachers who are in the building who are brand new as well, who are filling some of those same things. So it is checking in with them, making sure that they have my number if they have a question, because a lot of times administrators feel so far removed from the classroom that you don’t want to ask a question like Adam was saying, because you don’t want to seem incompetent. But I want them to know, “Hey, I’m here to support you.” And I’ve been very real with my new teachers. I’m from a whole different state, so I’m feeling my way through and we’re in this together.
So I think when they see you, kind of, bring it down and be real transparent, they’re like, “Oh wow, okay. I’m not the only struggling.” I might not know the system that they use for their attendance or for the grading, but I would make sure that they got a department chair who is familiar or a veteran teacher to be able to support that teacher and be able to help them as they’re coming in new. I want to have a breakfast in a couple of weeks, really welcome teachers that come in and say, “Hey, what are some things that you really like about the school? What are things you’re really excited about this year? And then what are some areas for growth for yourself, and areas that you want to continue to grow in as a teacher?” I think you have to have both sides, right?
You have to be able to say, “These are the things I’m really good at, but these are the areas I want to grow.” And I think you want to create a safe place for people to be honest and open, because anyone can come into a room and just talk. But if it’s not real, then real change is not happening. So I want to make sure I’m supporting my teachers. I want to make sure I’m stopping in. And then most importantly, I want to make sure my feedback to them is meaningful and relevant. I can break down the standards and make it sound nice and fluffy. But is it meaningful? Is it helping you to grow as a teacher?
I asked Adam and Basil, as principals who are very busy, days packed full of meetings and emails and working with kids and parents from start to finish, how do you stay energized? What’s the best support that people can provide for principals whose plates are full to overflowing? And Adam told me about one point in his career. He had a pretty good routine. He was generally able to disconnect at the end of the day, keep a balance between work life and home life. And then he transitioned into a new position, and that sense of balance got disrupted.
ADAM BROWN: On the ride home I literally could not stop thinking about work. When my wife would call me I was half focused on what she was saying, because I was thinking, “Okay, did I have any emails in the past two minutes?” And then on the weekends it was, when I’m not spending time with my kids, I would be working. Or I would check my phone when I was putting my son to bed. And it was kind of a realization that it’s not improving my job performance at all, by getting to this point. It took me a while to remember that. And so I developed an organizational system where I’m making sure I write down all my notes right away, that I am checking emails at certain times. I researched effective ways to maintain your email, maintain your job responsibilities, provide valuable feedback.
And so it’s just that consistent desire to grow and to reflect. And then I also made sure that when I got home, I put everything away, spend time with my kids until they went to bed. And then as soon as they went to bed, I sit down on the couch, open up my laptop and try to work some. And so it’s that type of just consistent reflection.
Adam said it also helped to connect with others who were going through the same thing. Every day he and Basil would talk on the way home from work and process the day.
ADAM BROWN: It feels so good to just hear someone say, “Oh, I’m experiencing the same thing.” You know? And so you feel validated that it’s normal what you’re going through. And I think we forget that sometimes. And for a new teacher that’s extremely important, as an administrator to go up to them and say, “Man, it is October and I feel like I haven’t gotten anything done.” And they’re saying, “Wow, if they haven’t done that, then I might be doing something okay.”
Basil agrees. He said that connecting with people at conferences, through Twitter chats, and PLNs – professional learning networks, or personalized learning networks – can provide that support that teachers and administrators need.
BASIL MARIN: Having a PLN is huge, the professional learning community. And that’s the group that’s going to be able to pick you up when you’re on your face and you need that pick-me-up. And we all know the different times a year where it’s hard. We definitely know when school starts we’re excited, and then we get to Thanksgiving, it’s a little rougher, and then Christmas time we’re crawling to the finish line and then we’re rejuvenated again. Then spring break comes, and these are some of the things that [inaudible] in Adam’s research, during those times, the holidays are the roughest times for teachers because of the burnout and because of how you feel emotionally when you’re giving your all to students in your classroom. So I think for me, the biggest word I’d come out with for the podcast today is having that support, and making sure the support group is supporting you and that you’re supporting others. I think too, if you become a mentor to somebody else, that will encourage you, as Adam has said, he’s mentored me. So I think when you mentor somebody else, it helps you to navigate some of your own problems.
I asked Adam and Basil – as they’ve done this, as they’ve worked to provide the kinds of support that teachers need to keep their mojo, give me some examples. How did it work out?
ADAM BROWN: I think for me, I look back to that first year that I was a principal, and I was really focused on the wellbeing of staff. And I’m always focused on their wellbeing, I think I just implemented it best that year. But I remember, there was a time where we went out to dinner after, it was professional learning day and part of the thing was, “Let’s all leave at two o’clock and just have lunch.” And the staff there, and actually I have it up in my office right now, it’s the Dr. Seuss book, Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You? And they wrote this really nice insert narrative about the impact that it had on them, this year and the growth that they experienced. So it was just kind of reassurance that all that time and effort put into the wellbeing of the staff really made an impact.
What was unique was, as I reflect on this, it’ll be my seventh year as an administrator now. What was unique about that first year was I was so focused on the wellbeing of my staff that I didn’t get to as many observations as I would have liked. But I felt like I got the relationships there and the student growth was there too. And then I got away from that a little bit and I got to, “Okay, we need to make sure everyone’s meeting deadlines, everyone’s being held accountable.” And I kind of gained that mindset a little bit. And there were various reasons for that, but I got away from the relationship aspect. And the student growth wasn’t there. It didn’t impact anything other than that I wrote more people up, I put more people on action plans, and at times that is needed, but I didn’t see any type of growth and it didn’t really form the relationships.
So I’m trying to get back to that balance of holding teachers accountable, but also developing that relationship and getting to that point again where I feel like I can rest easy that I did everything I could and that not only are the students walking into a positive learning environment, but the teachers are as well, and they feel comfortable coming into my office and I feel that I can be kind of on the same playing field as them, toward that common goal of impacting students every day. And I think that that’s where I strive to get back to every day. And I think that the research and the dissertation was kind of that wakeup call saying, “You’re getting away from the things that made you successful to begin with. Get back to those and get back to it fast.”
BASIL MARIN: So I think for me, I have several stories. The best one to share is, I had a teacher who just, I could just sense they weren’t happy. One of the things I love about kids is that they are very honest. So kids did not want to be in her class. They caused a lot of havoc in her class out of behavioral problems. And then this teacher just wrote a lot of referrals, right? So we had to sit down. So after I got my 20th referral in like two weeks, I sat down with the teacher and I said, “Listen, let’s have a talk, let’s just clear the air. What’s going on? This is bigger than the classroom. This is bigger than just education. What is going on with you and where are you at as a teacher?”
And when we had this conversation, she was open and she kind of broke down in our conversation, just her and I in a one-on-one in her classroom. And she always explained to me that she lost the joy for teaching, that when she was moved from the subject content that she really liked, for instance, that she was in biology and now we moved her to physics, she really enjoyed biology. So that, that move really, she didn’t agree with. And so that kind of took away the joy. So now she just doesn’t like teaching anymore, so the kids can just feel the environment and felt that they didn’t want to be there. She didn’t want to be there, they didn’t want to be there. She said no one ever really asked her what she wanted.
So I went back to the department chair and said, “Listen, we have teacher who’s teaching physics, but you know, I think her gifts and skill are really in biology, is there a way we can switch her back? And I think we’ll see a difference teacher out of her.” She was able to get moved back and it was a drastic change in terms of behavior in the classroom and in terms of the enjoyment in teaching. I watched her do several lessons, I went to observe, and she was excited again, you know, having the kids in separate groups, they were going on more field trips, and as a cause of that, Ryan, the behavior went down crazy in the classroom. There were no more behaviors and it really was a different environment.
So for me, I think it was having that conversation and hearing her out, and she told me later on, she wrote me a thank you note a couple of months later and said, “Thank you for being the administrator that came in and found out what was wrong. Thank you for getting my reasons, for wanting to hear my reason for why I was upset – but then not only hearing me, but following through and putting me in a better situation, which only gave me more happiness, but then I was able to support the students better.” And I explained to her, “Yes, you know, we’re not always able to move classrooms. Sometimes, life happens and we don’t always get what we want,” but in that moment I felt like it was best to try to put her back where she needed to be.
And she told me later on, at the end of the year that she was contemplating leaving education and she didn’t tell me that before. So I think back now, if I hadn’t taken the time and hadn’t really gotten to know her and understood what her issues were, would she have left education and we would have lost an awesome science teacher? So sometimes it’s having a simple conversations, and just saying, “Hey, where are you at? How can I support you? What do you need?” And if people are being honest and genuine, authentic, and giving you the answer, I have the influence as administrator to make change, to do what’s best for kids. And that’s what’s exciting about it now. Sometimes you’re a special, so you’re a quasi position, you can hear the concerns or coach, but you really can’t do anything about it other than tell your administrator. But depending on that and who that administrator is, they might not change it. They might not care. And so now I’m very intentional about using my influence to do what’s best for students, best for teachers and then what’s best for the school. But just having those real conversations and being able to understand where people are at, I think, is huge.
RYAN ESTES: Well, as a father of a sixth grader and a third grader, I can tell you, I know that teachers matter and principles matter, the work that you’re doing is important. So thank you both, Dr. Adam Brown and Basil Marin, for joining us today. I really appreciate your time. Thank you for your thoughts and insights here.
Field Trip is released every two weeks. Over the next few months, we’ll have stories about conflict and leadership, we’re speaking with a teacher, administrator and author about her experience teaching in the deep south in the wake of Brown v. Board of Education, we’re talking to leaders in K12 about providing effective feedback, about professional development and onboarding new teachers, and much, much more. Don’t forget to subscribe, so you won’t miss any of them.
Field Trip is a podcast from Frontline Education. Frontline’s industry-leading software is designed exclusively for K-12, and is built to help school systems recruit, hire, engage, develop and retain their employees, because we believe that makes a huge difference for students. For more information, visit FrontlineEducation.com/FieldTripPodcast.
For Frontline Education, I’m Ryan Estes. Thanks for listening, and have a great day.