Whether you realize it or not, your actions have a direct influence on the behavior of those around you–regardless of whether you are the leader of a school, corporation, or a classroom. Your mindset is conveyed through both your verbal and nonverbal actions. Promoting positivity in the workplace will take intentionality. I’m reminded of a popular quote by an unknown author which says, “Your attitude determines your direction.” What habits have you entrenched in your school’s culture to promote an optimistic direction? Typically, administrators are plagued with the ever-looming threat of teacher burnout. During this unprecedented time, leaders are also working to prevent Zoom fatigue, empathetic distress, and the stress that comes throughout periods of change. People handle stress in different ways. And, what causes distress in one person, may initiate perseverance in another.
Contemplate promoting the following positive protocols either via the weekly memo, morning staff check-ins, or as you stop by their rooms if you have educators who report to the building to teach each day.
To combat Zoom fatigue:
Zoom fatigue stems from people’s belief that the only way to show that we are paying attention during a virtual meeting is to look directly at the camera. Doing this can result in a person having a feeling of exhaustion after intently attending multiple or lengthy online meetings.
- Promote Focused Breaks: Avoid multitasking during a video call. The Harvard Business Review reported that switching between tasks has been shown to reduce your productivity by 40 percent. In reality, when you multitask during video calls, you are likely to miss much of the information being shared. Suggest that staff close all other tasks and programs and put their phones away to stay focused (Fosslien and Duffy, 2020). Additionally, to avoid the feeling of exhaustion, encourage staff to give their eyes a break by minimizing the screen, looking away from the screen, taking short walks around the house or outside between sessions, or hiding the screen behind another app to give their eyes moments to rest during long stretches of online meetings.
- Use Alternative Methods: School leaders should also minimize meetings as much as possible and consider communicating with staff via apps such as GroupMe, SLACK, Voxer, email, or another online chatting tool. Teachers will appreciate it more, and be focused during those times when you do have to conduct virtual meetings. It is important to note that reducing the number of times staff meets helps to minimize the onset of teacher burnout as well (Howell, 2019).
To minimize empathetic distress:
Dr. Joan Halifax defines empathetic distress as the result of repetitive exposure to the trauma of others (Alber, 2018).
- Multiply Kindness: Teachers are always concerned about their students and do whatever they can to assist them. When educators perform compassionate acts for others, it has been shown to stimulate positive emotive paths within the brain (Gilsinan, 2015). Create a school-wide strategy for teachers to share their acts of kindness throughout the year. Hearing about these acts will help to spread positive emotions to everyone on your staff.
- Routines Train The Brain: Educators are empathetic by nature. Stress the importance of self-care and offer suggested strategies for your staff. When possible, schedule times for the entire staff to take part in self-care activities such as mindful yoga. Neuroscientist, Richard Davison, noticed that when taking part in routine meditative rituals, like mindfulness, the brain can be trained to be calm and focused. (Alber, 2018). If our brains can be trained to maintain calmness, think about activities that can be adopted which promote a positive mindset. What does your school’s morning routine look like? Ours includes a quote, a fun question which builds relationships, and ends with a motivational moment. These three short routines set the tone for an optimistic start each school day.
To reduce teacher burnout:
Maslach (1982) found that emotional over extendedness, detachment, and reduced individual achievement leads to burnout (as cited by Brock & Grady, 2002, p.5).
- Think Small Chunks: As schools have moved to the virtual setting, there have been and will be a plethora of new initiatives, curriculums, and tech tools that teachers need to learn. School leaders should work to minimize or construct a plan to integrate new programs in small chunks, or stagger the adoption of tools by grade levels or content areas. As new initiatives are implemented, regularly spotlight teachers who are “shining” as everyone works to change instructional habits in this ever-changing world of education. This will help educators see that they are truly making a difference.
- Ask for Feedback: Listen more than you speak. The best way to keep a pulse on what is going on in your building is by practicing active listening. When done properly, you will be able to keep a pulse on your staff’s verbal and non-verbal cues and be able to provide support and make adjustments as needed. It would be beneficial to conduct professional development on the unproductive listening patterns. Requesting staff input helps people feel valued, decreasing a feeling of detachment, and can help leaders pinpoint areas that are causing staff to feel overwhelmed.
- Increase Stress Intelligence: Lastly, train your staff on the effects of stress. I recommend beginning with the five categories of stress identified by Mind Tools in 2001. These categories consisted of fight or flight, working to control the uncontrollable, general environmental distractions, feeling overwhelmed at work, and committing to too many tasks within a small amount of time. Developing an understanding of the categories of stress will enable them to be able to identify their own stress triggers and begin to manage them. Helping your staff learn to manage stress and emphasizing self-care will help to promote positivity in your school.
According to Earl Nightingale, “our environment, the world in which we live and work, is a mirror of our attitudes and expectations” (Economy, 2015). We have discussed several ways school leaders and supervisors can work to cultivate positive workplace habits. Think about the state of your current work environment to determine the area which would most positively impact the overall culture and climate. Then use the strategies as a springboard for helping to inspire educators to adopt habits which will not only be positive but will contribute to their overall well-being.
Alber, R. (2018). How to Combat Zoom Fatigue
Blackburn, B. & Grady, M. (2002). Avoiding Burnout: A Principal’s Guide to Keeping the Fire Alive
Fowler-White, J. (2020). Are you using unproductive listening patterns?
Gilsinan, K. (2015). The Buddhist and the Neuroscientist
Howell, M. (2019). Ensuring That Teachers Don’t Run Out of Gas
Klimecki, O. & Singer, T. (2011). Empathic Distress Fatigue Rather than Compassion Fatigue