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3 Ways to End Teacher Burn Out and Increase Student Motivation

There is no question that the past three years of education have been extremely difficult for all stakeholders, especially those involved in secondary education. The stress of the pandemic, coupled with a year of panic over recovering lost academic skills made for a perfect storm that lowered student motivation and raised educator burnout to epic levels.

We could ALL use a really good year this school year.

As we anticipate the start of another school year there are several things we can do to make this year better for everyone without having to pass legislation or spend any money.

First, we need to start with the end in mind. We cannot look back at all we have had to endure and become fearful of a repeat. That only keeps us stuck in the past. No, we need to look ahead to the end of the coming year. What exactly do we hope to accomplish by the end of this school year?

The answer, obviously, will be different for each stakeholder. Educators may want to end the year feeling energized, rather than drained, and having experienced more “Ah Ha!” moments with their students. Parents may want to spend less time nagging their kids to get their school work done and see improvement in the areas they struggle. Students may want to experience more relevance in the material they are asked to retain and less menial “busy work” assignments.

Each of us has a responsibility to consider what we really want to achieve this year and then build a plan to realize those goals. When we are mindful of how our individual goals will impact the shared goal of a better school year for everyone and commit to working together to achieve them, everyone has the opportunity to experience a better year.

Second, we need to build relevance into the education experience for all. One of the chief complaints of students is the lack of real-world relevance of their coursework. One of the chief complaints of educators is the lack of willingness of their students to engage with the material. Parents are somewhat stuck in the middle trying to find the balance between teaching personal responsibility and getting work done and wondering why some assignments are even given.

This can be solved if we all look for ways to build relevance of what we are learning to the real world.

  • Educators need only call out how their subject matter develops professional skills ( for every career) and develop guided assignments that put the responsibility on their students to take what they are learning and apply it to real-world problems either in areas the student is passionate about or in a career area they are considering. These can replace other types of assignment entirely, cutting down on the planning and drudgery that sometimes comes into teaching the same things the same way every year. Imagine a classroom full of students who are leading the way in demonstrating their knowledge of the concepts according to your subject-matter standards and you get a glimpse of what building relevance in your classroom would look like.

  • Students need only look at their responsibilities as training grounds for real-life. Time management, personal organization, initiative, and career development are their responsibility to develop in order to be relevant in today’s workforce. Imagine a world where your parents don’t nag you, your grades improve, and you actually retain what you are being taught and you get a glimpse of what building your own relevance could do for you.

  • Parents need only look at how their boundaries and how the requirements of the courses their teens are taking are relevant to their teens’ personal growth and development now and in the future. This can be done simply by setting expectations with your teen and developing healthy boundaries and allowing your teens to experience the consequences without nagging, reminding or stepping in. Stay on top of their course requirements to stay informed, but allow your teens to “fail” if they choose not to do assignments, study for tests, or otherwise not make time to organize their priorities effectively.

Last, we need to reimagine the culture of success in our schools. It's time to end the mentality that the purpose of high school is to prepare students for college and that college is the best choice for all students. It isn’t. Instead, our perspective needs to be on career development in all we do. Inevitably this will produce academic college readiness, giving students the freedom to choose their best path into the careers they want to pursue.

This is the greatest area for improvement I see in our education system today. We have been so focused on college readiness that we have neglected the fact that college is not sufficient practical career development. The business industry has been telling us this for years. When we restructure our classrooms, schools, and homes to redefine high school success as career awareness and the development of a solid plan of action to get the education and training necessary to become a productive, competitive applicant, we will have achieved a level of greatness where everyone wins, not only those who can fit into the mold.

  • Educators can stop using the “this will help you with college” reply to why something is important and instead focus on how it develops a students skills and abilities for the workforce. We can help teens develop career awareness within our respective subject matter and give them opportunities to understand the training and education needed for those careers and celebrate their decision to follow their own path.

  • Students can stop waiting for a career to just come to them and actively involve themselves in the world around them. They can turn their complaints about how the world is a mess into how they want to solve its problems and look for career paths that will allow them to achieve their goals. They can use their time in high school to develop career awareness and build the professional skills and experiences they need.

  • Parents can encourage career exploration over college exploration. While college is a fantastic opportunity, it’s only right if it actually fits the career choices of our kids. Instead, we can encourage (and even help as needed) our kids to get internships, job experience and job shadow opportunities, and apprenticeships. We can help them identify the lifestyle they want to live and what it will take to get there. We can discuss their passions with them and help them brainstorm how they can use that passion in different careers. We can even help them explore the training and education required to enter the workforce in different career areas and let them choose.

When we look to this coming school year and take the time to visualize what we hope to achieve, work to build real-world relevance, and create the freedom for all students to choose their post-secondary option based on their career choice instead of insisting they all go to college we can change our secondary education system to be a source of excited engagement instead of draining all of us.

This is not all just talk for me. Not only do I believe it is possible, I am working to make it a reality. Whether you are an educator or parent of a high school student, you can make this year your best ever. Educators, click here for a free resource to help you. Parents click here for a free resource just for you.

Together we can change the system from the inside out!

If you are tired of being drained and burnt out. If you are looking forward to another school year with trepidation. If you are over the current culture of success in our high schools, set up a time to talk with me about personal one-on-one coaching and consulting. I am here to help because together we can make a bigger impact than working apart.


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