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Don’t burn out your teachers

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Teachers are givers. They want to make a difference. They work crazy hours. They use up more emotional energy than just about every other profession.

And they burn out.

But Adam Grant argues in his provocative book, ‘Give and Take’, that teachers are vulnerable to what he calls giver burnout. He argues that givers don’t burn out when they devote too much time and energy to giving. They burn out when they’re working with people in need but are unable to see the impact they are making. We know, of course, that the impact of good teaching can take years to be recognised and acknowledged.

But Grant refers to research showing that givers have been known to work even harder if they can see the benefit of their work. He quotes a teacher working with Teach for America who set up a mentor programme and ran a gifted and talented workshop in addition to her normal, exhausting work. She did so, and amazingly reduced greatly her feelings of burnout, because she could immediately see the benefits to recipients of the two projects she was running.

So, the message to senior leaders in schools is clear: do everything you can to show teachers the difference they are making. Tell parents that one of the most impactful things they could do for their children is to thank teachers when they are noticing the difference they are making. Put a board up in the staffroom entirely devoted to feedback from students, parents, alumni. At The Key we send round feedback from our members every Thursday afternoon. It is highly motivational, making our staff completely aware of the difference their work is making to people running schools. I always pass on to staff positive comments about them from their line managers. It energises and enthuses them. In schools, nothing energises teachers more than knowing they are making a difference.

As leaders, make sure they know.

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