Leonard C. Burrello
Executive Director
The Center for Appreciative

Organizing in Education
Burnout. A timely topic for these last few weeks of the school year. Because as burned out as our students might feel, many administrators probably feel even more so.
Writing for The Harvard Business Review on November 16, 2016, Monique Valcour makes some poignant observations about burnout and what might be done about it to avoid workplace dysfunction.
Exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy: these, she says, are the underlying causes of burnout. “It’s essential,” she writes, “to replenish your physical and emotional energy, along with your capacity to focus, by prioritizing good sleep habits, nutrition, exercise, social connection, and practices that promote equanimity and well-being” (Valcour 2016, 100).
And speaking of social connection, an administrative team is just that¾a team. Sometimes, Monique’s advice tells us, we need to strive at the end of the year to work better with each other during these stressful times. Workplace conflicts might arise from something as significant as the need to restructure duties and responsibilities of different administrative team members. Or maybe someone feels like others are crowding in on her personal work space.
Monique also went through the trouble of building us a framework for preventing burnout, which I am condensing for you here and which is built upon and around the importance of sound leadership. Leadership, Monique believes, is needed to give people, not only structure, but also the courage to be flexible and to be adaptive when one idea or plan doesn’t pan out. Because if good communication and mutual respect between administrators are essential to keeping burnout at bay, then leaders need to help to facilitate that respect. They need to take responsibility for helping team members care for each other so that the team can work well together and so that the administrative ladder can keep intact from superintendents to principals to teachers and then, finally, to students.  
So Monique offers eight themes to consider—which I have condensed into seven. They are to:

  1. Watch for the warning signs of burnout: A lack of focus, tiredness, depression, hostility, and hopelessness.
  2. Set limits on individual workloads—because everyone, from students to teachers to superintendents, needs to be protected from unreasonable expectations.
  3. Insist on renewal by setting the example. You need to rest and relax, to take the appropriate time off, and to simply take care of yourself.
  4. Boost control by clarifying your expectations of your team, by advocating for resources your team needs, and by providing uninterrupted time for your fellow administrators to get their tasks done.
  5. Meaningfully recognize individual successes. Connect them to their impact on the collective work of the team. Reward individuals for helping others, and make collaboration the norm and not the exception. Make it okay for administrators to ask you for help, and make clear your willingness to help.
  6. Emphasize learning by providing every team member with a personalized learning plan. Check in with them four times a year, and have them share what they are learning and how they are finding the time to learn.
  7. Build community. Do not recognize or tolerate willfully negative behavior; in fact, set a norm that negativity in any form is disruptive. On the flipside, practice civility by being compassionate and respectful towards everyone. Remember that leadership is about helping people do their jobs. It means creating an environment which cultivates high performance and which is built up around how others learn and work. Come to know your team outside of work. Be known to them. Share yourself with them as they share themselves with you.

So if you take nothing else away from today’s memo, then take this: A lack of resources or an unmanageable workload are not the only reasons for workplace burnout. They might play a part, but the fastest way to burn out is to be immersed in a negative and uncooperative environment.
For more tips and another perspective on how leadership can be used to solve this problem, check out this Simon Sinek interview at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ldh8E6LCLhM. In particular, watch from 4:00-22:00 and from 35:00-39:00. That’s where the interview comes alive.
Hope this helps, and we here at the Center wish you the best as you close out the school year.