K-12 teachers have an incredibly valuable role: educating and preparing the next generation that will shape the world for years to come. However, such a vital and purposeful role is facing significant challenges, which are contributing to the highest burnout level of all industries nationally.
Nearly 45% of US teachers were burned out in 2022 — up from 36% in 2020 — and many have opted to leave the classroom, Gallup says. Over 44% of teachers leave the profession within five years, and enrollment in teacher education programs is decreasing.
What are some of the factors contributing to burnout and an exodus from the profession? Educators:
- Earn relatively low wages compared to other public sector workers.
- Must navigate family and community dynamics.
- Must adapt to constantly evolving national and state-level policies.
- Work long hours (nearly 50% of teachers report working more than 50 hours a week).
- Regularly suffer from lack of sleep (32% of teachers sleep less than six hours a day, WordsRated notes).
Districts can’t afford to lose more educators, but they can help by providing teachers with more tools and resources. Administrative support, mentoring programs and professional development can go a long way in helping teachers avoid feeling overwhelmed.
Nearly one-third of educators call for more training and PD opportunities to retain teachers. Quality opportunities allow teachers to hone their skills to best meet their students’ needs and alleviate some of the daily pressures they face.
Benefits of professional development
Teachers feel most engaged when their schools provide them with the tools and training they need for success. Learning opportunities enable teachers to actively participate in their career growth, improve classroom instruction and bolster student learning.
PD exposes new and experienced teachers to the latest instructional methods while expanding and elevating their skills. It can include various topics, from research-based best practices — like the science of reading — to the latest supplementary edtech platforms. Overall, PD should provide teachers with the knowledge and confidence to teach new concepts.
In addition to helping teachers grow their skills, professional development also helps decrease turnover. Key contributors to educators leaving the profession include a lack of teacher preparation, mentoring and support. Workshops and peer groups provide a creative outlet for teachers, encouraging them to engage and get advice from each other. By fostering supportive environments, districts empower teachers to learn new ways to excel in their classrooms.
The impact of PD extends beyond teachers to the very students they guide and inspire. Teachers actively engaging in meaningful opportunities can boost their students’ achievement by roughly 21%. With each new technique mastered and knowledge gained, teachers become better equipped to cultivate a nurturing educational environment where students can flourish and thrive.
Features of high-quality PD
PD should encompass a range of essential characteristics, ensuring meaningful growth and impactful outcomes.
Incorporates active learning
PD must engage teachers in designing and practicing new teaching strategies. Few students can focus during a dry lecture, and districts can’t expect teachers to learn that way, either. It’s very much a case of “do as I say and do.” Interactive activities lead to contextualized professional learning. Edtech tools, for example, create appealing PD activities for teachers in multiple formats, such as video, text and audio.
Teachers need more than just a couple of professional development workshops at the start of each school year. In fact, educators prefer opportunities that are available on a regular, ongoing basis. To meet teachers’ needs, districts must incorporate PD throughout the year. A commitment to continuous learning empowers educators who’ve dedicated themselves to a profession that encourages lifelong learning.
Models effective practice
PD should provide teachers with a clear vision of best practices and strategies through plenty of examples, models and videos.
Meets teachers’ needs
Districts must allow teachers to assess areas for growth and support them through initiatives that resonate with them the most. Teachers don’t want to spend hours in PD sessions that fail to meet their current needs.
PD should create opportunities for teachers to ask questions and learn from each other. Teachers benefit as much as their students from hands-on learning that encourages participation. In fact, teachers see strong benefits to their day-to-day work in key areas, such as planning lessons, developing teaching skills and content and aligning curriculum and expectations, according to the Boston Consulting Group.
Includes new technologies
Schools can’t prepare students for the future while relying on tools from the past. Today’s classrooms rely on cutting-edge resources, like artificial intelligence and edtech platforms featuring personalization and gamification. Educators need to know how to use those technologies to teach and guide their students.
In turn, edtech tools offer an abundance of materials for supporting teacher learning and providing opportunities for them to apply knowledge gained through high-quality PD. Edtech tools, such as Writing A-Z, make it easier for teachers to immediately apply relevant learnings by providing high-quality, standards-aligned lesson plans and engaging student activities.
So, how can leaders create and implement effective, high-quality PD?
Steps administrators can take to create strong PD programs
To support and incentivize robust professional development programs, districts and administrators should:
- Select and uphold standards for PD, guiding the design, implementation, funding and evaluation of professional learning provided to educators.
- Conduct needs assessments that identify the areas of PD teachers need most.
- Designate expert teachers to mentor other educators throughout the PD process.
- Build and maintain a positive and inclusive learning environment ensuring everyone can access PD.
- Create accountability and feedback through teacher-driven follow-up sessions.
- Give teachers the time and space to put their PD lessons into practice.
- Collaborate with teachers, offer constructive feedback and help troubleshoot and brainstorm if a new lesson doesn’t go as planned.
Effective, forward-thinking leaders prioritize their teachers’ well-being and fulfillment. By understanding the significance of offering opportunities for individual and professional growth as a proactive approach to prevent burnout, administrators demonstrate the value they place on their educators and the children they serve. And when administrators invest in their teachers, empowering them to thrive and flourish, they’re richly rewarded with positive results within each classroom, across their districts and into the future.
Lisa O’Masta is the president of Learning A-Z, an educational technology company that’s delivering digital learning resources to thousands of teachers and students across the world through its robust technology platform offerings. As an innovative change agent and leader in the K-20 education market, Lisa brings more than 20 years of leadership experience in product management, marketing, product development, team development, P&L management, customer experience and operational excellence to dynamic organizations seeking to change and grow.
Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own.