America’s Education Crisis Is Costing Us Our School Leadership. What Are We Going To Do About It?

Not only teachers are swaying from a two-year pandemic training. School leaders and counselors are also facing extreme burnout – and they need their communities to come together.

For two years now, American teachers have been dealing with a virtual / hybrid pandemic school, Covid training, public unrest and deep political polarities along with their personal problems. As a result, a significant number of them are going to quit and leave the profession forever.

Education is approaching a crisis of epic proportions – and in many places it has already begun. Teachers clearly need the support of the community, but not only are they struggling with the extreme tensions of these times. Counselors and school principals – administrators, principals and principals – face their own challenges. A poll in October found that 63% thought about quitting because of severe stress, the unbeatable rates of leading education today.

I had the honor of contacting Dr. Sean Bishop, head of Harbor Beach Public Schools in Michigan, to talk about this from the perspective of a school leader in the trenches. That’s what he had to share.

The burnout is real, and it’s not just from a pandemic

Dr. Bishop, whose career in education spans more than 25 years, says he has never seen such universal levels of exhaustion – and never dreamed it would. “For almost two full years, administrators have been the target of political, social, emotional, ethical and academic battles that have been brought to their doorstep,” he said.

So how bad is it? In January, Dr. Bishop asked his supervising and administrative staff to rate their current level of social and emotional need from 1 (low) to 5 (high). The survey found:

  • 61% of teachers rated their personal need as 4 or 5
  • 100% of administrative staff (directors and managers) rated their personal needs as 4 or 5
  • Almost all administrative staff said they could not sleep at night and at least occasionally took medication to help
  • 100% of administrative staff said their wife commented that their work interferes with their relationship at home

Unfortunately, the problems raised by the pandemic are just the tip of the iceberg. “The pandemic has become a catalyst that has increased the speed and intensity of extremely important and often contentious issues in our communities,” says Dr. Bishop. “Because our schools are a direct reflection of the communities they serve, these topics have been very literally introduced into our offices, halls, school boardrooms and classrooms.

“School administrators are expected to“ make everyone happy ”and at the same time make sure all needs are met so that learning can take place for everyone, regardless of beliefs. It is expected that all these different groups with their diversity of positions will unite in a cohesive student body and cohesive staff. They should do all this by being public figures who are directly in the public eye. ”

Not surprisingly, many are throwing away. But stress is not the only cause.

Is it worth it even more?

Most educators chose their profession because they wanted to change the world positively. This is what makes them give so much every day, even if they don’t see an instant return. But the last two years are taking their toll.

Long hours. Mental and physical exhaustion. Huge control and public criticism. Teachers and administrators are beginning to wonder if it’s all worth it.

That was not the case when the pandemic began. “At first I thought, ‘You don’t leave your children / community when the storm starts,'” says Dr. Bishop. “I, for one, felt a real duty to stay and not abandon my children.”

But the pandemic has dragged on longer than anyone expected, and now, says Dr. Bishop, there is a very real feeling that achieving a higher goal through education is no longer worth fighting for. “Like the dogs in Martin Seligman’s experiment in the 1960s, they have reached the level of helplessness studied,” he says.

And then – a constant flurry of communication. “Calculating that you, as a school principal, should be available 24 hours a day every day increases the pressure and inability to pause to regroup or regain energy,” says Dr. Bishop, who has taken just two days off in the past two years. . “I personally receive phone calls, text messages, instant messages and emails from 4 a.m. to midnight on holidays and weekends.

“You are expected to answer and answer. And if you don’t, there will be communication with those who keep the safety of your work in their hands. “

Drain effect

When school leaders leave the profession, there are concerns about the effect of “leakage” on those who replace them. “There is strong data that supports fewer and lower quality candidates transitioning to training,” says Dr. Bishop. “So with a much smaller and potentially less qualified group the schools are trying to attract their next leaders.

“Teachers see with their own eyes the pressure, the hours and the lack of positive feedback felt by their leaders. As a result, these potential school leaders see low resources and high levels of criticism and wonder if a change in school leadership is worthwhile. ”

What is the result of all this? “People with good intentions will hold positions for which they do not have sufficient qualifications or experience,” explains Dr. Bishop. “If this happens, the organization can no longer move forward. Farsighted, far-sighted projects and programs cannot be formed under the leadership of leaders who do not have the skills to unite people, resources and energy.

“Progress is a thing of the past, and survival in the moment is what’s left.”

Strengthening internal partnership

In some organizations, the demands that are constantly changing in connection with the pandemic have destroyed trust between different departments. When I asked Dr. Bishop how administrators, counselors, and teachers could restore him, he gently dismissed the assumption that all such partnerships lack trust. “As in any agency / business, some work with more conflict and some with more trust and cohesion,” he says.

But where trust has been broken, Dr. Bishop believes the first thing to do is time to recover. “Teachers, school leaders, counselors, guardians, secretaries, bus drivers, catering workers and others – we all need time to regroup and reorient,” he said. “Nothing in my past was at the same level as now, but from my experience it follows that we need to start working on what unites us.”

Dr. Bishop believes that the key to future success is based on four critical attitudes:

1. Hope: “We must believe that there is hope for success, and hope that we can change the world through our children.”

2. Apologies: “We must also forgive ourselves and others for any mistakes, bad days and mistakes of the past. We cannot keep in our hearts the mistakes of the past, but instead must leave room for kindness, progress and even laughter.

3. Focus on the common good. “Our efforts now should be focused on eliminating differences and focusing on commonalities,” he says. “The main reasons we became educators is a good place to start – as an example, the belief that through our children we can change the future for the better. The vast majority of teachers and school leaders would say that they have this central vocation. So, from this common point, we start building. ”

4. Assuming a positive intention. One example of how to assume positive intentions is when a leader refuses to give self-care advice to his employees. “There is no course, master’s program, webinar or book you can refer to that shows how to motivate, inspire and provide therapy for adults who have gone through long deep levels of trauma,” says Dr. Bishop. “It doesn’t quite justify things, but it may give leaders a little space for their intentions and recognize that they want to know better and do better.

“If the host can assume positive intentions, he can step back and realize that the self-care administrator is really trying to help,” he continues. “Most school leaders want the best for their staff and the students they work with every day. Maybe at the moment they’re just trying to survive. Many leaders willingly follow Maya Angela’s statement: “Do your best until you learn better. Then, if you know better, do better. ‘”

What can we do

In light of all these challenges, I wanted to know what communities and individuals can do to support their schools and leadership in education. Dr. Bishop shared four phrases that each side of the education system can implement to start moving forward together.

1. Part of a problem or part of a solution? “We need to remember to stay positive and unite people around the concept that we can be part of a problem or a solution to it.”

2. Suppose a positive intention (again): “We need to dig deeper and model in all possible ways that we believe everyone has positive intentions when they come to us,” he says. “We need to simulate this way of thinking and talk about it to others.”

3. Treat others the way you want to be treated: “Leaders must first look inside themselves and ask themselves if we treat others the way we would like them to treat us,” says Dr. Bishop. “The pressure on others is real; treats them as such ”.

4. Strive to understand before being understood: “Before leaders can give advice, examples, and reasoning, they must step back and truly listen,” Dr. Bishop urges. “They need to block the inner voice that thinks about what to say next, and block the inner desire to decide things for people, and instead really be in the moment and listen.”

What else do leaders need now? Time, training and funding – and for funding, not another round of competitive grants, says Dr. Bishop. “There’s just no time for it a day and it’s already overloaded.”

Moving forward together

As the stresses of the past two years spill over into another school year, far-sighted leadership in our education system has never been more critical. And yet, such leaders have never been so brutal. As communities and individuals, we need to unite around advisors, executives, directors and administrators who remain in office, even when things seem darkest.

Let’s be part of the solution, not the problem. Let’s assume that positive intentions, treat others the way we would like them to treat us, and try to understand what the educational community is facing. For anyone interested in the future of education in America, there is a common language to be found and built on – if we look for it.


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