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June 1, 2018
Vol. 75
No. 9

Research Alert / Study: Teacher Burnout Is Not an Individual Problem

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    School Culture
      When we hear the term "teacher burnout," we may think of a solitary educator mired in a personal struggle to keep up with the demands of her job. But according to a recent study, teacher burnout is often more of a communal, schoolwide problem—a phenomenon that has deep roots in a school's organizational culture.
      The study, conducted by researchers at Michigan State University, looked at survey data on burnout indicators from 171 early-career teachers and 289 veteran educators at 10 school districts in the Midwest.
      Through cross-referencing, the researchers found the new teachers were more likely to experience burnout when their close colleagues and formal mentors also showed higher levels of burnout. But perhaps more significantly, they found that the prevalence of burnout among the novice teachers was even greater in schools where the mean burnout level of all teachers (not just those with whom the novices had direct connections) was high.
      That finding suggests that individual teacher burnout is a reflection of the "broader school context," particularly as manifested in school resource and support levels, the researchers say. In this light, school leaders should be wary of viewing burnout as a "matter of individual attributes." Instead, the paper argues, "it would be more effective to provide resources for teachers at the school level, rather than asking individual teachers to address this by themselves."
      Schools that fail to address resource gaps can become trapped in a "vicious cycle of burnout and turnover, which is clearly harmful for students' learning." It's not great for teachers, either.
      The study, "Burnout Contagion," is available in the August 2017 issue of Teachers and Teacher Education.

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