Promoting Teacher Retention & Addressing Teacher Burnout

By Leal Carter, CERES Institute at BU Wheelock

Since the pandemic, challenges such as staffing shortages, increased workload, and insufficient resources to address students' needs have resulted in heightened K-12 teacher burnout. This is concerning as teacher burnout is associated with negative student outcomes, such as lower student academic achievement and motivation. Furthermore, burnout is a significant factor in teachers leaving the profession. The pandemic has exacerbated this issue, with one-third of teachers considering leaving the profession compared to 8% before the pandemic. This has resulted in major staffing shortages, with more than half of public schools being understaffed at the start of the 2022-23 school year

To address teacher burnout, it is crucial to understand its root causes. Research has found that demoralization, which refers to the undermining of a teacher's values due to institutional factors, is often an underlying factor that leads to teacher dissatisfaction and attrition. Unlike burnout, typically associated with personal factors like neglecting self-care, demoralization is caused by institutional factors such as a lack of resources or support. It is important to recognize demoralization as a key factor in teacher dissatisfaction and attrition because it emphasizes the need for organizational and systemic changes to improve teacher well-being.

Education leaders can take proactive steps to prioritize teacher well-being and address demoralization. One approach is re-examining school systems for opportunities to make them more teacher-centered. This includes leveraging educators as leaders and key informants in program design and implementation, reducing organizational inefficiencies to create manageable workloads, and ensuring equitable policies. Additionally, leaders can foster a culture of mutual trust and respect by establishing positive relationships between teachers and school leaders, empowering teachers to ask for support and provide feedback. To achieve this, leaders can adopt a mentoring mindset, prioritize transparency and input-seeking, and create a culture of flexibility, trust, and support within the school. 

Finally, while the implementation of the systems-level changes needed to combat teacher burnout and demoralization cannot be accomplished immediately, investing time and effort in building more effective and sustainable systems can yield significant benefits in the long term.  

The examples above provide just a few suggestions for school leaders to improve teacher well-being by prioritizing systemic changes and promoting positive relationships with staff. To learn more about addressing teacher burnout and demoralization, check out the following on-demand webinar hosted by the EdImpact Research Consortium. The EdImpact Research Consortium, a collaboration between the Rennie Center for Education Research & Policy, the CERES Institute for Children & Youth at Boston University, Education Resource Strategies (ERS), and Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education (MBAE), is dedicated to supporting Massachusetts districts to make high-impact spending decisions for post-pandemic recovery. The webinar features three speakers: Dr. Olga Acosta Price, Associate Professor at George Washington University, Leal Carter from the CERES lab at Boston University, and Tracy Terranova, Ed.D, Director of Education Partnerships at MENTOR, who provide practical strategies, valuable insights, and evidence-based resources to help schools address structural issues that contribute to teacher demoralization and burnout.