Burnout and Educators

As globalization and technology continue to change the way in which businesses function, the need for highly skilled workers possessing the ability to synthesize, analyze, and communicate will be the litmus test separating successful from unsuccessful economies. Where does the US fall in light of this? Can the US produce sufficient highly skilled workers to meet the demands of an ever evolving society? If the 2010 results of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) is any indication, then the US was found wanting.

The test results showed US students lagging behind many of their peers from other countries in core subject areas. This realization has once more invigorated the consistent intermittent debate surrounding quality education in US schools. In the aftermath of the report, the brainstorming sessions that follows will once more seek to unearth the impediments to the creation of a better education system. What will be discovered? An examination of prior measures unveiled to address the shortfalls of quality education to date seemed to focus consistently on educators as a causative element.

The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) (2002), as well as research which hints that a high quality teacher is the single most important factor that influences students academic performance give credence to the prior statement. These avenues which seek to focus on ways to increase academic achievement seem to hint that educators are the most critical element impacting the ability of students to perform academically. This conclusion has led to extreme pressures on educators to increase academic performances. These pressures while not new (for as Popham stated, they existed prior to NCLB (2004)), will increase in magnitude as the world continues to change. Can this continuous insistent pressure result in adverse effects for educators? What are the implications for the teaching and learning environment, and invariably society?

Relentless pressure to perform in environments that are highly volatile is often conducive to burnout. This burnout is a nemesis to the creation of an education system that is capable of producing students equipped to deal with 21st century workplace challenges; skills which are critical to any country hoping to maintain or achieve a competitive advantage. Drucker makes this point when he coined the term “knowledge workers’ and highlighted their importance for the success of 21st century businesses. This paper examines the principles of rest and highlights the value of rest to educators operating in contemporary educational environments.

The paper pinpoints the challenges facing contemporary American education system which may inhibit rest and brings clarity to the dangers of burnout – a condition created by lack of rest. Leaders in education as well as stakeholders are provided with clear guidelines which may be used to prevent burnout and promote rest. The paper ends with a plea for education leaders to adhere to the necessity to rest in order to construct learning environments capable of creating students with the analytical, synthesizing, and communication skills that are critical to meeting the demands of contemporary and future organizations.

The day started with an Individualized Education Plan for one of my students. Once the meeting was finished, I analyzed the results from the summative assessment for forty students from the previous day. I realized that fifteen of my students did not grasp some of the key concepts from the lesson and so I commenced planning intervention strategies. Two strategies had to be different to accommodate two of my students who needed modified assignments. This activity took almost fifty minutes. So, I had just enough time to adjust my lesson plans for the day. It was now five minutes before the start of class, and as I checked my calendar, I realized I had a meeting at the end of the day with teachers from my department. I made a note to myself, “just before I leave for the meeting I must remember to call the parents of three of my students as they were not completing homework and had started acting up in class”. As I jotted the note, I glanced at the other meetings and forms that needed attention by the end of the week. As the bell rang one teacher passed my door and as I smiled politely and asked “how are you;” she looked at me and stated “I am overwhelmed, there seems to be so much to do and with all these meetings I am quite frankly exhausted.”

Rest -the principle
“After God created Heaven and earth on the seventh day He rested (Genesis 2:2).” According to Botterweck, Ringgren & Fabry, this day, often recognized as the Sabbath stems from the word Sabat, symbolizing cessation from work (2004). Genesis 2 therefore set the precedence for mankind to take a break from work. As one journeys further into scriptures Hosea 10:12 “… fallow your ground… ” when examined through Robbins Social Approach to understanding text represented a call for mankind to desist from their activity. While the verse may have held cultural implications for the Jews as they were farmers, the ramifications for mankind in contemporary society are no different. The principle demands mankind be removed from the confines of work; that time be taken away from the everyday tasks.

The value of rest
The necessity for educators to rest is vital to the creation of effective teaching and learning environments. Outcalt (2005) believes rest allows one to regain strength through the renewing of the mind. Rest is akin to the lubricant between two joints; it provides the conditions necessary for smooth operation without complications which may inhibit action. Rest is the indispensable ingredient that fosters motivation and drives creativity, without this ingredient motivation is stifled and the death of creativity fast-forwarded.

The value of rest and renewal to educators is critical to the creation of an effective and sustainable education system. As the world continues to evolve and the momentum of change accelerates, the pressure on educators to produce students who are academically proficient to manage the demands of the 21st century will continue to increase. This increased demand will force leaders and stakeholders to demand more from educators; a move which has the potential to drain educators physically, emotionally and spiritually as they work overtime to increase students’ performance. Maslach and Leither (1997) convincingly made similar points when they stated that the speed and rate at which organizations are bombarded with changes may result in leaders and followers becoming physically and emotionally exhausted. In a bid to meet these demands, the possibility that workers will lose rest is likely and unfortunate. Without rest, creativity is stifled, motivation becomes a fantasy, competence is sacrificed, and mediocrity flourishes. These outcomes erode creativity, innovation, collegial relations, and productivity. The end result is that rest is sacrificed and inefficiency is given room to grow.

In a society where change is a constant and stability is a pipe dream, the need to be constantly moving to be in sync with societal changes has the propensity to hinder rest. Managers and employees are often driven to work harder and longer to avoid mergers, downsizing, acquisitions and restructurings. The same holds true for educators. Standardized tests show many students not meeting the proficiency bar; drop-out rates climb; more students exercise their first amendment right to explain how entertainers make big bucks with little education and therefore education is not important; and law-makers continue to increase the pressure on educators to produce better quality students. These have factors have helped to create an environment where the necessity for rest often becomes blurred. For many educators, when the pace and workload become too hectic; depression, anxiety and stress are only a few outcomes. Muller made similar arguments when he stated that in today’s world, with its unrelenting emphasis on achievement and efficiency, it is possible to lose the essential rhythm of life and how best to create an equilibrium between work and rest (Muller, 2000).

In a world driven by competition, where only the best shapes an organizations competitive advantage, it is easy to overlook educators as people and not machines and it becomes easy to under-value the job they do. It is also very easy to target education systems as the place to make adjustments in order to address societal ills and its inability to produce only the best.

The onus placed on educators in the US to produce first class students in a constantly changing environment, creates an environment of high demands. These demands often unrealistic in nature (as education is by no means the sole responsibility of teachers) often result in stress and lethargy in the affected. Maslach and others (1997) succinctly made similar points when they stated that the burden placed on workers to increase productivity creates conditions that are conducive to burnout. Burnout takes away an individual’s vigor, promotes lethargy, and reduces motivation and efficacy. Such end results negatively affects individuals ability to perform, and thereby subtracts from any efforts to maintain or promote long term sustainable achievements.

The foundation of burnout
Burnout according to Maslach et.al (1997) is a symbol of foremost failure of the organization to function normally, which is associated more to the state of mind of the organization rather than its followers. It may manifest itself in detachment, disinterest, hopelessness, and de-motivation. According to Maslach et.al (1997), these expressions are damaging to the individual on a personal as well as on a professional level. On a personal level, stress, health issues and anxiety are some of the end results. These personal afflictions spill over into the professional life and slowly drain the individual’s ability to function at their fullest potential.

Burnout incapacitates the ability to think and to be innovative in coming up with new ideas, and it limits creativity. It increases workers attrition which may show itself in increased absenteeism, distractions, and loss of vigor. Follower’s dedication diminishes and efficiency may ultimately suffer.

Eradicating Burnout
To prevent burnout, Halgesen (2001) calls for both leaders and followers to create an environment of partnership where parties recognize the value of each other. Maslach, et.al (1997) support this hypothesis when they call for organizations to ensure they develop values clarification which they define as, “the expression of personal values and shared values resulting in the endorsed values by the organization” (p. 133).

According to Maslach and Leiter (1997), building engagement with work is the solution to burnout. To this extent, they noted some factors which if addressed will help to minimize or eliminate burnout.

� Sustainable workload: As 2011 budget debates begin, the need to cut budget for education is once more on the table. The teaching staff and support staff for many schools will once more be targeted. Leaders need to recognize that by removing well needed staff especially in failing schools, they are creating additional pressures on teachers. Evans (2001) posited that the continuous involvement of teachers in their work can lead to burnout; too much work has the ability to compound the situation. While teachers are afforded a long summer break, is it possible to shorten the summer break and distribute “rest days” evenly throughout the semester?

� Feelings of choice and control: Policy makers need to ensure that any policy created to promote academic achievement should give educators the impression that their voice counts and that they have control over aspects of the teaching and learning environment that counts.

� Recognition and reward: High quality education is a definitive factor that favors countries with a competitive advantage. This quality education if often accessed through educators, yet education is arguably one of the lowest paying professions. What can be done to change this?

� Fairness, respect and justice: As the debates continue to find the qualities to define quality teachers, the impetus to align pay with performance may be a
tempting morsel. This morsel should be discarded on two accounts. The first is that research against extrinsic motivation hints at the negative effects of this manner of getting results. Secondly, in an era when Learning communities are expected to be sharing medium where teachers utilize best practice from these sessions; how many teachers will be willing to share their best practices?

Conclusion
While the necessity to increase student’s performance continue to reign as a topic worthy of discussion, budget cuts in areas of education seems to put the debate to rest. This has resulted in fewer educators, with heavier workloads and longer hours. This new trend goes against the demands of an era where students with analytical, synthesizing and communication skills are necessary to fulfill its demands. These decisions have the propensity to undervalue educators and may result in burnout; a condition which fosters inefficiency and mediocrity- traits which are not conducive to the creation of effective teaching and learning environments. To avoid this pit fall, leaders must be willing to examine techniques to prevent burnout, if any serious attempts are to be made to produce students with the skills necessary to function in 21st century environments.

Are You Putting Your Business Development Focus in the Right Place?

There are three main places to channel your law firm marketing and business development efforts: your current clients, your referral sources and prospects. While narrowing your focus is a crucial part of business development, the truth is that not everyone warrants the same amount of attention. With time limited, it’s important to recognize and measure your efforts by identifying who is helping your build your practice…and who is not. Here are my best tips for putting your time and money in the right place.Look at your referral sources.All lawyers think they know who their best referral sources are. Take another look. A lawyer I recently coached came to me with a list of over 50 referral sources, but when we actually sat down and calculated the amount of work they had sent recently the number shrank to just 16. Take the time to look back and see who’s sending you business right now and place your focus on them. Don’t ignore the others, but concentrate on the ones who are making a difference today.Focus on an industry. Look at your client list. The ones who give you the most business are most likely in the same industry. By concentrating on understanding industry nuances, you put yourself in a position to not only see where MORE work can come from within existing clients’ businesses, but to gain the ability to position yourself as an industry “expert.” This focus will help you better your relationships with existing clients, and it will provide fertile ground for prospecting and growth,Rethink your commitments to organizations. The key word here? Participation. Take a look at the long list of memberships on your CV. Now cross off the ones you don’t actively participate in. If you’re not involved, it’s not business development. Being a name member only doesn’t bring you business-making connections and putting forth effort does. So either get involved or take it off your business development list.Look at where you’re spending your networking time. Events are a great networking resource when it comes to business development, but they have to be the right ones. Look around at the next event you attend. How many of the people in the room are potential clients? Look at where your clients are spending their time and money and follow them. They will lead you to more clients.Evaluate your Return on Investment. Are you getting a good ROI when it comes to your clients? Take a closer look at where and how you’re spending your time and you may be surprised. Who’s bringing you business on a consistent basis and who’s not? Who’s referring others over to you? All clients deserve great service, but cultivating relationships with those who don’t bring in work can be a waste of business development efforts. Reevaluate where you’re placing your focus and turn your efforts towards clients who are helping grow your practice.NOTE: Though it’s important to concentrate on strategies and clients that bring in business, timing is just as important. Don’t judge too quickly. All initiatives should be given at least a year before being evaluated.

Selecting the Best Contractor For Your Home Improvement Project

Maintaining or renovating a home can be a very daunting task for most people. However, after all the hard work and investment in time and resources you have allocated for a home improvement project, the satisfaction of seeing a superbly crafted home that you can call your own can be priceless indeed. Such is the importance of choosing the best and most qualified contractor who is knowledgeable and capable enough to turn your vision into a remarkable work of art.When choosing a contractor for repairs or renovations for your home improvement project, it is vital that you first acquire all the important information about a particular contractor before ever committing in getting their services. You need to make sure that they are capable of performing all the inclusive work, including customized builds and improvements that you would want your home to have. To get all these pertinent information, you should ask your contractors a strategic set of questions designed to extract all the data that you will need. To help you start in this direction, you should ask the following set of questions:* Does the contractor have the appropriate knowledge and experience with the type of home improvement project that you have in mind?According to recent information from the industry, approximately 80 percent of contractors and builders are knowledgeable and are adequately trained in the latest construction and building techniques. However, even though they may have the training with these new techniques and the certifications to show for it (ex: techniques in energy-saving green building technologies, etc), their actual experience may have just been picked up or even achieved as they work on new projects. On some cases, the home renovation projects may involve a historic home with irreplaceable artifacts or sections. A contractor may not have the expertise in dealing with such a home nor could they match the craftsmanship involved with these historic masterpieces.* Is there an existing relationship between your contractor and architect/designer and have they worked together on a project before?For your home improvement project, you may take on the services of some of the best architects and interior designers in the whole of Massachusetts. To complement the expertise of these professionals, it is but proper to also get the services of the best contractors for the project. In such cases, it would be best to choose a contractor whom your architect or designer knows. They may be aware of the track record of these contractors and may be comfortable working with some that they can identify. With such arrangements, you can be assured of a timely completion of your project and in the manner that you envisioned it to be.* When you inquire something about the project, does the contractor communicate well with you?It is a normal thing for homeowners to ask something about a home remodeling project from their contractors. However, if all you get is a hasty answer without much details and it would appear that they want you off their faces, then be careful of such contractors. A good contractor should be receptive of the needs of their clients and should be ready to discuss every detail of the project should you ask for it.* Is the contractor experienced in working with your kind of home?A commercial construction is different from a home construction in terms of details and even on building and safety codes. The contractor should be adept in the type of home that you have, otherwise they might turn your priced possession into their laboratory for trial-and-error building methods.* How fast can the contractor start and how soon can they complete the job?Finding the best contractor is one thing, but having them start on your home as per schedule is another. You might be at the end of a long list of clients and would have to sit it out for months on end. You should weigh the urgency of having the work done as soon as possible or getting the services of the best contractor that you can get.* Is there a guarantee for their work after completion?A competent contractor will give you the assurance of an excellent renovation or repair work and will provide you with a guarantee on the work done. They should be confident enough of the quality of their work and give their clients the assurance that they need.Conducting a one-of-a-kind home improvement project for your Massachusetts home entails the best services from the best professionals available for the job. Taking a few extra moments in checking out your contractors before hiring them can spell the difference between a disastrous undertakings or a magnificent work of art you can call your home.