5 Tips for Avoiding Teacher Burnout

(From a fellow teacher committed to avoiding burnout.)

Hey teachers, it’s that time of year where days are shorter and it gets darker earlier. The anticipation of a brand-new year is waning, and the realities of day to day teacher workload are starting to pile up. With benchmarks and end of the report period responsibilities approaching many of us may feel like we are in constant survival mode trying to shovel water out of a boat sinking into the sea. When things start to become overwhelming, how do you take care of yourself to ensure you show up the biggest and best for your kiddos? For me, it looked like recommitting to the following things:

  1. Prioritizing big rocks – Reflect on your big goal for the year. Then consider, what are your three biggest steps each week to bring you to that goal? Make sure your everyday tasks align with that and prioritize activities that are most important for achieving that goal. Setting goals helps daily tasks feel more manageable, and allows you to set aside time for what is really important.
  2. Find your tribe – My first year teaching a former colleague encouraged me to find a “Marigold” in the building. It’s easy to find yourself venting with a colleague at the water cooler and spiraling into negativity. Instead, make an active effort to find the most positive person in the building. Surround yourself with joyful, supportive, encouraging teachers. Their positivity and good vibes will rub off on you.  Fill your personal garden with marigolds so you grow, and so when you encounter those weeds you can pull them into the sunshine.    
  3. Reconnect with your External Network – One of my favorite things about a day off is having the opportunity to connect with things that I enjoy doing, like taking a yoga class or reading a book from the latest National Book Award list. Reconnect with your network outside of school, with people who know you as you, not just the person who is always willing to make extra copies. I find this helps me connect with my personal core values and reminds me why I got started in education in the first place.
  4. Gratitude journal – Multiple research studies have found there is a direct correlation between practicing gratitude and your overall well-being. Gratitude allows us to celebrate the present and take a step back to identify the goodness in our life. Consider keeping a gratitude journal and writing down at least three good things that happen every day. You’ll find that even on your toughest days, you have something to celebrate.
  5. Mantras – A mantra is a word or repeated phrase often rooted in spirituality. For me, I have three mantras written at the front of my notebook and use them as a reminder to stay grounded when things get tough. My favorite go-to mantras at the moment are:

Everything always will work out
I’ve survived all of the difficult moments of my past
All situations are temporary

By taking time to take care of yourself, you will be able to be your best self for your students. You can’t pour from an empty cup, so take a breath and recommitment to your most important student: you. Search for the good, relish in the joyful moments, and watch the positivity grow.


Teaching Perseverance through Literacy

March is National Women’s History Month. What better way to celebrate the legacy of female resilience, ingenuity, and limitless possibilities than with rich, diverse, picture books? A good book has the power to shift our thinking and challenge preconceived notions. Intentional Read Alouds provide the opportunity for students to think about and discuss great books while exploring big ideas, themes, and concepts that make reading meaningful. Check out this list of eleven books to use during your Intentional Read Alouds that highlight women characters who, amidst challenges, persisted.


These nonfiction titles celebrate real women’s contributions to our history.

Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led her People to Freedom – By: Carole Boston Weatherford

Harriet Tubman’s bravery and compassion for all is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit. This book’s beautiful illustrations and lyrical text embody strength and hope, a lesson all children can dream from.

When Marian Sang – By: Pam Munoz Ryan

In 1939 it was audacious to think that an African American woman could perform on the steps of the historic Lincoln Memorial, let alone draw a crowd of 75,000 fans. It is this audacity of hope that empowered Marian Anderson to overcome racial barriers and gender stereotypes to rise to the occasion, elevating her as one of the most accomplished artists of the 20th century.

Me, Frida – By: Amy Novesky

In this biography, renowned artist Frida Kahlo takes her loneliness and homesickness for Mexico and transforms them into something beautiful. Finding inspiration in a foreign city and in her exploration, Frida discovers the power of believing in yourself.

Firebird – By: Misty Copeland

American Ballet Theater soloist Misty Copeland tells the empowering story of a young girl who questions her ability to be a graceful dancer. With Misty’s encouragement, the young girl learns that with practice and dedication, she too can become a firebird.

Amelia to Zora: Twenty-Six Women Who Changed The World – By: Cynthia Chin-Lee & Megan Hasley

This alphabetical picture book features stories of remarkable women, from Olympian golfer Mildred Ekka “Babe” Didrikson to the renowned Oprah Winfrey, whose ambitions made the world a better place.

I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes her Mark – By: Debbie Levy

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s life has been one disagreement after another. She has disagreed, disapproved, and differed with creaky old ideas, with unfairness, and with inequality. In her objection and resistance, Ginsburg stands up for what is right for all people.


In these fictional stories, characters strive to become the strong women that define our history and build our future.

Amazing Grace – By: Mary Hoffman

A lover of stories, Grace is told she can’t play Peter Pan in her class performance. Through courage and determination, Grace shows us that you can be anything you want to be if you put your mind to it.

Rosie Revere, Engineer – By: Andrea Beaty

Machines, gizmos, and gadgets galore – nothing is too challenging for Rosie Revere the engineer! In this story, a young inventor learns that the only way you truly fail is if you quit.

Grace for President – By: Kelly DiPucchio

When Grace discovers from her teacher that the United States has never had a female president, it does not sit well with her. Refusing to accept this as the status quo in her school, Grace decides to run for class president proving you can be anything if you work hard.

Ladybug Girl – By: Jackie Davis

When Lulu puts on her ladybug costume, she transforms into Ladybug Girl, a fearless adventurer who builds forts and scales mountains. Lulu ignores naysayers who tell her she’s too little, instead relishing her own sense of freedom and imagination.

Princess and the Pizza – By: Mary Jane Auch

A modern perspective on a classic princess fairy tale, Princess Paulina is a character far from the damsel in distress trope. In a competition vying for a prince’s attention, Paulina discovers her talent for fine pizza making, rejecting the princess career, she instead decides to open her own pizza shop.

Building Positive Classroom Culture

Imagine this, an unexpected visitor peeks into your classroom. What words do you want the visitor to use when describing how your classroom looks and feels? How do you want your students to describe their classroom to that visitor? Safe? Hard working? Joyful? Welcoming? Supportive? Collaborative? Empowering? When we first take the time to consider how we want our classroom to feel to our students, it will inform our approach to building a classroom culture

As educators, we know that the first weeks of school are critical for building a positive classroom culture. During this time we establish expectations and routines with our students, set goals, and begin to build a class identity. These next few weeks lay the groundwork for a productive and cooperative year of learning. How do we ensure this critical time is leveraged effectively so that, in a short time, our classroom is running like a well-oiled machine?

Culture vs. Management

One way to cultivate the safe, joyful, and welcoming environment we desire is to approach classroom expectations as a tool to build culture versus managing students. As teachers, shifting our leadership style from a top-down management approach to that of a culture creator will help to facilitate a cohesive classroom community. Unfortunately, management is often interpreted as the way one disciplines and the sense of order or control one has in a classroom. It bestows the image of an all-knowing authority figure standing at the front of the room talking at students instead of with students.

In contrast, culture reflects an atmosphere of kindness, dignity, and mutual respect. It incorporates developmentally appropriate concepts that teach students the values that they will use both inside and out of the classroom. In a classroom that emphasizes culture over management, students have firm boundaries while being treated with the dignity and respect that all humans deserve.

Rules vs. Responsibilities

When distinguishing between classroom management and classroom culture, approach expectations as responsibilities, as opposed to rules, and you will begin building a culture. A rule is a statement that tells you what you can or cannot do; it is a more “top down” approach where one person decides the rules and ends up enforcing them primarily on their own.

While we want to form guidelines and structure for the classroom, to create a positive classroom culture that is warm, welcoming and empowering, approach these guidelines as responsibilities instead of rules. Responsibilities are the ways we act and take care of people and our environment. They are created with the children using the language of “we, us, our” and focus on what to do. For example, instead of the rule “we don’t hit” try the responsibility “we keep our hands to ourselves.” Use the language of responsibility, create them with your children and you will create a sense of ownership and empowerment.

Consider these two different approaches: As a student, your teacher tells you to throw trash away because if you do not the consequence is you will get a clip moved down. What if instead, the teacher and students work together to decide that one way we take care of our space is throwing trash in the trashcan because that is where it belongs, and when we take care of our space it makes us feel good and keeps our space neat?

Viewing classroom expectations as responsibilities instead of rules empowers children to shape their behavior based on an understanding of the right thing to do while simultaneously sending the message that we are a community working together.

The Power of 3

Come together on the carpet, ask students what words they would like to describe the classroom. Let them know today we are going to work together to ensure the classroom feels that way.

  • Explain what classroom culture and responsibilities are in a student-friendly way.
  • Ask students to list responsibilities that lead to a positive classroom culture, tying in words they used to describe what they want the classroom to be.
  • Write the student responses on sentence strips focusing on what to do and using the language we, us, and our.
  • Tell students this is called “The Power of 3.” Post each responsibility under the heading of “Take Care of Yourself,” “Take Care of Each Other, “ or “Take Care of our Classroom” on a bulletin board and review every day.
  • Remember to reinforce responsibilities daily and celebrate as your positive classroom culture flourishes.
  • Add more responsibilities as the school year progresses based on what is needed in the classroom. Responsibilities can come from “wow” moments where students are doing something you want to be replicated, or “whoops” moments where you need to teach them another responsibility.

When we pay attention to the needs, hopes, and dreams of students, and empower them to take on responsibilities, your classroom will become a place where all students feel seen and heard, in the classroom you imagined.

Written by Danielle Mancinelli for Children's Leadership Initiative