Burned Out or Bummed Out?

More on Teacher Self-Care: Diagnosis and Remediation

This is Part VI in a series of articles on educator health and wellness, following “Stressed Out!” and “Teacher Self-Care During the Pandemic.”

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Do you recognize these signs of burnout experienced  by yourself, a coworker, neighbor, or someone you love?

  • Physical: tired, lowered immunity, illnesses, aches and pains, loss of appetite or sleep
  • Emotional: sense of self-doubt, failure, helplessness, loneliness, cynicism, loss of satisfaction/motivation
  • Behavioral: withdrawal, isolation, skipping work, procrastination, frustration, overuse of food, drugs, alcohol

By the time it gets to that third bullet, probably everyone would be aware of the trouble.

You may be on the road to burnout if:

  • Every day is a bad day.
  • Caring about your work or home life seems like a total waste of energy.
  • You’re exhausted all the time.
  • The majority of your day is spent on tasks you find either mind-numbingly dull or overwhelming.
  • You feel like nothing you do makes a difference or is appreciated.

Burnout Prevention and Recovery by Melinda Smith, M.A., Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., and Lawrence Robinson

 

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Gregory S. Perkins and Angela M. Guerriero, licensed Music Therapists from the Tempo! Music Therapy Services, provided much more detailed definitions of self-care in a session at the PMEA 2020 Virtual Summer Conference. (PMEA members may continue to register and view a video of this workshop until mid-September 2020.) You should know and be on the lookout for these terms:

The United Nations defines self-care as the actions that individuals take in order to develop, protect, maintain, and improve their own health and well being. Self-care involves a personal investment in maintaining physical, psychological and spiritual health, and pursuing a fulfilling, well-rounded life.

Brownout: “A practitioner essentially gives up or performs in a perfunctory manner when confronted with too much stress and too little gratification.” Guy, J. & Norcross, J. (2007). Leaving it at the office: a guide to psychotherapist self-care. New York, NY: Guilford Publications, Inc.

Burnout: “A syndrome of physical exhaustion including a negative self-concept, negative job attitude, and loss of concern and feelings.” Keidel, G. (2002). Burnout and compassion fatigue among hospice caregivers. American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Care, 19(3), 200-205

Recognizing the Need: Self-Care for Music Educators by Gregory S. Perkins, MT-BC, and Angela M. Guerriero, PhD, MT-BC

The Mayo Clinic offers numerous symptoms of “burnout.” How many of these have you “felt” too or noticed in someone else’s demeanor or behavior?

  1. Disillusionment over the job
  2. Cynicism at work
  3. Impatience with co-workers, administrators, and students
  4. Lack of satisfaction in accomplishments
  5. Dragging yourself to work and trouble getting started once you’re there
  6. Lack of energy
  7. Unexplained aches/pains
  8. Self-medicating with food, drugs, or alcohol
  9. Changes in sleep/eating patterns

 

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Education Week adds many more danger signs. Are any of these striking close to home?

Exhaustion. This is a fatigue so deep that there’s no way to “turn it off,” no matter how badly you want to. It’s deep in your bones. The kind of tired where you just want to ooze into your bed and disconnect from life.

Extreme graveness. Realizing you go hours without smiling or laughing, or days without a belly laugh.

Anxiety. The constant, nagging feeling that you can and should do more, while simultaneously realizing you need to unplug and spend more time with your family. But there are so many things to do.

Being overwhelmed. Questioning how they can possibly add one more task, expectation, or mandate to your plate. Compromising your values of excellence just so you can check-off 15 more boxes to stay in compliance. All the while knowing it still won’t be enough.

Seeking. Losing your creativity, imagination, patience, and enthusiasm for daily challenges. Craving reflection time and productive collaboration rather than group complaining.

Isolation. Wanting to head for the deepest, darkest cave where no one will see your vulnerability. A place where your limits are unseen and unquestioned and all is quiet.

— Six Signs of and Solutions for Teacher Burnout by Wendi Pillars 

 

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What about the causes of burnout or brownout? Where should we place the blame?

According to Paul Murphy in his book, Exhausted – Why Teachers Are So Tired and What They Can Do About It, the stress of a few problems may stand out as leading culprits at your place of employment:

  1. Lack of autonomy
  2. Dysfunctional work environment
  3. Inadequate social support
  4. Extremes of activity
  5. Poor work/life balance

But, you have no one else but yourself to blame! You must take responsibility for your own health and welfare. Most of the sources in this blog-post (including a few mentioned in past articles from this “care” category) suggest solutions to better self-care, many of which offer answers to address the issue and CAN BE DONE RIGHT NOW.

Here are a few more self-care tips from PsychCentral:

  • Create a “no” list, with things you know you don’t like or you no longer want to do. Examples might include: Not checking emails at night, not attending gatherings you don’t like, not answering your phone during lunch/dinner.
  • Promote a nutritious, healthy diet.
  • Get enough sleep. Adults usually need 7-8 hours of sleep each night.
  • Exercise. In contrast to what many people think, exercise is as good for our emotional health as it is for our physical health. It increases serotonin levels, leading to improved mood and energy. In line with the self-care conditions, what’s important is that you choose a form of exercise that you like!
  • Follow-up with medical care. It is not unusual to put off checkups or visits to the doctor.
  • Use relaxation exercises and/or practice meditation. You can do these exercises at any time of the day.
  • Spend enough time with your loved ones.
  • Do at least one relaxing activity every day, whether it’s taking a walk or spending 30 minutes unwinding.
  • Do at least one pleasurable activity every day; from going to the cinema, to cooking or meeting with friends.
  • Look for opportunities to laugh!

What Self-Care Is and What It Isn’t by Raphailia Michael, MA

 

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We should also review “Five Tips for Avoiding Teacher Burnout” by Mary Beth Hertz, an Edutopia blog (read the entire article for greater depth and clarity):

  1. Maintain your “other” life.
  2. Be a stakeholder when changes are made.
  3. Find lessons and opportunities in everything.
  4. Nurture peer connections.
  5. Keep it light.

Edutopia, from the George Lucas Educational Foundation, is a wonderful resource. Most recently, three valuable “streams” of articles have been released on coping with the preparations and stress in the reopening of schools for the 2020-2021 year:

I also recommend this blog-post of the Regional Education Laboratory Program which describes “teacher well being” as “the reaction to the individual and collective physical, environmental, and social events that shape how educators respond to their students and colleagues.” They discuss how three prominent human behavior frameworks— Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the Five Stages of Grief and Loss, and the Concerns-Based Adoption Model (CBAM)— can be used to address the challenges that teachers face when adapting to change and identify approaches to support teacher well being.

 

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In addition, the following perspectives come from a variety of self-proclaimed practitioners:

“One of Leonardo da Vinci’s seven essential elements of genius is known as Sfumato, Italian for ‘smoked,’ or ‘going up in smoke.’ This principle is the ability to embrace uncertainty, the unknown, and the unknowable. In my interpretation, it’s also an ability to ‘let go’ of everything that’s left undone when you know you’ve done your best. Embrace Sfumato.”  — Wendy Pillars

“Self-care needs to be something you actively plan, rather than something that just happens. It is an active choice and you must treat it as such.” — Raphailia Michael

“Remember that example about putting on your own oxygen mask before helping others? This is where that analogy really comes in to play. It’s time for you to take a good hard look at your self-care versus your care for others and decide if you are in a place where you have a good balance or if you need to make this a priority… Why is self-care… such a critical component of your physical and mental health? Because in order for you to function at your peak, you need to meet the needs your body and mind have for rejuvenation, relaxation, and rebirth. If you are constantly putting out efforts toward other people and events but never taking time to refuel yourself, then you will run out of steam and it will manifest in your body as an illness, weight gain, acne, joint pain – you know the drill – again.” — Lesley Moffat in I Love My Job But It’s Killing Me

“It’s estimated that teachers make about 1,500 decisions every school day. When you combine those decisions with all the necessary self-regulation involved with teaching kids, it’s no wonder our willpower is gone by five o’clock. We are exhausted.” — Paul Murphy

The term “unprecedented times” has become a hallmark for describing the context in which leaders must respond to changing needs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Effective responses in education are dependent upon teachers as the front-line workers in classrooms, so it’s essential that administrators take care of teachers. When they do so, they also take care of students.

When teachers don’t have the resources they need, and especially when sustained job demands are high, teachers experience chronic stress — and eventually burnout.

Teachers who are burned out are less effective as teachers, have less supportive relationships with students and, in turn, the students they teach have lower academic and social outcomes.

How to Prevent Teacher Burnout During the Coronavirus Pandemic by Laura Sokal, Jeff Babb, and Leslie Eblie Trudel

 

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We should all read the above blog-post from The Conversation, which offers these conclusions based on a national Canadian education survey conducted in May 2020:

  1. Teachers’ concern for vulnerable students is one of the most stressful aspects of their jobs right now.
  2. Teachers are seeing magnified inequities.
  3. When giving teachers initial resources, less is more.
  4. Perceived support matters to teachers’ resiliency.
  5. Teachers are concerned about effectively engaging students through remote learning, and professional collaboration can help.

Finally, we’ll end this epistle on “things to do to avoid burnout” with a timely and practical article from Carlee Adams found on the We Are Teachers site: 15 Smart Ways to Prevent Teacher Burnout That Really Work. Repeating many of the suggestions above, these “find these” remedies resonated with me:

  • “Find someone you can be vulnerable with…”
  • “When you feel hopeless, find perspective…”
  • “Find your own voice and allow it to change over time…”
  • “Find your people; they get you!”

The bottom line? If you “feel” consistent periods of burnout, brownout, or being bummed out in your career as negative influences to your “calling” as a teacher, you cannot sit back and let things continue “as is!” Most professionals cannot self-diagnose this problem (but, perhaps a family member may clue you in!). If you notice that you are continually having trouble sleeping, difficulty with relationships or communicating your thoughts to others, or find yourself feeling significantly depressed or lethargic, it may be time to visit your health care professional.

PKF

 

Photo credits (in order) from Pixabay.com by Gerd Altmann

 

© 2020 Paul K. Fox

Ethics Follow-up

 

Part IV: More Perspectives and Resolving a Few “Loose Ends”

Prior to this article, I recommend reading the following:

 

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Just when you thought it was safe to read another of my blog-posts… you bump into another one on ethics and music education!

When my colleague and friend James Kimmel, PMEA District 7 Professional Development Chair, approached me to consider doing an “ethics workshop” for his annual in-service conference (October 9, 2017 at Ephrata Middle School), two questions immediately popped into my mind: “Why is this necessary?” and “Who would want to attend a session on ethics?”

Of course, being retired and having a little more unassigned time on my hands, I took it as a challenge and began some preliminary research.

The first thing I discovered is that almost no one in the public-school music education sector has had formal ethics training (myself included), unless you count a couple thirty-minute segments at a teacher induction or staff in-service program on sensitivity training, nondiscrimination and diversity awareness, anti-bullying or workplace sexual harassment policies, or a review of FERPA (family educational rights and privacy act) and HIPAA (health insurance portability and accountability act) as “ethics!”

Okay all you Pennsylvania music teachers: Before this blog series, did any of you ever see a copy of the Pennsylvania Code of Professional Practices and Conduct for Educators? Prior to working on this project, neither did I, nor did a single band director to whom I spoke at two large fall marching band festivals and several football games! Do you know that earning a teaching certificate from your state and becoming eligible to be hired as an educator means you automatically agree to be legally bound by the prevailing government’s “Code?” The ethical or discipline code of your state will define the proper interactions between the individual teacher, students, schools, and other professionals, and make explicit the values of the education profession as well as regional standards and expectations. Wouldn’t you agree that NOW would be a good time to learn the details of these inherent responsibilities?

 

What is a Fiduciary?

club-2492011_1920-qimonoEducators are among the singular professions which have a “fiduciary” responsibility. The term “fiduciary” can be defined as “a person or organization that owes to another the duties of good faith and trust, the highest legal duty of one party to another, and being bound ethically to act in the other’s best interests.” Joining doctors, lawyers, clergy, and mental health therapists, educators ascribe to the highest standards of training, moral decision-making (“code of ethics”), behavior (“code of conduct”), and self-regulation and assessment of the “best practices” regarding the mastery of skills and subject areas necessary to their field. However, unlike these other professionals, teachers do not receive regular and systematic pre- and in-service training on ethics, and our “clients” are a “captive audience.”  Regardless, the duty of all teachers is to act as a fiduciary in their students’ best interest and to create and maintain a safe environment for them at all times.

 

Ethics Violations in the News

You must have seen the news stories! In a word, the trending statistics of state and USA teacher ethics violations and misconducts are abominable! For example, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) where I taught and currently live, in the year 2015, there was a 200 percent increase in PA educator misconduct investigations (768 reports) compared to the number of complaints filed in 2011 (256). Within PDE disciplinary case resolutions in 2015, 41% resulted in job loss and a permanent revocation or surrender of the teaching certificate.

If your curiosity is a little on the morbid side, you can look up on the PDE website and find the names of more than 1740 educators (“offenders” and their “offenses”) who have violated their ethics and received discipline and/or criminal prosecutions or civil proceedings from March 2004 to June 2017.

Well, we don’t have to just pick on Pennsylvania “bad-boys” (and girls). According to https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2015/01/20/more-teachers-are-having-sex-with-their-students-heres-how-schools-can-stop-them/?utm_term=.6ee23703b040, the following statistics give teachers everywhere a black eye from shore to shore!

  • Texas had a 27% increase over 2015-17 of alleged inappropriate teacher-student relationships
  • Kentucky schools reported more than 45 sexual relationships between teachers and students in 2011, up from 25 just a year earlier.
  • Alabama investigated 31 cases during the year ending July 2013, nearly triple the number it had investigated just four years earlier.

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Eric Simpson shared more bad news in the Journal of Music Teacher Education. His study, “An examination of the relationship of teacher certification area to sexual misconduct: Florida as a case study,” analyzed 383 samples of FL teacher discipline cases in 2007-2010 and their area(s) of certification, with these results:

  • Teachers with multiple-certifications = 35.51%
  • Music teachers ~5%
  • Most frequent offense = sexual misconduct 25.77%

But, 60% of the offending music teachers in the sample were disciplined for sexual misconduct!

Can the data get any worse? In 2004, the U.S. Department of Education released the results of the Shakeshaft national study by the American Association of University Women, with 9.6 percent of students reporting that they had suffered some form of sexual abuse during their school careers. According to http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/explainer/2012/02/is_sexual_abuse_in_schools_very_common_.html “the list of such conduct included lewd comments, exposure to pornography, peeping in the locker room, and sexual touching or grabbing. Around one in 10 students said they had been the victim of one or more such things from a teacher or other school employee, and two-thirds of those reported the incident involved physical contact.”

If these numbers are accurate and truly representative of the student population nationwide, 4.5 million students currently in grades K-12 have suffered some form of sexual abuse by an educator or school staff member.

 

Mandatory Reporting

Another area I did not dive into during the last three articles is our legal mandate to report colleagues who violate “The Code,” especially for sexual misconduct. My own state’s regulations (similar to most) are as follows:

“All educators who know of any action, inaction or conduct which may constitute sexual abuse or exploitation or sexual misconduct are now required to file a mandatory report with the Department and shall report such misconduct to his or her chief school administrator and immediate supervisor.”

― Pennsylvania Department of Education: http://www.pspc.education.pa.gov/Educator-Discipline-System-and-Reporting/Mandatory-Reporting/Pages/default.aspx

 

If you are an administrator, the statute is more wide-ranging:

“Specifically, whenever you believe that an educator is involved in misconduct that implicates his or her fitness to serve children in the schools of Pennsylvania, you should report the misconduct to the Department…”

“Reporting to PDE does not relieve [the administrator] of any other duty to report to either law enforcement and/or child protective services.”

― Pennsylvania Department of Education: http://www.pspc.education.pa.gov/Educator-Discipline-System-and-Reporting/Mandatory-Reporting/Pages/default.aspx

Another moral obligation is to simply look out for our student’s welfare and keep our eyes open for any unusual behavior, conflicts, or inconsistencies.

questions-2212771_1920-geralt_euAlways looking for the signs of…

  • Physical abuse
  • Self-abuse or thoughts of suicide
  • Sexual abuse
  • Signs of neglect
  • Patterns of abuse

Teachers are required to report any suspicions of child abuse, neglect, drug or alcohol use, and mental health problems.

Most school districts have an internal mechanism of reporting to school counselors or administrators any observations (or suspicions) of these issues… everything from falling asleep in class, being “accident-prone” (lots of unexplained injuries), confirming a high absentee rate, exhibiting mood swings (up and down), and coming to school with blurry or blood-shot eyes, etc. No accusations! You just handover your comments to the authorities, and report on what you see, not necessarily what your interpretations are for the causes of the problems.

Music teachers often work with students in close proximity before or after-school hours, and sometimes on weekends. As a marching band assistant, musical producer, festival chaperone, or trip sponsor, I always had the personal or cell phone number of my building principal in case I needed to reach out for help.

 

Confidentiality

These are the regulations on protecting student privacy rights, and violations of which (even unintentionally) are “breaking the law.” (Sources: www.pc3connect.org/otherdocs/confidentiality%20and%20the%20law.pdf and http://searchhealthit.techtarget.com/definition/HIPAA.)

  • Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) of 1974 sets parameters on accessibility and disclosure of students records.
  • Grassley Amendment (1994) details privacy of student participation in surveys, analysis, and evaluation.
  • confidential-cropped-1726367_1920-HypnoArtHealth Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996 provides data privacy and security provisions for safeguarding medical information.
  • Drug and alcohol treatment records of students kept by any institution receiving federal assistance are protected under Drug Abuse Office and Treatment Act (1976).
  • Records of students in special education are affected by the above laws plus Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, 1997).

Here are few additional ethical “conundrums” on which to reflect:

  • Discussing student information in open or common areas
    • How many times have you walked through a busy hallway discussing news or concerns about a student with another colleague or family member?
    • Avoid inadvertently disclosing any personal information about students and staff members “in public.”
    • Also, one should resist speaking to students in these areas as it could become violation of student confidentiality if overheard.
  • Sharing information with other colleagues who are not directly related to the student’s situation.
    • You might be tempted to reveal interesting cases or anecdotes to colleagues… DON’T!
    • FERPA regulations state that school officials must have a “legitimate educational interest” when sharing information.
    • Just because someone is employed in the district with you does not mean they have lawful access to student info.
    • There is a great risk of others passing on this information… like gossip!
    • Rules of thumb: Ask yourself, “Why am I sharing this information?” and “How will it benefit the student?”
  • However, you should be aware of exceptions to student privacy concerns.
    • Reporting of physical abuse, sexual assault, sexual harassment, or sexual violence.
    • Suspicion of serious mental health issues that may result in danger to the student (such as suicide)
    • On the occasion when a staff member working with a student is unsure how to proceed (e.g. seeking advice on disability)

 

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The “Grandma Litmus Test”

We have talked about many principles in this series on “Ethics for Music Educators.” Here is something about the “process,” an “ethical decision-making model” based on…

  • “What would grandma think about my action, behavior, or decision” and
  • “How would I feel if my actions are tomorrow’s breaking news?”

Answer the following questions about the contemplated activity or decision:

  1. Is it legal?
  2. Is it consistent with the profession’s values?
  3. Is it consistent with the teacher’s code of conduct?
  4. Is it consistent with your district’s policies?
  5. Would you be comfortable if this decision was published online or in the newspaper (or made known to your “grandma”)?
  6. Does it feel right? (Is it the right thing to do?)

If you answered “NO” to any one of the questions (1, 3, and 5), do not engage in the contemplated activity and seek additional guidance.

If you answered “YES” to all of the questions (2, 4, and 6), then you may proceed with the contemplated activity. However, if you have any lingering doubts, do not hesitate to seek additional guidance.

http://www.royceassociates.com/the-grandma-litmus-test-for-ethical-behaviour/

 

Final Thoughts

“It’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission.”

– Rear Admiral Mary Brace Hopper, an early computer programmer

board-1848717_1920-geraltProponents of this belief will tell you to go ahead and stick your neck out, feel free to do something “for the good of the order,” and later “beg for forgiveness” if/when it goes south and your administrators say they do not approve.

This may or may not work, and I cannot label this orientation as “ethical!”

Music teachers are usually the “lone rider” in their building when it comes to doing their job. Music directors, especially those who are involved in extra-curricular activities, are deluged with making many decisions every day… sometimes even on the hour. Few people (models or mentors) will be there to help guide you in your content area.

My advice: Less experienced teachers, run everything through your fellow colleagues (informally) and principal (formally). Don’t fall back on the lame “oops” and “beg for forgiveness.” I may have felt differently when I had twice as many years of experience than the building administrators who were assigned to “supervise” me… but, even then, “venturing out without a paddle” usually did not serve the best interests of the students… There’s no reason to place “the teacher’s convenience” over the safety/welfare of the students, without first obtaining the legal and political “backup” of your bosses. “Better safe than sorry!” (I am running out of cliches!)

“Perception is reality.”

– Lee Atwater

Perceptions/appearances vs. motivation and reality: It means that your behavior and its results matter infinitely more than your intentions.

It is the responsibility of the teacher to control his or her “public brand” – how he or she wants to be perceived by students, parents, colleagues, and the public. One’s public brand can and does impact perceptions, which in turn can impinge upon effectiveness.

males-2110573_1920-3dman_euMy advice: “Forget your rights” and be more aware of your image and how your actions will look to the public. Reputations are hard to restore. Being an effective teacher is all about trust and integrity, and (sorry, one more cliche) “your actions speak louder than words!”

 

Teaching is the most honorable and rewarding career on this planet. The rewards far outweigh the challenges and additional responsibilities. “Making a difference” in the lives of our music students has always inspired me, and the fact we have to uphold the highest standards in moral professionalism and behavior does not phase me in the least.

 

The purpose of these blog-posts on ethics, sort of a “refresher” course to reflect on our internal decision-making compass, was to reinforce Lawrence Kohlman’s sixth stage of moral development – principles of conscience – and the “best practices” of professional attitudes, values, and beliefs that guide the problem-solving we face in their daily work. Hopefully this content will promote thought-provoking discussion about doing what’s right when no one is looking… because, your mother would say, “You know better!”

Please feel free to comment… I would appreciate hearing from you!

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PKF

© 2017 Paul K. Fox

 

Photo credits (in order): from FreeImages.com: “Ethics” by Olivier Le Moal; from pixabay.com “Ethics” by 3dman_eu, “Club” by qimono_eu, “Cube” by 3dman_eu, “Questions” by geralt_eu, “Confidential” by HypoArt, “Woman” by geralt_eu, “Board” by geralt_eu, “Males” by 3dman_eu, “Business” by Maialisa.