Think back to the day you were hired as a faculty member—whether tenured, full-time, or adjunct. What did you feel? Many would say excitement, eagerness, anticipation, nervousness, the list goes on. The theme often represented is that of expectancy and hope.
Like any good romance, this passion doesn’t last unless we spark it. Bad days and burnout can develop no matter what position you hold. A doctoral study by Scott Edward Dunbar (2017) revealed that emotional exhaustion or cynicism towards employment happens to both brick and mortar and online faulty at a similar rate (p. 97). Teachers who are burned out also provide a lower quality of instruction than their counterparts (Klusmann, Kunter, Trautwein, Ludtke, & Baumert, 2008; Pyhältö et al., 2021). Burnout is defined as fatigue, frustration, or apathy resulting from prolonged stress, overwork, or intense activity (Webster’s Universal College Dictionary, 2004). Burnout is neither a physical ailment nor a neurosis. It is a loss of will and inability to mobilize one’s interest and capabilities. Therefore, educators need to reignite the feelings of excitement that occurred on day one.
To rekindle those positive feelings, educators need both self and co-regulative skills to reduce feelings of burnout (Pyhältö, K., Pietarinen, J., Haverinen, K. et al, 2021). Institutions need to support their faculty and most have resources for both self and co-regulation development. In collaboration with faculty self-resilience, institutional support like communication, community building, and faculty recognition can help prevent burnout (Garcia, et. al., 2022).
No matter what outside resources faculty take advantage of, self-regulation skill sets are the most accessible and available. Three self-regulation skills that are variables of faculty burnout are goal setting, establishing boundaries, and self-awareness.
What goals do you have for yourself? Consider how you can address personal and professional goals while still maintaining the basics like balancing work, family, health, and other responsibilities. For example, can you try to get ahead on grading, planning, and course set-up? By planning ahead, this affords time to do extras in and outside of the classroom. As Norman Vincent Peale said, “All successful people have a goal. No one can get anywhere unless he knows where he wants to go and what he wants to be or do.”
Secondly, educators need to set boundaries. Consider when you will work and when you won’t. Schedules can be an extremely effective self-regulation skill. At first you may need to create an elaborate schedule, but then after a few weeks or semesters, this schedule will be committed to mind memory and feel automatic. Eventually, you will be able to push ahead of your original schedule. To get ahead, know what you need to tackle first and what can wait. Some ways to do this are to save and make important information accessible everywhere. The more time we spend during class-set up, the less student questions and confusion will arise.
Another self-regulation skill is self-awareness. What time is your brain best? Are you a morning person or night owl? When you have self-awareness, you can use this information about yourself to set up your day positively and productively. What do you know about your emotions as well as managing them? Do you go for a walk or exercise deep breathing when upset? Do you use funny gifs or memes in emails with co-workers or communication with students? Knowing your challenges and the various emotions you feel can better help you prepare for when you begin to think or feel a certain way. Faculty need to recognize their feelings to effectively deal with them. Educators are often the worst at stepping away and taking a break. Teaching is a service profession and educators are in the business of serving others. Faculty need to identify what breaks they need to take and when they need to unplug to re-charge. The literature suggests that those who are directly involved in daily “helping professions” (such as university teaching) often expend a greater amount of emotional energy performing their daily responsibilities than do professionals interacting with “things” rather with people. It is also well recognized that those in helping professions are prime candidates for burnout if they are not practicing energy management (Berman, 1995).
Let’s look at co-regulation skills. What support systems do you have? Consider both internal and external resources, which can include groups, clubs, faith organizations, memberships, apps, businesses, family, and friends. The wellable app has some useful tools for self-health and self-care.
Have you reached out for help or added any technology lately? For example, have you explored new technology to streamline processes or asked your peers for examples or shared resources? Tapping into outside assets are successful co-regulation skills.
Think about a time when you received praise or help from someone important in your life? There is a lot of evidence about how acknowledging great work and receiving help is as important as acknowledging areas for growth or criticism for constructive growth. External feedback relates to co-regulation, while internal feedback relates to the self-regulation. Irrespective of the type of regulation, feedback is essential (Bawa, 2018).
Finally, how do you add positive, supportive, creative, or wellness pieces in your classroom? Do you post fun memes, lessons, or videos that invite students to be involved, such as additions they can create, find, and share? Being committed and passionate about your work will be returned to you through your student engagement. Humans use co-regulation and self-regulation skills throughout their lives to deal with situations of dysfunctions and stress (Sbarra & Hazen, 2008; Fogel & Garvey, 2007). Educators are no different and can combat faculty burnout through employing self-regulation and co-regulation skill sets.
Bawa, Papia (2018) “Self-Regulation, Co-Regulation, and Feedback in the Context of Cross-Cultural Language Acquisition in Higher Education: A Conceptual Approach,” Journal of Research Initiatives: Vol. 4 : Iss. 1 , Article 9. Available at: https://digitalcommons.uncfsu.edu/jri/vol4/iss1/9
Berman, Mark. (1995). “Psychologist Mark Berman on Burnout.” ASTD InfoLine (American Society for Training and Development), pp.1-2
García-Rivera B, Mendoza-Martínez I, García-Alcaraz J, Olguín-Tiznado J, Camargo Wilson C, Araníbar M, García-Alcaraz P. (2022). Influence of Resilience on Burnout Syndrome of Faculty Professors. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2022 Jan 14;19(2):910. doi: 10.3390/ijerph19020910.
Klusmann, U., Kunter, M., Trautwein, U., Ludtke, O., & Baumert, J. (2008). Engagement and emotional exhaustion in teachers: does school context make a difference? Health and Wellbeing, 57, 127–151.
Pyhältö, K., Pietarinen, J., Haverinen, K., Tikkanen, L., & Soini, T. (2021). Teacher burnout profiles and proactive strategies. European Journal of Psychology of Education, 36(1), 219–242
Sbarra, D., & Hazen, C. (2008). Coregulation, dysregulation, self-regulation: An integrative analysis and empirical agenda for understanding adult attachment, separation, loss and recovery. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 12(2), 141-167. doi:10.1177/1088868308315702