Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?
April 4, 2019
Fresh off of Spring Break, you’d think everyone on campus would be well-rested and energized, but the dark circles under many eyes indicates that a lot of us didn’t find our breaks rejuvenating. Did you spend your break catching up on grading, responding to month-old emails and trying to get ahead on your teaching prep? Did your students spend their breaks writing research papers, doing the reading they fell behind on before break and picking up extra shifts at work to pay their escalating rent? If so, you might all be struggling against burnout right now.
Take a SIP of this: avoiding burnout
Burnout is characterized by feeling physically and/or mentally exhausted and unable to concentrate and finding it difficult to feel motivated about things you typically do feel energized about — such as teaching for faculty and learning for students. Burnout can lead to serious health problems, so it should be taken very seriously. If you think you or your students are on the verge of burnout, take action now to ensure that the remainder of the semester is healthy and productive.
Students look to faculty as role models, and unfortunately, we are not always the best role models when it comes to avoiding burnout. Here are some strategies you can start integrating into your daily life now to help yourself avoid burnout and demonstrate to students how to do the same:
- Set limits around email. Productivity experts recommend setting scheduled times during the day to respond to emails rather than checking email constantly. Let people who frequently email you know that you may take up to 48 hours (or whatever amount of time fits your life) to respond. Refrain from responding to emails at 2 a.m. or on weekends because that can imply that you expect others to keep unreasonable email schedules.
- Be accessible — much of the time. “Being accessible” to students and colleagues shouldn’t mean being on call 24/7. It’s normal and healthy to set limits around your availability.
- Differentiate between important work and urgent work, and prioritize important work. If you are behind on grading, unprepared for this afternoon’s committee meeting and feeling pressure to get your summer book order in today, take a moment to consider the relative importance of each activity. Grading is an important aspect of teaching, especially if the grading you are doing involves giving students feedback on their progress. Depending on the committee, preparing for the meeting may also be important. Summer book orders, on the other hand, may feel time-sensitive because the bookstore wants orders months before classes begin, but in relation to the other items on your to-do list, this is probably something that can be put off.
- Practice self-care. Prioritize getting enough sleep, eating well, staying hydrated and getting health care (including mental-health care) over being the most prepared person at every meeting, returning every assignment the next class period and exceeding every department guideline by a factor of three. For more tips on self-care, check out past SIPs on self-care (SIP 5.15) and slowing down (SIP 8.15).
- Appreciate and support others who set limits. When a colleague doesn’t answer your email immediately or a student says that getting enough sleep was their priority last night and that’s why they don’t have an assignment that’s due, refrain from judging or taking it personally. You don’t know what else this person is juggling. Perhaps it is the universe’s way of showing you that it IS possible to slow down and prioritize self-care.
- Stop overpreparing for class and overresponding to students’ papers. Learn the fine arts of being just prepared enough and giving students only the amount of feedback they can digest. For a class you’ve taught before, the American Faculty Association suggests spending no more than two hours preparing for class. When responding to student papers, focus your comments only on the most important one to three lessons you want students to learn in that round of feedback.
Still Thirsty? Take another SIP of avoiding burnout
- Learn more about supporting yourself and your colleagues in avoiding burnout.
- Read this comprehensive review of literature on faculty burnout.
- Reread SIP 6.11 on sustaining resilience in the race to the semester finish line.
Visit the Well for more great ideas and resources for Strong Instructional Practices in your higher-education classroom!