Helping Your Students Overcome Burnout

Student burnout is as real an issue as teacher burnout is. What can we do to help our students feel less overwhelmed and to make their school work seem more manageable? I describe the system I tried in my class and why I think it's an important structure for students to have.
I have been shaking my head over test and quiz scores here in the second 9 weeks of the term. I had been so proud of my students for working really hard and doing so well during the first 9 weeks that the past two weeks of indifference I’ve encountered have caught me off guard. (I’m writing this with three full stacks of ungraded papers next to me, so it looks like I’m guilty, as well).

I’ve been trying to think of reasons this may be, and I’ve come up with a few.
Student burnout is as real an issue as teacher burnout is. What can we do to help our students feel less overwhelmed and to make their school work seem more manageable? I describe the system I tried in my class and why I think it's an important structure for students to have.
So how do we re-ignite the flames of the first few weeks of school? I think if being overwhelmed is an issue, then making the students mindful of the implications of their daily choices and showing them how to prioritize is a good start.

Student burnout is as real an issue as teacher burnout is. What can we do to help our students feel less overwhelmed and to make their school work seem more manageable? I describe the system I tried in my class and why I think it's an important structure for students to have.Case in point, today I was feeling overwhelmed. My initial reaction was to sit on the couch, watch T.V., and feel sorry for myself. But I got up. My family and I cleaned the house. I washed my car and went for an oil change. I worked on my next interactive notebook. I’m writing this post. On Sunday, I will have a grading party (I will eat copious amounts of Halloween candy and plow through those papers).

My surroundings are uncluttered, my car is taken care of, I’ve ticked one more item off of the huge interactive notebook list, and I know I’ll feel better once those papers are marked.

I think that’s what’s going on with my students right now. Their list is long and they don’t know where to begin, so they do what I wanted to do (fight or flight—I’m a natural runner) and give up. Too many small things to do on a consistent basis leads to procrastination, which leads to feeling overwhelmed, which leads to burnout.

How I'm Trying To Help


So I’m trying an experiment. I’ll ask my students to make a list of all that they have to do at home for my class for the next week. They will list how much time they will spend on each task and how they will reward themselves when finished. 

The reward is key because even though their long term tasks are not finished, their task toward completing them for the day is. The reward signals that the day's work is over, and it's time to relax. It will give them a sense of accomplishment. Accomplishment=Empowerment. Empowerment makes burnout less likely.

We’ll talk about how it’s going, and I’ll see if they want one for each of their classes. They can put the list in the front pocket of their class notebook.

Here is a checklist template and example that you can download HERE.
Student burnout is as real an issue as teacher burnout is. What can we do to help our students feel less overwhelmed and to make their school work seem more manageable? I describe the system I tried in my class and why I think it's an important structure for students to have.

Student burnout is as real an issue as teacher burnout is. What can we do to help our students feel less overwhelmed and to make their school work seem more manageable? I describe the system I tried in my class and why I think it's an important structure for students to have.

This is not a new idea, but so many of our students don’t do it. As a consequence, they forget homework/studying or just skip it because they have a vague sense that it’s just too much, or it’s not due for a few days, so why bother? If they see what they have to do listed before them and see that they don’t have to finish it all at once—just work on a little at a time—it becomes more manageable. When they check it off, they’re done for the day. Slow and steady wins the race.

I think that we often overload our students with work, but many of them don’t have the tools/skills/mindset to see it through. They give up. Maybe if we spent some time helping them with time-management and study skills, this would change.


What do you think? How do you help your students through “burnout”? Leave a comment below, and let me know!

Stick around and check out these posts!

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Dealing with Difficult Students: What to Do When Nothing Works
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Use Short Discussion to Teach Reasoning
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