Conversation around ​teacher burnout—a prevalent issue in education that severely impacts retention—often focuses on causes like class sizes, school violence, lack of funding, or other teacher working conditions. However, one commonly overlooked factor is change fatigue.

Change fatigue is a form of mental and emotional exhaustion that is caused when too much change takes place in an organization, or when significant change follows immediately on earlier change.

There are many reasons that education in general, and teachers more specifically, are inundated with change. As an institution it is imperative that we continually evolve to meet the needs of our learners and prepare them for life outside of school. The problem is that this is multi-faceted and involves many different stakeholders – all with their own version of how schools need to evolve and why their interests are most pressing. I write about this in my book, New Teacher Confidential: What They Didn't Tell You About Being a Teacher.

Add to this the ongoing evolution of social and cultural norms, advances in education-related research, and the volatile political landscape, and we can easily see how teachers are on the front-line of constant change.

Further exacerbating this situation is the fact that teachers are typically not consulted about the changes being made. Rather, these changes are handed down from others who have never been the teacher in a classroom (i.e. politicians and policymakers). This -- on top of change fatigue itself -- leaves teachers feeling devalued as professionals and disengaged from the process.

Subsequently, teachers can become weary, indifferent, or even resistant to change, which lowers both morale and productivity.

How does change fatigue lead to burnout?

Burnout is a natural outcome for those who experience high stress levels for an extended time. According to a study by Maslach and Jackson (1981), teacher burnout happens on a continuum and has three progressive stages:

Stage 1: Exhaustion – characterized as emotional and physical fatigue from having too many demands and not enough emotional resources to meet them.

Stage 2: Depersonalization – characterized as an increase in apathy, decrease in empathy, and feelings of resentment for others in the educational endeavour.

Stage 3: Lack of Accomplishment – teachers perceive that the job is impossible and no longer believe they can teach successfully.

As a retired teacher, I’m certain that all teachers can see themselves somewhere on this continuum. For those outside teaching, perhaps this conceptualization can help them better understand how teachers get to the point of burnout.

What can school district leaders do to prevent (or minimize) teacher burnout?

Addressing teacher burnout necessitates recognizing and alleviating the burden of change fatigue and acknowledging teachers as vital stakeholders in educational reform. School district leaders can play a pivotal role; here are 6 ways to reduce the adverse effects of change initiatives on teachers.

  1. Develop a fulsome understanding of all significant changes on the horizon and create a streamlined plan for implementation (i.e. prioritize which needs to happen immediately and which can wait, avoid implementing change in two different areas at the same time).
  2. Communicate what is happening, when, and why to teachers prior to any expectations for change. When teachers understand (and buy into) the why, they are more likely to support change.
  3. Consult teachers from your district on best practices and timelines for implementing changes.
  4. Create manageable timelines that consider teacher current workload (i.e. avoid busy times such as report card writing or IEP development).
  5. Schedule opportunities for teacher professional learning during the school day, and before implementation.
  6. Consider that change can also include the removal of expectations and look for opportunities to reduce teacher workload that make sense and are no longer serving a purpose.

Change is hard. Whether welcomed or not, it has its challenges. Continuous change over an entire teaching career can take its toll. As district leaders, understanding what change fatigue is, the effects it can have on teachers, and developing strategies to actively manage its effects is in the best interests of the district, its teachers, and most importantly, the students they serve.

About the author



Shannon Hazel is the author of New Teacher Confidential: What They Didn't Tell You About Being a Teacher.