Avoiding Student Burnout
Burnout is a psychological term that refers to mental, emotional, and/or physical exhaustion in combination with doubt about one’s abilities and frustration with the situation. It is often associated with lethargy and disassociation from all activities. Most people experience burnout from time to time, and to varying degrees. In my experience, burnout leads to sitting on the couch watching Netflix for hours, surfing social media, or cleaning out the closet, instead of doing work. The Mayo Clinic offers questions to help people determine if they are suffering from job burnout, but what about school burnout? The questions below may help you determine if your student is experiencing burnout:
- Does he have to “drag” himself to school in the morning?
- Does he have trouble getting the day started?
- Is he irritable with the people around him? Or with technology?
- Does he lack the energy to be productive? Does the thought of school make him want to take a nap?
Often after each school day, kids are surrounded by a myriad of tasks and responsibilities to accomplish. In addition, the items “left on a list” start to add up day to day! This allows for many excuses and added stresses to the school day. Siblings are always around and often loud (or as my students’ state, “annoying”), pets need to be fed, garbage must be taken out, there is laundry to fold, and of course there are always jobs and other after-school activities. When is there time for school? And there is a lot to do for school; class sessions, reading lessons and taking notes, communicating with teachers, writing papers, completing labs, and the math problems! When does one person, especially a high school student, find time to do it all?
In my experience, avoiding burnout takes some serious planning (yet, another thing to do). This strategy is worth the time it takes and will avoid the future burnout (picture smoke coming out of your student’s ears). The key to avoiding burnout is to fit the schedule to your student! We all have specific situations, levels of support, and responsibilities. It makes sense that a unique schedule will help prevent burnout. Whether your student attends school at home or in a traditional brick-and-mortar setting, making a schedule that fits your student is important.
When my students are behind or are burning out, I start with a schedule. I have students build a schedule that works for them. In this schedule, I have them build in time for “brain breaks” and to step away from the computer. These little moments help prevent burnout and get some fun back in the day. In addition, I encourage students to be honest about what they can get accomplished in a day. I also encourage them to make lists and prioritize the “what has to get done,” the “what needs to get done,” and the “what can be moved to the next day” items. Once students understand what they need to accomplish, they can clearly communicate to the adults in their lives the help they need or the time it might take to get these items done. Students should also ask their teachers for help! This reduces stress and reducing stress will reduce the likelihood of burnout.
Here are some helpful hints that students can follow to set up a reasonable routine:
Create a to-do list at the end of the day before, for the next day.
This will set you up for the next day. You will have a plan ready to go first thing in the morning. In addition, it will let your brain relax that night—and get some restful sleep.
Have a dedicated area for school!
This should be an area that is just for school work (even if it is set up each day). The key is to remove distractions. You can use all sorts of spaces in your house, library, or location where you school. A sheet can be used to build a “wall” or to section off an area. Get some tips on organizing your space at the K12 Pinterest board.
Turn off the TV!
This can be a hard one for sure. If you like the white noise or the sound, try turning on some classical music, film scores, or string quartets on an Internet streaming radio station such as Pandora (free).
Have a notebook for each class (Written, On the Computer, or Online)!
- This will help you stay organized. You can use whatever material you have on hand! The thrift store usually has a great selection of binders, notebooks, and other school supplies (I get mine there)
- Use Word documents for each lesson and keep them in a file for each class (i.e., biology spring semester; Unit 1 plant structure; Lesson 1; plant organs, tissues, and cells)
- Google Docs is a great tool and it uses online storage space
- Wikis are another great tool for organization
- Take advantage of web tools to keep organized
A second strategy I suggest to my online students is to utilize class connects fully—do the assignment in class, or right after. Don’t push it off for later. Procrastination is a key factor in increasing stress in school! Take notes in class! These will help you review.
These strategies are not limited to students! These are also great for adults!
Here are some additional strategies:
- Slow Down! Take the day a bit slower (but don’t procrastinate)
- Exercise! This can be a short walk with the dog or a bicycle ride around the block.
- Understand your major stress topics (is it math or reading or some other topic). Have some strategies in place for dealing with these high stress points (get your tea ready or set a reward for getting through the stressful moments).
- Sometimes it is okay to walk away from the computer. Step away from it—you can do it!
Approach each day as a new day! There will always be things that come up—we get sick, prescriptions need to be filled, or the toilet overflows—life happens! If you have a schedule that works for you, you can use the “wiggle room” to get some extra tasks accomplished and to work around the life that pops up!
Rustie Robison teaches science at K12 online schools. She is passionate about science and education, and she loves insects! Originally from central Illinois, she attended graduate school for science at Colorado State University and completed her Masters of Education there. She has taught both Middle School and High School science since 2011. She quotes Bill Nye in saying, “Science Rules,” and is a self-declared “science nerd.”