The coronavirus pandemic put significant strain on teachers over the past year, prompting large numbers to leave the profession or take leaves of absence. In addition to the initial disruption and time spent learning to provide lessons at a distance, later hybrid models were also challenging — and burnout-inducing — meaning there’s a chance even more educators will find a new line of work.

A report from the Colorado Department of Education and Colorado Education Initiative shows an average of 6% of educators are leaving the profession in that state, and 2% are taking leaves of absence. A poll of Illinois Education Association members found that more than a third of educators reported they had considered a career change, with 66% suggesting they are more burned out than usual. Additionally, 12% of the teachers said they didn’t want to teach anymore, 10% were considering early retirement, and 13% said last year’s experience has made them re-evaluate their “career path.”

The burnout has reached all levels, as highlighted by the resignations of superintendents in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.

So what are leaders to do in order to stem the losses? Here are some suggestions from Darcy Bakkegard in an article for edutopia:

Hear them. What are they excited about? What strategies, innovations and new ideas are they trying in their classrooms? What are they complaining about? Sometimes people just need to vent, so let them know you hear them. Seek out staff input on how to launch initiatives, address challenges and resolve frustrations. Most important, follow through on their suggestions.

What you can do right now: Create open office hours, and encourage staff to stop by to talk with you. Set up a venting Voxer so that your team can leave voice records of their concerns. Conduct end-of-the-year and exit interviews. If you can’t do so in person, use Flipgrid or a short Google form to gather responses to questions like these:

• What did we do really well this year?
• What are the top issues preventing student success?
• What are the issues preventing teacher joy and leading to burnout?

See them. If you’ve seen them in action, let them know what you noticed. What are their strengths and gifts? Tell them! School leaders are in a unique position to gift this powerful feedback. You can see teachers in ways they cannot see themselves. As you visit classrooms (a vital part of connecting with your staff), share those insights.

Trust them. Trust that they know what students need and will do what it takes to serve and support them. Whenever possible, let your staff personalize their professional development. This goes beyond providing breakout session choices. Give them time to work on the issues that affect students and time to hone the skills they feel they need to better support their learners — no specific schedule, just time.