Teaching Profession Opinion

Teachers Don’t Need More Self-Care. They Need Self-Efficacy

This psychological concept could go a long way toward staunching educator burnout and demoralization
By Sarah Caroleo — April 20, 2023 5 min read
Illustration of a female feeling confident over a checklist.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

With the arrival of springtime, school leaders are now beginning their annual quest to fill open teaching positions—and many may have a difficult time doing so. Although people point to many factors to explain present staffing issues, most trace back to the same roots: teacher burnout and demoralization. Burnout refers to complete depletion of energy and confidence, while demoralization describes the frustration surrounding lacking autonomy and professionalism that prevent teachers from working successfully.

In response, some organizations and school districts have encouraged remaining teachers to practice self-care and set firmer work boundaries. This approach perpetuates a troubling message about the teaching profession: Teachers must solve everything on their own. School leaders should stop thinking of teacher burnout and demoralization as personal problems. Instead, they should consider the structural ways that schools can better equip teachers to manage the inherent stresses of their positions.

Research about the psychological concept of self-efficacy provides some solutions. Teacher self-efficacy refers to teachers’ beliefs about their personal abilities to plan and conduct activities needed to achieve their professional goals, such as getting all students to mastery or managing classroom behaviors. Self-efficacy shapes teachers’ behaviors and choices, especially in how they respond to demanding situations. Several structural aspects of American schools—such as siloing teachers in their respective classrooms and overloading them with responsibilities without sufficient planning time and resources—leave many teachers feeling incapable of what is expected of them.

Researchers have found that weaker levels of teacher self-efficacy can relate to intensified feelings of burnout and demoralization. When school leaders implement strategies proved to bolster teachers’ self-efficacy, they better equip them to navigate the current education climate and sustain their work.

Here are three important ways district and school leaders can bolster educator self-efficacy, starting now and continuing into future school years.

1. Replace disjointed PD sessions with communities of practice.

Teachers who engage in communities of practice often feel more capable of addressing challenges that arise in their work. Learning from colleagues ensures that teachers grow in knowledge relevant to their unique contexts and validates the value of teachers’ collective knowledge. For now, district and site leaders should consider replacing mandated professional-development time, often implemented in a top-down manner with little individual meaning for teachers, with time to engage with communities of practice that learn and share evidence-based practices related to teachers’ present needs.

Districts can pursue two options to foster teachers’ communities of practice. The first is through professional learning communities, which are small groups of teachers who select a target area to study for a few months, share and critically reflect upon their attempts, and brainstorm ideas for continuous improvement. PLCs build instructional tool kits and establish practical supports, both of which can enhance self-efficacy. These could be hosted within individual schools or across a district, facilitated over Zoom.

The second option is professional learning networks, which are online communities committed to discussing topics, sharing resources, and providing advice. They often take form in subject- or grade-specific Facebook groups or in regularly engaging with other educators via Twitter or Instagram. Districts can make a webpage of recommended groups or accounts to follow, categorized by specific needs, so teachers can easily locate good-fitting PLNs.

Alternately, districts can host their own PLNs on a district server, where teachers share resources and communicate through wikis (or other collaborative online tools) to discuss challenges related to the PLN topic.

No matter the mode the district chooses, schools should allow teachers to engage with their PLNs of choice during typical PD time.

2. Assign mentors to novice teachers or those who need support.

Novice teachers and those experiencing symptoms of burnout or demoralization can also be assigned a mentor colleague who has proven success at managing the area tied to the other’s present challenges. For example, if parent relations are causing extreme stress for someone, that teacher could seek advice and support from their mentor experienced in handling parent concerns.

Principals can formalize on-site mentoring programs, even this late in the school year; these programs would provide personalized, essential learning for those most vulnerable to burnout and demoralization. Such programs also convey leaders’ confidence in the mentor colleagues—so both teachers experience a boost in self-efficacy.

3. Give teachers protected, collaborative planning time.

Planning with other teachers can improve the quality of lessons and reduce the amount of workload placed on individual teachers. Specifically, it can increase teachers’ beliefs in their ability to plan and implement impactful instruction, which is essential for strong self-efficacy. Districts should consider providing weekly collaborative planning time for grade-level teams/departments during the school day with coverage for their classes (either from substitutes or district or site leadership), so it does not add to teachers’ working hours. School and district leaders should also ensure that time is not co-opted for site leadership’s goals (for example, using that time to run a data meeting) but rather protected solely for planning purposes.

Of course, there remain stressors associated with modern teaching that are out of districts’ control and there are certainly times for educators to practice self-care and set stronger work boundaries. Some teachers may have already decided to leave their posts, and district actions at this point may not change that. However, districts cannot afford to let them go without trying; immediate and targeted action that continues into next school year is essential. Self-efficacy is one psychological lens school leaders might use to support teachers so they are able to effectively accomplish and sustain the work they love.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Curriculum Webinar
Strategies for Incorporating SEL into Curriculum
Empower students to thrive. Learn how to integrate powerful social-emotional learning (SEL) strategies into the classroom.
Content provided by Be GLAD
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Webinar
Leadership in Education: Building Collaborative Teams and Driving Innovation
Learn strategies to build strong teams, foster innovation, & drive student success.
Content provided by Follett Learning
School & District Management K-12 Essentials Forum Principals, Lead Stronger in the New School Year
Join this free virtual event for a deep dive on the skills and motivation you need to put your best foot forward in the new year.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Teaching Profession The NEA Faces an Unexpected Labor Adversary—Its Own Staff Union
Staff for the nation’s largest teachers’ union picketed at its Washington headquarters Thursday, striking for the first time in decades.
3 min read
Staff of the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers union, strike outside the organization's building in Washington on June 20, 2024. The staff union alleges that the NEA violated labor law.
Staff from the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers union, protest outside the organization's building in Washington, D.C., on June 20, 2024.
Stephen Sawchuk/Education Week
Teaching Profession Teachers Report Lower Pay, More Stress Than Workers in Other Fields
It's yet another warning sign for the beleaguered profession.
4 min read
Teacher working on scheduling at desk.
Teaching Profession Teachers Are Pushing for Paid Parental Leave. How It's Going
Efforts to implement paid parental leave policies are slowly gaining traction, with teachers often advocating on their own behalf.
7 min read
Image of a pregnant person at work.