Burn out is a common problem at the end of the school year, but here we are a month or more after schools have ended and for many the challenge continues. You are not alone. The workload, the assessments – of students and you – and the feeling that you aren’t valued are all contributing factors. Add to this all the ways COVID-19 has exacerbated the issue, and it’s hard to change course. How can you rekindle your enthusiasm?
Moving at top speed to get everything done will not help. Once you recognize you are burnt out – whether from things at work, home, or a combination – your first step is to pause and breathe. To create a pause, do what you can to remove yourself from the environment you are in. Go sit outside. Take a walk. Drive to park and, if necessary, sit in your car. Just get away from your usual surroundings with its reminders of all you have to do.
Next consciously take a deep breath, slowly in and slowly out (this is good even if you can’t change your environment). In the article The Benefits of Deep Breathing, Andrea Watkins, LCSW, writes that the benefits of this one action include:
- Decreasing stress, increasing calm,
- Reliving pain,
- Stimulating the lymphatic system (and detoxifying the body),
- Improving immunity.
Once you’ve taken these steps, you’ll be better able to think clearly and see the ways you’re capable and succeeding. You are used to dealing with many demands. You have proven how flexible you are. Throughout the quarantine you have been a source of information –and comfort – to students and teachers. Trust yourself to continue to be that. And make sure your principal and even your superintendent know what you have been doing and how it has contributed to learning and student engagement throughout this time.
Another action that can help is to reconnect with your “Why.” It’s amazing how powerful this can be. Think back to the reasons you became a librarian. Recall the special moments you have had with kids, teachers, and others. Maybe even some that took place during this crazy final semester. Remember your Mission and Vision statements. This is who you are and what you bring to others.
You can also try reorganizing your day and possibly your work environment. A change-up will help to energize you. Be sure you are including “me-time” of at least 30 continuous minutes. You will get more done by taking a break than if you worked through it.
When you’re feeling calmer, identify what was the “straw” (or strawS) that triggered the burnout. Look at both your work and personal life. Each may be a contributor. Once you’ve determined what that breaking point might be, taking action – even one step – can help.
I’ve been reading on the School Librarian’s Workshop Facebook page that many of you are worried that after all you have done, you won’t have a library to go back to. You might be re-assigned to the classroom if libraries and other specials are being cancelled for the year, or perhaps the administration is talking about eliminating you entirely. Your action step can be stepping up your advocacy. All across social media you can find numerous charts and infographics for “sharing” with your administrators. Here is one from New Jersey Association of School Libraries or this one from Arlen Kimmelman, also of NJASL. AASL has one specifically for administrators. You might also request time with your principal to discuss how you can impact student learning in the various potential configurations for school in the fall. Bring your awareness of trauma-informed learning and teaching. Discuss how you can assist in helping teachers who are also suffering from trauma.
The switch to distance learning, helping teachers who are struggling, and doing the same for students has been incredibly draining. As you look toward a new school year, the extent of uncertainty about how the new configuration will look, and what your role in the new configuration it will be is increasing your anxiety and exhaustion. But if you take the time to use your support systems, make a plan, and take a step, you will discover you can do this. You have already done so much. Don’t let burnout stop you now.
Take the time you need and, as always, breathe!