Teachers have experienced more anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic than even health care workers and other employees, researchers say. As a result, public school systems are experiencing a “burnout crisis” in which more than four in 10 teachers say they “always” or “very often” feel stressed out at work.
K-12 leaders have known for a long time that instructional coaching is a foundational approach for helping novice teachers overcome anxiety and become more adept in the classroom. But coaching also plays a critical role in helping veteran teachers cope with the extreme demands of the profession.
In my experience in coaching executives and educators alike, I have seen firsthand how effective coaching helps professionals at all levels thrive at their jobs—and it’s an essential strategy for stemming the burnout crisis that’s affecting our schools.
A 2021 dissertation from a Ph.D. student at Claremont Graduate University confirmed that comprehensive formal mentoring can mitigate stress, burnout, and attrition even among veteran teachers. For her dissertation, Heidi Akin studied the effects of coaching and mentoring on 20 veteran K-8 teachers in six Southern California school districts. All the teachers had at least 10 years of experience in the classroom—and every study participant reported positive responses to the coaching they received.
In her dissertation, Akin noted that some of the biggest factors causing teachers to feel stressed and burned out include professional isolation, lack of autonomy, lack of support from administration, and stress among students. Effective coaching can address all these problem areas.
“The coaching cycle, collaboration, collegiality, and shared responsibility with a mentor may … serve to reduce teacher isolation,” Akin wrote. “Comprehensive mentor support has the potential to [help] teachers experiencing poor student-teacher relationships. The mentor may act as a conduit to relay effective positive and proven classroom management strategies. The mentor may also relieve some of the stress that results from excessive education reform. Reflection and discourse with mentors may mitigate disappointments and frustrations [about] autonomy loss and may open fresh perspectives and solutions regarding professional decision making that still exists at the classroom level.”
The veteran teachers who received coaching felt more respected because they were getting the professional support they needed. They described it as a “transformative” experience that rekindled their love of teaching.
“I just loved the experience of it,” one participant said. “Almost everything was spot on that I could use. My mentor was a wonderful resource, and she just had so much to offer me.”
Another participant noted that coaching is extremely valuable for veteran teachers, because the coach and teacher can dive much deeper into instructional strategies as a result of the depth of experience they both share: “I actually think it’s one of the best things in the whole entire world. Here’s why. When you first start teaching, … you are so fresh, you have absolutely no clue even what to ask. You have no clue what to go deeper into. You’re just like, ‘How do I plan all of this stuff?’ I think [this] is a brilliant philosophy to train teachers who already have that foundation down, and you’re going deeper into it.”
These responses are similar to what I’ve experienced in leading and observing numerous coaching sessions.
Coaching veteran teachers is different from coaching young or inexperienced teachers. Veteran teachers have years of their own classroom experience to draw from, which can make coaching them more challenging sometimes. Here are three strategies I’ve found to be highly effective when coaching veteran teachers.
Being genuine is the key to establishing the trust necessary for building strong relationships between teachers and instructional coaches. In my experience working with youth as a gang interventionist and later as a youth minister, I learned very quickly that if you’re not open and honest with people, they’ll see right through you and tune you out.
Approach the relationship as a partnership.
Veteran teachers have seen it all for themselves. Although even experienced educators can benefit from a fresh perspective and from conversations about what has worked well for others, teachers won’t respond well to a coach who comes in thinking they have all the answers. The best relationships are forged when the teacher and coach approach the dynamic as an equal partnership in which each person learns from the other.
Honor the experience of veteran educators.
Listen to what teachers have to say. Ask them what they’ve found to be effective in their own classroom and where they feel they’re struggling the most. Approaching the relationship as a two-way street can lead to powerful new insights that can help even veteran teachers up their game. It also validates what veteran teachers are experiencing, which allows them to feel heard and respected.
Coaching shows teachers that you think they’re worth investing in. It’s a way of showing them professional courtesy. It gives them a sounding board, someone they can open up to and share their frustrations. It helps teachers forge strong relationships with colleagues that can break through the isolation they often feel in their professional lives. It can lead to new ideas and serve as a reminder of why teachers entered the profession in the first place.
All these experiences are incredibly valuable in reducing the stress and anxiety that teachers at all levels are feeling today. With the right approach that respects and honors what they bring to the table, even veteran teachers can benefit tremendously from instructional coaching.
About the author
Jacinto Ramos Jr., Ed.D., is an Account Executive for Sibme, which provides one-on-one virtual coaching for teachers, coaches, and instructional leaders. A former juvenile probation officer, youth minister, and school board member for the Fort Worth Independent School District, Ramos is also a School Board Governance Coach for the Council of the Great City Schools.