Give Yourself the Grace & Time to Heal From Educator Burnout & Disengagement

One of my professional interests that I am most passionate about is the concept of how I came back from the strong desire I had to leave the education profession. Then, I called it burnout although it was probably a mixture of burnout, demoralization, and personal and professional adversities. Now, I call the overarching term for this as disengagement. I had no idea what had happened to me that I wanted to leave a profession that I had loved. Being so unhappy was draining and impacting other areas of my life as I was constantly overwhelmed. This experience is why I began talking about re-engagement and how one can come back from being disengaged because I believed that everyone has the right to be happy.

Many times on social media I see well-intentioned people asking about what people can do to come back from burnout. There are so many reasons people can actually become disengaged besides burnout, but what I believe they’re asking is that if we are tired as educators (which when aren’t we, really?) how can we remember why we love our jobs. People give tips that generally boil down to self-care and because social media relies on short and succinct messages, it can potentially make someone feel like the retrieval of our buried happy-teacher should be an easy task.

I’m not even sure that in my own work and research that I have made this part abundantly clear: becoming re-engaged is not quick. It is not easy. It often feels like two steps forward and one step back. It took me one year to begin to believe that I could stay in the profession. It took me another two to feel like I was completely re-engaged again. Some days, even though it’s been over six years, I feel like slipping back into that negativity would be so easy. Especially with how overwhelming the world is right now. Discussion of burnout or disengagement is never flippant. I believe everyone understands that it is a serious potential affliction for professionals who are so emotionally tied to their work. Sometimes, however, people underestimate the amount of energy that being engaged takes.

While reading this may feel negative and glass-half-full, why I bring it up is because I have spoken with people who have been trying to come back from disengagement and don’t feel normal after a few weeks or months. They want to give up and forget about trying because it feels like it’s never going to end. They often think that once they decide to re-engage that their minds, bodies, and thoughts should just follow suit. But, they’ve been unintentionally practicing being unhappy in their job for a long time, and like any habit, it will take time to break.

Plus, if you find yourself burnt out, or demoralized, or going through some sort of adversity, a teacher trauma, or whatever may be impacting your engagement and you’re trying to come back, it takes time to heal. You will need quite possibly a significant amount of time to heal from the emotional response that you have had to teaching for various reasons. Trying to re-engage isn’t about being lazy versus ambitious. It isn’t about being tired versus energized. It isn’t about not wanting to versus wanting to, even though engagement includes all these things. Working toward being an engaged teacher after being disengaged is about healing a part of you that has suffered hurt.

And I have always said this about resilience: resilience isn’t about bouncing back to the person you were before. You will not be the same person and that is okay. You will be smarter. More aware. Have more strategies in your tool belt so there’s less chance of it happening again. Resilience is about being happy with the person you’ve become. If you feel like you have to be the person you were before you will also feel like you are constantly failing because you are no longer that person. That is not only part of learning, that is part of healing.

Even now, all these years later, I am still trying new strategies to keep myself engaged. It is a constant process of reflection and evolving. A couple years ago this effort included learning how to meditate. I hated it. I read the research. I knew it was good for my brain, but I did not like it. Now, I can meditate for up to 15 minutes at a time and if I don’t do it for a few days I can feel that I need it. I would never have guessed that would have been the case a couple years ago. It took work and it took time, but it was part of the process of working to keep my engagement that I had fought so hard to get back in the first place. Meditation is only one of many strategies that I have, it just happens to be one of my newest ones.

If you’re working on re-engaging or just trying to stay engaged, know this: it will be a winding road. It is not an easy endeavor. It will take time and effort. Don’t give up or feel like a failure if it doesn’t seem to be working. Adjust your sails and keep going, keep plugging away even when you’re questioning if it’s just too much Like anything that is hard, the end game is worth it.

You can find more information on educator engagement and disengagement here. My last post on overwhelm here. Also, my books The Fire Within and Reignite the Flames address mental health awareness for educators and engagement and re-engagement respectively. Finally, find my free Educator Self-Care Course here.

Resilience quote

8 thoughts on “Give Yourself the Grace & Time to Heal From Educator Burnout & Disengagement

  1. Pingback: Dear Mandy, How do I heal this summer? | Divergent EDU

  2. When I was a principal, I saw several of my staff who were “burned out” and didn’t know where to go from there. And they were only about 40 years old. Unfortunately, no one was available to help them embrace that and move beyond it and “re-invent” themselves. You know, Mandy, how difficult it was to be a staff member in that situation.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. “Working toward being an engaged teacher after being disengaged is about healing a part of you that has suffered hurt”

    Yes. Very much so. And, a comfortability with the not-knowing as you acclimate to your new world that will not be a new normal… you now and tomorrow not you now as relative to yesterday so to speak. Strength and perseverance and not being lazy and ambition get you survival. Though, adaptation gets you thrival. Masaaki Hatsumi puts it this way, “When the you as Master tire and can no longer go on in your practice, do not look to your depletions. Look to your mind when you were a beginner.” Lots there. And, lots in your article. Excellent post, Mandy.

    Liked by 1 person

      • You’re most welcome. I appreciate you spending the word mileage to open up an important topic for people rather than give in to the low-attention-span quip-be-concise-get-to-the-point-quick plop of seagull motivational nonsense that flies in hot and flies away just as superficially fast… like a sugar spike of inspiration. That just leads to deflation if you partake of its poison drip over time.

        I’ll repeat simply to lead back out of the comment on a positive note: “I appreciate you spending the word mileage to open up an important topic for people.”

        Liked by 1 person

      • Bahahhahahahhaha! Ok. You made me spit out my water. You are awesome.

        I feel like I live in this place where I’m constantly saying “Hang on now here, this can be hard” but I find toxic positivity draining because I feel like I’m never at the level of that. I’m always both hopeful and fearful that how I feel resonates with others. Thank you for reading 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • You’re welcome. 🙂 Yes, Toxic positivity, the “it’s so easy” “It shouldn’t take you long” etc etc which is guises shaming behavior, crowd control management techniques. It has led not to instant gratification, but an inability To even perceive gratification except “my next show” and Text text Text and a false sense of urgency.

        As you put it, “Hang on now here, this can be hard.” That’s a wonderful line, Mandy, that dials into the “Go slow to go faster” concept. THe Tortoise and the Hare, or like I like to reticle it, “The Experiential Tortoise and the Manic Hare.” The Tortoise actually might even have a more meaningful experience crossing the line when it pauses to just take in what the line looks like, feels like, and them immerse across it… while the Hare is out there bouncing around like a Pachinko machine going everywhere and most likely has no wonderfully indelible memories of any of it?

        I’ve also found that when a sentence or two in I say, “Can you put down your phone?” It’s like I asked Linus for his blanket, which became a legit part of him.


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