Supporting The Exhausted Majority

I want to thank Gregg Behr, the Executive Director of The Grable Foundation, for inspiring this post. Although we were not talking directly about educators when he mentioned the exhausted majority, I was inspired to think about other areas where there can be exhausted majorities. Check out Gregg’s book on Mister Rogers.I have been thinking a lot about a definition of a learner-centered leader. I am circling around a definition and will share with you what I come up with in the next newsletter. While I was thinking about the definition, I spent a lot of time pondering the state of teaching. Specifically, I considered the career trajectory of most of us in education. There seem to be different inflection points in a teacher’s career that a learner-centered leader can have an enormous impact on. 

Let’s look at this chart closely.

Stage 1: Changing the world: When a teacher starts their career, in most cases, they are mission-driven. They feel as if they are going to change the world. When you talk to young teachers most of them will say they feel teaching was a “calling.” I LOVE to be around teachers just coming into their career. The glass is always half full and optimism oozes from them.Stage 2: Start of bureaucratization: Depending on the school system in which they work, the next stage starts the process of bureaucratization. Public school is a bureaucracy. Inevitably, “the shine” starts to wear off as teachers come to realize the rules, policies, and regulations they must work under. Stage 3: Inflection point…bureaucratized or energized: There is a 4-year window where teachers settle into two different camps: the exhausted majority or becoming energized. There is no judgment on which camp a teacher goes into. Indeed, there is a fluidity to these two camps as a teacher may float back and forth between the two depending on the work environment, personal matters, or the learners. However, I do believe that during this four-year window, most teachers start to fall into the camp they will spend most of the rest of their careers.Stage 4: Exhausted or energized: The bulk of a teacher’s career will be spent in one of these two camps. The exhausted majority are professional educators who are hanging on for dear life year after year. The smaller minority have found purpose and energy in what they do during the rest of their career. What can a learner-centered leader do in each stage to encourage “energy” over “exhaustion?”Stage 1: Just hang out with young teachers and feed off their vibes! Do not discourage their optimism. It is easy to play the grizzled veteran who has seen it all by pooh-poohing their ideas. DON’T DO THAT! Have a beginner’s mindset with everyone, especially teachers in this stage of their career.Stage 2: Minimize the bureaucracy in your school. I know there is always going to be some bureaucracy, but you can make decisions that limit the negative impact on teachers. (i.e. over-communicate and work with staff when making new rules and regulations.)Stage 3: Recognize that teachers in years 10-14 are at an important stage of their careers. The shine of being a new teacher has worn off and it is your job to keep them energized or re-energize them. One activity that is important at this stage is to reconnect them with their purpose and goals for education. Taking the time to do this important work, and then creating a PD plan with the teacher to help them reach their goals, is essential. Stage 4: Support the exhausted majority. These are professionals who, for whatever reason, find themselves hanging on for dear life. Continually work with them and support them. Meanwhile, help your energized teachers become influencers within the rest of the school. They are now in the best time of their careers; they are skilled and passionate. Take advantage of their positive energy!

About Tom Butler, Ph.D.

I believe that public education is for the public good and that education should be uncompromisingly learner-centered. The New Learning Ecosystem points us away from the old model of education that does not serve kids well. All educators regardless of where they work can help lead and contribute to the New Learning Ecosystem.
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