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 Going Down In Flames
 
Caregivers of all types experience burnout.  Doctors and nurses frequently abuse the medications to which they have access as a result of burnout.  Military personnel and law officers have high incidents of suicide as a result of burnout.  In early childhood education burnout is often expressed as anger at a child. 
 
Over the past 20 years some of the memorable burnouts we've seen include the teacher that threw a block across the room hitting a child in the forehead with the block; in another case the teacher took her shoe off and threw it at the child striking the child in the face and perhaps the gold medal of burnout goes to the teacher that grabbed a child's face and threatened to kill the girl.
 
The topic of burnout does not seem to get much attention from directors and owners in early childhood education.  I suspect the lack of attention is due to the difficulty in keeping adequate staffing levels, recruiting, interviewing, hiring and training new teachers.  Due to all the hurdles you must jump over in getting staff on board it is easier to "not see” the teacher that can no longer function in your school.  
 
Although it may be more comfortable to ignore a pending burnout the advantages for planning in advance are obvious.  First, you won't find yourself in the situation of a liability lawsuit because someone snapped.  Second, you won't be scrambling to find another teacher after the worst has happened.  Third, you will be protecting the kids enrolled in your school from a bad memory (or worse).
 
So, how do you plan in advance?  I think the first step is absolutely admitting to yourself that some percentage of teachers will indeed snap at some point.  Once you've admitted  this reality the next step is to have a plan in place.  Think of this as one more emergency plan.  You've got your plan in case of fire, you've probably got a plan in case of an armed intruder, this is a plan in case of impending burnout.
 
As you prepare the plan think about the warning signs.  Write down, for your management team, what tells to watch for in the staff.  I think it might be wise to prepare to offer the teacher on the edge a "mental health day”.  Yes, this will create a staffing challenge, but it might save you from having to replace the teacher. Next, plan in advance how you will address the staffing emergency if you need to give a teacher a mental health day or worse, you have to fire them because they did snap.  Does your local licensing board have a pool of subs available that are pre-screened?  If not, contact your local temporary staffing agencies to see if any of them serve our industry.  For the longer term replacement, you might ease some of the difficulty of recruiting the right people by connecting with the school that provides the introductory course for early childhood education in your community.  These schools have a constant flow of prospective teachers for you.  By creating a relationship with the people that run the courses, you are creating a pipeline of new employees.
 
Last but not least, as you prepare your emergency burnout plan, think about how much managerial support you offer your staff.  Fair, consistent enforcement of work rules helps maintain high morale among staff; keeping a "drama free” staff helps keep work stress confined to the dealings with your students and their families; coaching to help the employee feel more confident in their dealings with children and their families will also help to avoid the burnout.
 
A bit of advance planning can save a lot of heart ache later.
 
I value your feedback.  Please email comments or suggestions to: beth@blockinsurance.net
Or, email steven@blockinsurance.net              
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