podcast cover image for an episode on reducing teacher burnout - the one mindset shift we need to make

The # 1 Mindset Shift Needed to Reduce Teacher Burnout

podcast Oct 09, 2023

What is a Paradigm/mindset shift?

So, what's a paradigm shift anyway? A paradigm shift isn't just a buzzword; it's a fundamental change in how we approach or understand a situation. Simply put, it's like flipping a switch in your brain that suddenly illuminates your world in a new light. You see the same students, the same classroom, and even the same teaching materials—but your perspective changes dramatically.

Stephen Covey's Classic Example of a Paradigm Shift

I was introduced to this idea about 30 years ago, long before I stepped into a classroom. In the classic book, "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People," Stephen Covey shares a sample story about a paradigm shift. Covey describes a personal experience on a subway where a father seemed to ignore his boisterous children. Initially irritated, Covey approached the father, asking him to control his kids. It turned out the man had just lost his wife, and they were all struggling to cope. Instantly, Covey’s irritation turned to empathy. That’s the power of a paradigm shift. You see the same situation but understand it differently, leading to new emotions and actions.

Here's One You Know - Growth Mindset

If you've been in education for a significant amount of time, you have witnessed a huge paradigm shift: the adoption of a "growth mindset." Coined by psychologist Carol Dweck, this concept revolutionizes the way we understand intelligence, ability, and success. Gone are the days when intelligence was seen as a fixed trait that you were either born with or without, and we have reframed the way students (and teachers) feel about making mistakes. 

Here's the Greatest Paradigm Shift You Can Make to Reduce Teacher Burn-Out

But what mindset shift can we make to reduce teacher burnout and stress? Here's a simple one that I proposed that has literally transformed how I show up, how I react, and my relationship with students, parents, co-workers, and administrators. It's this. ASSUME THE BEST INTENTIONS.

Extend some grace to people. Assume that no one got out of bed this morning with the express intention of annoying you or making your day more challenging. Assume that people are doing the best they can, with e the skills they have, in the situation that they find themselves in. Period. Assume that people have the best intentions, and, just like deceased wife in Covey's story, there are so many background factors that you are not aware of.

Here are some examples where this could apply.


When a student is consistently late or unprepared for class, instead of branding them as careless or lazy, what if you assume they're doing the best they can? Perhaps they're responsible for dropping off a sibling at daycare, or maybe their home environment is chaotic. By adopting a paradigm of empathy, you can approach them with understanding and seek solutions rather than automatically criticize or dish out punishment. 


Ever had a parent criticize your teaching methods or complain without offering a solution? Yeah, it's frustrating. But when we switch our mindset to "assume the best intentions," we can look at these interactions as opportunities for dialogue. Maybe the parent is stressed about their child's performance and doesn't know how to help. Maybe they have trauma related to their own school experience that doesn't let them defensive and unwilling to assume the best intentions of you. Your empathetic approach could turn confrontations into collaborations.


We all know the break room can be a sanctuary or a battlefield. When you assume your coworkers are doing their best, it changes the campus dynamics. That teacher who never contributes to department meetings? Maybe they’re swamped with personal issues. The teacher who leaves right when the bell rings? Maybe they have caretaking responsibilities or (a gripe for another episode) a second job they need to rush to.

How About Stressful Student Behavior Issues?

So here I'm going to ask you to stretch yourself. I'm going to ask you to challenge your thinking when it comes to s student behavior issues. You know that one student who drives you crazy? Okay, there are probably a few, but think of the one whose behavior triggers you the most. Is it possible that the reason you are so triggered is that the students exhibit struggles in areas that you haven't quite resolved for yourself? Instead of a wall that you run into and hit your head against, is there a way to look at the behavior as a mirror, something that, on a deeper level, can teach you something about yourself?


In conclusion, adopting this mindset shift seems like a simple thing, but it can take a lot of practice and compassion. But by embracing the "assume the best intentions" paradigm, you're not just fostering positive interactions, you can reduce much of your stress and help curb teacher burnout.

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