Teacher burnout

Aug. 26, 2022

Study aims to help Alberta teachers better handle compassion fatigue and burnout

Werklund researcher receives funding to improve educators’ occupational wellness

Educators are expected to provide their unique form of caregiving without fail, often repressing their own internal emotional battles. This can sometimes result in compassion fatigue, compassion stress and burnout.

A Werklund School of Education researcher and assistant professor aims her research to help improve educators’ occupational wellness on an individual and systemic level. The hope is to foster a positive and healthy workspace for them and, ultimately, for the children they teach.

Dr. Astrid Kendrick, EdD’18, is the principal researcher of the Compassion Fatigue, Emotional Labour and Educator Burnout Research Study. Her findings show that "50 per cent of the educational workers who answered the survey indicated that they were experiencing compassion fatigue, and 80 per cent indicated that they were suffering from one or more symptoms of burnout.”

Kendrick was one of five University of Calgary researchers who received funding last spring from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) through the Partnership Development Grants program.

Compassion fatigue and burnout

Anxiety and stress have been progressively felt by educational workers (i.e., teachers, principals and other educators) at alarming levels in Alberta because of several factors, including increased class sizes, disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, ever-more-diverse and complex classroom composition, and government education budget cuts.

Kendrick, who worked as a K-12 teacher for 19 years, is familiar with compassion fatigue and burnout.

“They are both related to having a job where you work with people,” she says. “Compassion fatigue is triggered by doing crisis and trauma work with kids that are under your care. Burnout occurs following the increasing number of responsibilities and workplace pressures that are piling on to people. The combination of both is creating a bigger problem, but both have certainly been a part of teaching for several years.”

Working with children is not an easy task and can quickly become overwhelming in a classroom with anywhere between 20 to 40 students and only one teacher with the responsibility to not only create lesson plans and deliver them, but also attend to students’ emotional needs.

“It’s never one-to-one therapy; it’s one adult with numerous kids,” says Kendrick.


Problem-solving on a systemic level

In 2020, the Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) and Alberta School Employee Benefit Plan (ASEBP) noticed an increase in the number of educational workers in distress calling Human Services hotlines. This sparked the question of what caused the increase and what solutions could be implemented. Kendrick was brought on board to lead an ATA/ASEBP-funded research study that she completed early this year.

Her latest study is an extension of that research and has received the Partnership Development grant from SSHRC, providing funding for three years. Two fellow Werklund faculty, Dr. Theodora Kapoyannis, PhD’18, and Dr. Shelley Russell-Mayhew, PhD’13, have been engaged through the SSHRC grant as co-applicants.

The extended research includes a pilot program involving two school districts in Central and Southern Alberta.

Kendrick says this research “takes a systemic approach by addressing the micro, macro and meso influences on an individual while highlighting the collective responsibility of employees and employers for wellness at work.”

One of the ways Kendrick plans on implementing a solution to improve mental wellness is through the creation of HEARTcare planning, a process (scHool, systEm, individuAl, pRofessional, educaTional care) to help people remember that experiencing workplace stress isn’t because of the individual, but because of the factors surrounding them.

“HEARTcare is purposely investigating and implementing supports and resources available to educational workers,” Kendrick says.

Through this research project, Kendrick says she is motivated to make a difference in the community by helping people become mentally and emotionally healthy at work.

“The goal is for people to feel better and be the best educator that they can be,” she says. “I want my students who are future teachers to be the best teachers they can be and, as a parent, I want my son to be in a classroom with a teacher who has the time and attention to notice him.”

Learn more about HEARTcare planning resources.

The five UCalgary recipients of SSHRC Partnership Development Grants in the spring of 2022 were:

• Dr. Aleem Bharwani, MD (Cumming School of Medicine): “Co-Designing, Implementing, and Evaluating an Inclusive Governance Model for the University of Calgary's Faculties of Education and Medicine - in Partnership with Equity-Seeking Communities in Treaty 7 Territory/Métis Nation of Alberta/Southern Alberta”
• Dr. Astrid Kendrick, PhD (Werklund School of Education): “HEARTcare Planning for Educational Workers: Mobilizing Interventions for Compassion Fatigue and Burnout”
• Dr. Meghan McDonough, PhD (Faculty of Kinesiology): “Developing Evidence-Based Methods of Supporting Adults in the Exercise Context”
• Dr. David Nicholas, BSW’85, MSW’88, PhD (Faculty of Social Work): “Partnership Advancement in the Pursuit of an Integrated Navigation and Support System for Children with Neurodevelopmental Disabilities and their Families”
• Dr. Miwa Takeuchi, PhD (Werklund School of Education): “Learning with the Land and Understanding the Soil Toward Refugee Integration and Diversity”