© 2017 Teaching Troubled Hearts, Chaddock Quincy, IL

  • Michelle Bickhaus

Innovate Because Survival is Insufficient

It’s the second week of September. Is it too early to talk about burnout? Absolutely not!


It’s the perfect time to talk about it. Let’s get proactive. It’s like a superpower. Instead of allowing our school and teaching lives to overwhelm us, let’s take measures to control what we can in our circle of influence in an effort to prevent burnout.



I think a great first step is to shift this paradigm and stop viewing it as burnout. Ken Coleman believes it isn't really burnout. He believes if we’re still living and breathing we cannot be burned out (that happens when we die). Oh, the overwhelming exhaustion and discouragement are real, but he identifies the real culprit as “Build Up”.


Those incessant stressors such as a boss who doesn’t lead the way you think he or she should. Negative co-workers. Technology that’s constantly on the fritz. The unabating grading, IEPs, parent phone calls, paperwork, etc. You’ve lost your zeal for your work.


It’s real and day after day these stresses layer right on top of the other until you feel quite smothered.


One of the solutions Coleman submits is to change your location. He suggests that could mean relocating to another state, another city, or perhaps finding new places where you can connect with people who share your passions.


My present life doesn’t allow for changing locations. Some of you may be able to pack up and move but for many of us it’s not a practical alternative. What IS practical, however, is to alter my present location through innovation.


Innovation is easy if you stay curious! If you’re constantly asking questions of yourself such as, “How can I make this lesson better? What can I do to engage my students more? What are my students interested in? Who else is doing this and what can I learn from them?”


I often hear from teachers that they are stuck and they make claims such as, “But I’m not creative.” If that’s where you are then I have some practical steps you can take to turn that around.


Seek Inspiration:

  1. I follow teachers from all over the world on Instagram. I’m not always able to copy what they do but I find inspiration in what they are doing and their examples provide the comfort of an easy jumping-off point.

  2. Pinterest! Get on it!

  3. Listen to Podcasts. Two of my favorites are Cult of Pedagogy and On Being with Krista Tippett! I also listen to entrepreneurial podcasts and leadership podcasts - you’d be surprised how much applies to the classroom and teaching.

  4. Attend conferences, webinars, and workshops. If you can’t get your district to fund those events then reach out to the presenters - they are often delighted to share information with you!

  5. Subscribe to and read blogs! If you’re reading this, you’re probably already a voracious blog reader.

  6. Get quiet. You absolutely must have time to think! Do this in combination with a podcast and you’ll be amazed. My most inspired moments come when I’m 30 minutes into my early-morning run and I switch on a podcast. Within 15 minutes I’m usually hopping in between steps or giggling out loud (seriously, early-morning risers in my town who witness my antics probably think I’m the weirdest thing) because I’ve had such a light bulb moment and can’t wait to get back to the classroom to try this new thing! That combination of quiet followed by consuming a great podcast is magical!

  7. Read books! There is nothing like a companionable book of your own to mark up and inspire your socks off. And it’s so easy to get them. Check out Amazon, though I encourage you to try your local bookstore first. If you’re not convinced you’ll love it enough to have your own then check with your local library.

When you do these things I guarantee you’ll alleviate your “Build Up”. And you’ll motivate those around you to do more than just survive!