Designing for Success: How School Environments Can Alleviate Teacher Burnout

Consider these five small changes to your school’s physical atmosphere to alleviate teacher burnout and promote student and educator wellness.

Designing for Success: How School Environments Can Alleviate Teacher Burnout

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Note: The views expressed by guest bloggers and contributors are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Campus Safety.

K-12 teachers have the highest burnout rates of any industry in the nation. In fact, a study published earlier this year found that one-third of K-12 teachers were hoping to quit, indicating a dangerous trend that would have a profoundly damaging effect on students.

Schools can continue to carry out their mission of educating our students by prioritizing teacher morale and well-being. The well-being of the teachers tasked with this critical role directly correlates to the quality of education that they are able to provide in their classrooms. Including a few intentional but simple and inexpensive design changes with educators in mind can transform their experience at work and lead to better results for every teacher and student.

Ensuring that each classroom has windows, preferably with a view to trees or greenery, is a subtle detail that can pay dividends in teacher well-being. Research shows that students and teachers in classrooms with natural lighting and outdoor views are more alert, productive, and engaged, which are benefits that affect teachers as well as students.

Unlike students, however, teachers don’t have the luxury of moving to a different classroom almost every period. Teaching all day and all year in a classroom that never has any daylight is hardly an environment that fights against burnout. Since teachers spend the whole year in the same classroom, it’s important that every classroom be designed with windows.

Paying careful attention to the finishes, colors, and tones of your school is another key way to elevate the teacher experience. Simple details like wood finishes, eye-catching graphics, and pops of color can go a long way toward creating a brighter, homier, and more welcoming atmosphere.

Strategically placing faculty bathrooms throughout the campus is another key way to alleviate burdens on teachers. Using the restroom shouldn’t be a source of stress for anyone, but it can be for teachers who have to coordinate someone to monitor their classroom while they walk halfway across campus for a restroom that may be occupied. Incorporating more faculty restrooms is a small but significant move that can eliminate unnecessary hassle for busy teachers.

Setting aside a dedicated space for teachers to do their daily lesson planning and grading allows them to gather and reorganize their thoughts in a space aside from their classroom. The growing popularity of pod configurations allows schools to simply insert a small planning room into each pod. It also allows teachers to monitor the central flex area and sealable entrances through glass windows, enhancing student safety by elevating awareness of key areas.

Additionally, schools can prioritize their teachers through careful construction of the teachers’ lounge. With a little bit of deliberate design, these lounges can be made into cheerful and peaceful spaces where educators can relax, recuperate, and recharge for the rest of their day. Even tiny changes – like adding aesthetic and comfortable furniture, changing up the light fixtures, or painting an accent wall – can make a big difference in the amount of mental space a teacher has to relax. Teachers work hard in their classrooms, so their lounges should be physically and mentally rejuvenating atmospheres.

Exhausted and burnt-out teachers can’t educate or protect their students as effectively. However, making small changes to the physical atmosphere can help curb this burnout and promote student and educator wellness. Designing a school that cares for teachers as well as students isn’t hard, but it requires intentionality. Attractive, well-lit spaces that are connected to the outdoors, filled with technology, and covered in beautiful finishes can improve morale, increase teacher retention, and reduce burnout. Making these simple changes can transform teacher experiences and increase the entire school’s ability to accomplish its mission.

Jorge Tiscareno is a Partner and Design Director at PBK, a leading architectural and engineering design solutions firm.

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