Avoiding Teacher Burnout: An Interview with Jenny Rankin

In our multi-part interview with Jenny Grant Rankin, PhD and author of First Aid for Teacher Burnout: How You Can Find Peace and SuccessEngaging & Challenging Gifted Students, and How to Make Data Work: A Guide for Educational Leaders, we explore her journey from teaching to writing, the best ways for teachers to leverage resources, how she addresses burnout, and how her work aligns with The Teaching Well. 

Kelly Knoche: What I love about what the title embodies in the book is that it really is about first aid for teacher burnout. All of your strategies bridge between the personal mindset and making sure that you feel challenged in the work but not overwhelmed. How to fix your larger environment and also attend to do those day to day tasks. Can you dive deeper into your background starting from the classroom and the inspiration for this book?

Jenny Rankin: The largest portion of my career was spent as a teacher. I was a junior high school English teacher in quite a rough area. Orange County on the eastern border of Los Angeles. We had a lot of gangs, drugs, dead bodies on campus, shoot outs on campus. 

I worked with incredible teachers doing incredible things under incredibly stressful conditions. I realized that no matter where teachers are, there's so much on the plate. And it never lightens, it only gets heavier.

After being a teacher, I shifted into a special assignment role where I was supporting my colleagues—putting lessons together and assessing what's working and what isn't and using that formative feedback to guide instruction with ways to support the kids. Even though we were junior high, our kids were coming in second, third-grade reading level.

English was a second language for most of our kids. It was school-wide free and reduced lunch. The kids had a lot of challenges to jump over. I worked as Vice Principal at a school just down the street, same conditions. Then I shifted into a role as a different district administrator, and I oversaw performance data, which is a speciality of mine—to use data to really figure out what's going on and target those things.

Whatever it is to get the teacher the help that he or she needs so that everything can go well.

From there, I became the research officer at Illuminate Education. I was there for two or three years. As I finished my PhD, I've been writing books for educator and presenting at conferences, podcasts, webinars, and to teams of teachers. In all my work this specialty area of data and technology to assess pressure points arises.

It’s  always been an obsession of mine that any administrator, whether school administrator or district administrator, your job is to assist teachers. They're on the front lines, like soldiers. I've always been obsessed with: How can we make this easier for teachers? The easier we make life for teachers, the better for students. These professionals deserve some longevity, and they deserve some peace and joy.

Kelly Knoche: I think so often when we're in the teaching role and we are on the front lines, we feel silo-ed in our classroom. In your chapter on administrators what I love and something that The Teaching Well really believes in is having compassion in administration. How has your role as both a TSA and vice principal really shifted the conversation for you around burnout and informed the tools you brought to this book?      

Jenny Rankin: That's a great question. One, it's listening, because to do those roles effectively, you need to listen at least as much as you're talking. Each teacher has a very different reality and they're very different people and personalities. Then, adapting whatever it is we're going to do to be sure that it's going to work for the teacher. If not—what needs to change? The teachers might have valid concerns or I might see red flags or maybe other things aren't in place.

Finding ways to see that wow, we're talking about A, but I can see that this teacher is so overwhelmed with B. "Hey, do you want someone to come in and cover your class while you watch because she has some great strategies?"

Whatever it is to get the teacher the help that he or she needs so that everything can go well. It's really a juggling act to get all the pieces in place, it does require an awareness of what a juggling act it is so that those realities can be acknowledged and dealt with so that a teacher can be his or her best leader.