Avoiding Burnout Plus Summer 2018 Course Design Seminar

Avoiding Burnout

January probably seems like a long time ago to our students, but many of us are wondering how it’s possible that there’s only about a month left in the semester. You’re not alone in your dismay; but if you’re feeling more overwhelmed than usual, you might want to check for early signs of burnout. Herbert Freudenberger first used the term “burn-out” in 1974, to describe the emotional exhaustion and apathy that could overcome professionals in the “caring” fields, like social work, healthcare, and mental health. Ironically, it seemed to strike those who were most selfless and engaged, those who gave of themselves tirelessly—until they couldn’t. Tapped out, they would shut down and withdraw, losing their value for the things they had cared so much about.

Burnout is now recognized as a potential hazard for university faculty, as well; and it’s no great surprise that the tenure track is especially fraught. Academic culture encourages workaholism, and flexible schedules often just mean that there are no boundaries on our work, so it can encroach into every part of our lives. Burnout is distinct from stress or depression, though it may share symptoms with each; and it’s significantly associated with imposter syndrome (Villwock et al., 2016). It’s characterized by exhaustion, cynicism, self-doubt, and de-personalization (or withdrawal from relationships, reduction of empathy, and difficulty “caring”—in a teaching context, de-personalization can show up in negative attitudes toward students). 

Burnout isn’t just about overwork. Isolation, feeling underappreciated, and work that doesn’t seem to align with one’s values are all significant factors (Maslach et al., 1996, 2001). If work feels like a lonely series of meaningless tasks, you may be headed for burnout. (To do a self-assessment, you can take a shortened version of the Maslach Burnout Inventory toward the end of this article.)

There are a few obvious (but sometimes difficult) things you can do to stave off burnout. The same advice we’d give our students in the homestretch of the semester applies to us, too:  regular exercise and adequate sleep may seem like luxuries, and are too often the first sacrifices in an over-packed schedule, but they give you the strength to do the important work you’ve dedicated your life to doing.

Developing and maintaining strong relationships is a key defense against burnout, as is a strong sense of purpose. In other words, it’s important that we make time, even in impossibly full schedules, for our families and friends, and also for our colleagues. The community that you create sustains you even as it nurtures your fellows. We should take every opportunity to let our colleagues know that we admire and value their work. We’re lucky to be surrounded by brilliant, dedicated people. It also helps to remind yourself of the meaning in your own work: when you get bogged down in grading, or frustrated with your students’ performance, it may be hard to remember that you’re working with the future—but every day you can be opening doorways of opportunity for your students. You’re giving them the tools they need for success; you’re helping them develop into curious, humane, and responsible adults. As Stephen Brookfield reminds us, “we teach to change the world.”


Summer 2018 Course Design Seminar
May 14-17, 2018
CAT’s Course Design Seminar provides faculty with the time, structure, and support they need to craft truly transformative learning experiences that reach and inspire their students. The Seminar involves a week-long, hands-on workshop, followed by ongoing individual support throughout the summer. The Seminar promotes a rigorous and scholarly approach to teaching, in which faculty articulate precise and transparent goals for student learning, plan effective use of class time, construct effective scaffolding, and gather valid evidence of learning. Participants will gain:

  • Structured support to (re)design a course for maximum learning
  • Individual assistance and feedback on all aspects of course design, including learning goals; assignment and exam design; effective use of class time; class activities; active-learning strategies, etc.
  • Expertise in learner-centered teaching and backward design
  • Strategies for motivating students
  • Collegial community and peer feedback
  • Support from FSU librarians to identify possible open-access resources

Priority will be given to applications from teams of faculty, either teaching multiple sections of the same course or courses that students take in a series. Faculty teaching high-enrollment courses are especially encouraged to apply. Each faculty participant will receive a stipend of $5,000 upon successful completion of the course redesign. This seminar is not intended for distance-learning courses. Full-time faculty of all ranks are eligible.

Participants will also have the option to participate in a sponsored pilot program, to work with Learning Assistants (LAs). The LA program employs undergraduates who have successfully completed the course to assist the faculty member by facilitating active learning in the classroom. (For details, please contact CAT.)

In collaboration with FSU Libraries’ open textbook initiatives, the seminar will explore options for reducing costs to students.

To apply: Please send a one-page letter of intent, describing your goals for redesigning your course, and indicating how often you teach the course, average enrollment, etc. Applications must be accompanied by a letter of approval from the department chair. Please submit by email to pro-teaching@fsu.edu. Deadline to apply: Monday, April 2. Decisions will be made by April 9.

Faculty must be able to attend all sessions of the workshop, complete pre-work, and submit final revised plans by August 1. Lunch will be provided during the seminar.

Exam Design Workshop
Thursday, April 5 2:00-4:00
We’ll work on designing exams that are accurate measures of student learning in your course and learning opportunities. To RSVP, email pro-teaching@fsu.edu.