She created an eight-week virtual training program called SCORE
(Self-Care Options for Resilient Educators) that teaches stress
management skills in ways that relate to educators’
responsibilities and relationships. A study during the early
months of the COVID-19 pandemic found SCORE can make a
difference for the better.
“We live in a high-stress society,” Ansley said. “We’re designed
with stress — and recovery from stress — in mind. But today,
we’re exposed to such high stress levels, we have to be more
intentional about managing it.”
It’s a challenge everyone faces, and educators especially need
to prioritize self-care in order to be effective on the job.
“Otherwise, we’re not much use to anybody else,” Ansley said.
Brandi Ansley said there’s no single magical way to care for
yourself or promote your well-being, but effective techniques
can reduce stress in the moment and continue to help over time.
She tells classroom teachers who tend to put their own needs
last that time given to healthy coping and self-care is worth
the investment in terms of professional quality of life. Here
are a few of her tips:
self-care habits into your workplace routines and
relationships. This looks different for each person but can
include factors such as physical movement, food and
beverages, and breathing techniques and relaxation
“quitting time” for work, after which you will not respond
to messages, take work-related calls, grade work, plan
time for well-being. Whether it is exercise, a salt bath,
leisure time with family and friends, or another fun or
non-obligatory activity, it belongs on your agenda the same
as work and errands.
about saying “yes” and unafraid to say “no.
addition to experiencing burnout firsthand as a special
education teacher, Ansley took on the burdens of students’
personal lives — what is known as secondary trauma.
“You get details of their trauma, and it may haunt you,” she
said. Teachers also must be aware of any preoccupation with
their students’ issues, as it may start to affect them.
Teacher burnout is a serious problem in education. Even before
the pandemic, a national
more than 800 respondents found that 61% of teachers experienced
high daily stress “often” or “always” compared with 30% across
all other professions. In a similar survey after the outbreak,
those figures rose to 78% and 40%.
Solutions, not problems
2016, Ansley began presenting professional development sessions
in the Atlanta area with a team from Georgia State University.
During these sessions, which were attended by teachers and other
school personnel, she saw that stress management wasn’t the
priority it should be.
might have been the only person at education conferences
presenting on that topic back then,” she said. Now, it’s
everywhere. “Apparently, other people had similar ideas at the
But after decades of research on the problem of burnout, there
was still little information out there about how to deal with
“It’s still a problem-focused topic, rather than
solutions-focused,” Ansley said.
When she came to CMU in 2018, she wanted to help aspiring
teachers guard against burnout as they entered the field. It was
time to put SCORE to the test. She had no idea how much of a
test it would become.
ultimate stress test
Ansley created a study that enrolled 28 CMU
student teachers, half of whom would go through the SCORE
program of written guides and videos.
She chose February 2020 to begin the eight-week study. Then
COVID struck. By March 6, shortly before the start of lockdowns
and shifts to remote learning, stress was at an all-time high.
Students suddenly didn’t know whether schools would stay open or
whether they could complete their degree requirements on time.
had never had a group of student teachers that was so
discouraged,” Ansley said. She thought about calling off the
study but decided to see it through.
She found decreased burnout and increased self-compassion among
SCORE participants vs. the control group that did not try the
“There was a much larger increase in self-efficacy in the group
that did this program,” she said. “The difference was
More research is needed, which Ansley already is working on with
others outside of CMU.
For now, the takeaway is that effective, healthy self-care is a
critical part of the solution for addressing burnout and
“There are so many healthy ways to self-care,” Ansley said. “And
it’s really only going to make a difference if we make room for