Building Self Awareness to Beat Teacher Burnout

Having strong self-awareness is essential to beating burnout because if you don’t know who you are, it’s impossible to get your feet under you and figure out how to go forward.

And although you used to have a reason for teaching, burnout has turned your identity into a pile of ashes. Your burnout type and stage have taken over what used to be you.

Perhaps your burnout has taken away your purpose, and you no longer do what you love to do or dream about doing in the future, like coaching or being a dad.

Just as it’s hard to pay attention to your reality when you’re trying to keep your head above water, it’s hard to focus on yourself and what you think, believe, say, and do on a daily basis when you’re burned out.

When you lose your self-awareness, you lose the ability to remember why you’re even doing what you’re doing anymore, and you become numb to your everyday actions—from what you eat for breakfast to how you reply to students when they talk to you in class.

Veteran classroom teacher Amber Harper shares an eight-step process that shines a light on burnout and helps teachers become BURNED-IN:

  • Fulfilled
  • Happy
  • Efficient
  • Effective in the classroom and in life

Have you ever had a student or one of your own children say something to you, and you reply with, “That’s nice. Way to go.”

When you look up, they’re staring at you as if you just spoke a different language, and they say, “What do you think I just said?”

What happens when you lose touch with your self-awareness and stop thinking about your everyday beliefs, habits, and routines? You simply go through the motions.

I compare it to Bernie from the ’90s classic Weekend at Bernie’s.

In the movie, Bernie dies unexpectedly, but his renters decide to pretend that he’s alive, making it seem that he’s just going about his day doing all of his usual activities: taking walks on the beach, making cocktails by the pool while listening to his favorite music, having dinner with friends—all the things that made Bernie—Bernie.

But he’s dead. He’s going through the motions without feeling a thing.

When you feel like you’re just going through the motions, you live on autopilot. And although it’s good to have habits and routines, the routine you’ve fallen into doesn’t serve you or your purpose anymore.

Depending on your burnout type, you’ve fallen into beliefs that affect what you think, say, and do each day.

The most dangerous part is that you don’t even know how bad it’s gotten. Your burnout has caused you to ditch your old beliefs about why you’re doing what you do every day and who you are, putting you into a perpetual state of one of these two beliefs:

  • I can control everything. If it looks like I’ve got it all together, then I will have it all together.
  • Nothing I do matters. It doesn’t matter what I do or say, how my classroom appears, or whether or not I show up to work.

The danger here is that you’ve now thrown a coat of paint onto an empty building to try to justify your numbness.

You say things like, “I’m just a control freak” or “I just go with the flow,” and you’ve created a false sense of self:

“I am who I am, and no one understands that except for me.”

The only way to get back to who you truly are is to re-engage with yourself and build or rebuild your teacher brand.

If you’re confused about what your brand is or how to build one, don’t worry. The good news is that it’s fairly simple to find out your current brand because your brand is whatever your people say it is.

It’s the cross-section where your core values and purpose match what your people see as your core values and purpose, based on your words, actions, and care for yourself, your things, and your content.

Branding yourself means consistently behaving, speaking, and living in a way that creates a certain perception about who you are and what you can do.

People in your realm of influence, including your students, their families, your colleagues, your superiors, and your learning community, will come to expect a level of personality and professionalism based on the teacher brand you live.

You never know who is paying attention either. There may be a teacher down the hall from you who will become a principal at a school in the next district where you want to work.

They’ll form their opinion of you based on the brand you build, and that brand might alter their willingness to work with you in the future.

Bottom line: your teacher brand matters.

If you’re unhappy with your current brand, you can improve it or change it altogether. You can rebrand yourself. Yes!

Just like Miley Cyrus has done many times. Remember Hannah Montana in 2006? Now think of how different Miley’s brand was in 2013 compared to her sitcom days. She’s rebranded herself many times over by the way she acts, what she says, and the people she hangs out with the most.

It’s important to understand that brands are different than judgments, and this isn’t about keeping up with the “education Joneses” or becoming the most popular teacher in the school or on Instagram.

It isn’t about creating the next viral video or becoming TikTok famous. It’s about having a good character and making sure it shines through your beliefs, actions, and words.

Judgment = an opinion created based on a chance encounter.

Brands are based on repeated patterns of interactions people have had with you over time, whether in person or virtually.

Yes, even the way you conduct yourself online is part of your brand. If people who know you well can predict what you’re going to say or how you’re going to react to certain situations or settings before you say or do anything, you have defined your brand.

To help you determine how others (especially your people) perceive you, let me ask you a few gut-check questions:

  • When you turn the corner in your school and happen upon a group of people talking, how do they react to your presence?
  • Before a school meeting or collaboration, who sits by you or who do you sit near?
  • If you were other teachers, what would you say about you?
  • If you were to ask your students what they thought about you, what would they say?
  • Consider your last meeting with your administrator. What was it about? How did you feel when you left the meeting?
  • Think about parent interactions you’ve had both inside and outside of school. What was the demeanor of the parent(s) toward you?

By the end of this Hack, you’ll have the tools you need to find yourself again and re-create a brand that will awaken you from your burnout slumber.

Doing this is simple, but your findings may be hard to accept.

As you start to wake from this perpetual, eyes-wide-open slumber, you realize that the brand you may have built for yourself is causing a ripple effect of negative relationships, piles of work, or boredom—depending, of course, on your burnout type.

Start building your awareness today

Understanding your teacher brand doesn’t have to be hard, but it does have to be intentional for you to move to the next (improved) burnout stage.

Be honest with yourself about what you perceive about your brand versus what others perceive about it. Building self-awareness can be hard but enlightening.

You can build better self-awareness and move through the burnout stages by paying attention to your five senses.

Imagine you’re waking up, stretching, and taking in your everyday environment for the first time. Use your senses to “wake up” and observe the brand you’ve created for yourself.


Pay attention to:

  • Your classroom or workspace. Imagine you’re looking at this space for the first time. How does it make you feel?
  • How you present yourself. Check out your reflection in the mirror. Do you appear to be ready to serve your people?
  • Your home and car. As you walk into your home or get into your car, imagine that your teacher friends are with you. What do your home and car say about your brand?
  • Your social media account. If a student, parent, or future principal landed on your social media accounts, what would your accounts say about you?


Pay attention to the conversations you have:

  • In your head
  • With colleagues and administrators
  • With students in your classroom
  • In the hallways


Pay attention as you “sniff” around other teachers’ brands by taking a walk through your school or thinking about each classroom as you take that walk mentally.

  • How do you feel as you walk by other rooms?
  • What do other teachers’ classrooms say about them?
  • What words do they use?
  • How do they present themselves regularly?


Pay attention as you “reach out and touch someone you trust,” and ask them:

  • “What words would you use to describe me? Please be honest; I’m working on my brand.” (To which they may say … “What’s a brand? I want one!”)
  • “When you hear students, other teachers, and our principal talk about my class and me, what do they say? Lay it on me; I can take it.”
  • “Would you want your student in my class? Why or why not?”


Get a “taste” of what your students and colleagues feel about your brand. Pay attention to reactions when you give your students a “taste” of a different teacher brand than the one you may be projecting and when you ask for their interpretation of you.

  • Do or say something that you wouldn’t normally do or say (within reason, of course), and observe their reactions. How do they look at you? What do they say?
  • Ask your students for their opinions about you as a teacher and their opinions about your class.
    • “What do you enjoy most about this class?”
    • “How well do you feel you know me?”
    • “If you could change something about this class, what would it be?”
    • “What would you tell a new student about our classroom and me?”

Write down all the words that you’d like people to use to describe you. 

Sometimes, the only thing harder than being in burnout and losing who you are is not feeling that you can be your true self.

It’s especially difficult when you realize you’re not where you want to be in your career and life because you’ve convinced yourself that no one will accept you the way you are.

When you do things differently and begin to let your brand shine through, you will turn heads.

Others may question you, but these are chances for you to become more self-aware and reflect on your core values, your people, and your brand. When life gets hard, it gives you opportunities to learn lessons and grow.


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