Combatting Initiative Burnout: Strategies for Maintaining Motivation

Having taught high school English for a quarter of a century, I’ve witnessed the familiar eye rolls during staff meetings when new initiatives are introduced. Educator Douglas Reeves, known for his work on educational leadership and student achievement, articulates teachers’ perspective with his “law of initiative fatigue,” stating that when new initiatives outweigh available time, resources, and emotional energy, each new effort receives diminishing attention and resources compared to its predecessors.

How can we introduce fresh ideas without draining the enthusiasm educators have for enhancing student learning? A group of teachers and administrators at my school discovered a method to not only encourage testing out new ideas but also to support each other in developing sustainable initiatives in relevant ways.

Based in Northern California, our rural high school has grappled with numerous challenges, including some of the highest Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) scores in the nation, a devastating 2018 wildfire, and the subsequent disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

While these hurdles have been strenuous for both students and staff, they have sparked significant transformative changes. The school witnessed a surge in disruptive and apathetic student behaviors due to trauma and related factors, prompting the need for solutions. While there’s ongoing work ahead, our efforts have already produced remarkable outcomes. Here’s what I’ve gleaned from five years of this transformation journey.

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