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Recognizing Burnout of High Achieving Students

We've all met students whose performance suddenly drops. Burnout can happen to any student, but it is particularly worrying when it happens to a student who was doing well and for whom we had such high hopes. It can happen at any age and can happen for a variety of reasons. We know that our students are under a lot of academic and social stress. 

Here, we'll look at recognizing student burnout in high-achieving students and provide some pointers on how you can help your student get back to their best.

Symptoms of Burnout

Burnout can manifest itself in many ways. Your student might show one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Your student feels tired even when they are getting plenty of sleep.
  • Your student seems to lack motivation; perhaps they don't want to attend class.
  • Your student can't get started on assignments. You might notice that a student hasn't done their homework or is handing in assignments late.
  • Your student suddenly develops bad habits. Watch for evidence that your student has started biting their nails or isn't brushing their hair, for example.
  • Your student seems to have lost confidence in their abilities.
  • Your student complains of headaches or muscle pain.
  • Your student is irritable and may lash out at classmates or teachers.
  • The student's contribution to projects or discussions is uninspired compared to previous behavior.
  • Your student might have lost touch with their old friends and be spending time with a different set of people.

How to Help Your Student

School is a pressure cooker. Tests, assignments, and social woes can put even the best and brightest of our students under strain and lead to burnout. The key is to help your student manage the stresses that they are under. Here are a few ways you can help your student when they are facing burnout:

Create Chances for Open Communication

Take the time to talk to your student. You might have known your student for some time, so you already have an established relationship. Your conversations aim to find out what is causing their burnout. There are many possible reasons, and you don't want to pry into their lives, but you might be able to find a root cause for their change.

Perhaps your student has taken on too much, or people (the school and parents) expect too much of them. See if you can reduce your student's workload and eliminate unnecessary activities. Sometimes, a student may just want a listening ear; you can be that too. 

Be a Cheerleader

Remain positive regardless of the circumstances. Ensure your student knows you want to help and will do all you can. Don't tell your student that you are disappointed by their choices or lack of performance but make sure that they know you are an ally. 

Be mindful of your student's schedules and the happenings on your campus, and attend events to show your support to your students. Sometimes seeing a familiar face is all the support a burnout student may need to make their day. 

Help Your Student Set a Realistic Schedule

Often our students overextend themselves, and that is especially true with our high-achieving students. Review your student's schedules and encourage them to manage their time more effectively. Suggest a reduction of clubs while encouraging more time for "fun."

Other suggestions include:

  • Add brain breaks to your class schedule; even non-burnout students will enjoy the "time off."
  • Encourage realistic goal setting while also planning smaller goals to reach the larger ones. 
  • Speak with other teachers and staff; they may have an idea to help you as you aid your student.
  • Provide in-class rewards such as being able to listen to music; this simple escape can benefit your student's attitude as they complete their work.

Final Thoughts

It's important to remember that burnout can affect teachers, too; watch for symptoms in yourself and your colleagues. The school environment puts everyone under a great deal of pressure.

Hopefully, you and your team can help your students recover from their burnout phase and regain their previous enthusiasm for learning. Students, especially teenagers, face a lot of stress as they age. These added pressures may sometimes be more important than doing well in school. (We saw this during the COVID-19 pandemic, as older students became caregivers for their younger family members.)

Thankfully when we provide the proper support, our students can bounce back from their burnout.

Written by Stephen Tomkinson
Education World Contributor
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