RTRL.66: Burnout: A Review of Literature (Nápoles, 2022)


Nápoles, J. (2022). Burnout: A review of literature. Update: Applications of Research in Music Education, 40(2), 19-26. doi:10.1177/87551233211037669

What did the researcher want to know?

What is burnout and how can it be prevented?

What did the researcher do?

Nápoles conducted a literature review of existing scholarly resources and research studies pertaining to burnout in order to define the term, discuss factors contributing to burnout, and share possible remedies for burnout.

What did the researcher find?

Although it has been defined in a variety of ways, burnout can be regarded as a prolonged response to chronic emotional and interpersonal job stressors that is characterized by (a) emotional exhaustion, (b) depersonalization/cynicism, and (c) a reduced sense of personal accomplishment. “Emotional exhaustion was defined as feelings of being overextended and depleted of one’s emotional resources. Depersonalization/cynicism referred to the negative, callous, or excessively detached response to various aspects of the job…. Personal accomplishment was reduced when there were feelings of incompetence and a lack of achievement and productivity at work” (p. 20).

While some researchers have argued that certain characteristics of individuals make them more susceptible to burnout, it is more widely believed that burnout is predominately the result of external factors. Nápoles reviewed one model for understanding how organizations contribute to burnout, which encompassed six factors that can lead to burnout in employees:

  • work overload
  • lack of control
  • insufficient reward
  • breakdown in community (i.e., loss of positive connection with others)
  • absence of fairness
  • conflicting values

Within music education, numerous factors have been found to be linked to burnout among music teachers:

  • inadequate support
  • non-instructional responsibilities
  • feelings of isolation
  • lack of recognition by others
  • unclear goals from administrators or colleagues
  • too much work
  • low salary
  • not enough equipment, etc.

Burnout can manifest as both physical and psychological symptoms. Physical symptoms of burnout can include exhaustion, insomnia, use of alcohol/drugs, weight loss or gain, high blood pressure, migraines, and increased cholesterol. Psychological symptoms can include detachment, boredom, cynicism, irritability, mental disfunction, sense of impotence, paranoia, disorientation, impatience, crankiness, rigidity, mistrust of others, and worry. One pair of researchers observed a five-stage pattern to burnout, which consists of (1) honeymoon stage, (2) fuel shortage, (3) chronic symptoms, (4) crisis, and (5) hitting the wall.

Researchers have recommended three areas of possible focus for preventing teacher burnout: (a) in-school contexts, (b) out-of-school contexts, and (c) through mentoring/induction programs. One strategy for preventing burnout within in-school contexts is through “job crafting,” which involves making self-initiated changes to one’s job demands and job resources to attain and/or optimize their personal goals. Nurturing positive interpersonal relationships at work is another way to increase job satisfaction.

In addition to shaping one’s in-school experiences, “the majority of suggestions for mitigating burnout related to finding a better balance between work activities and personal activities outside of work. Relaxation, exercise, cutting back on overtime or excessive hours, limiting job spillover, and emphasizing other aspects of life are common strategies suggested by researchers” (p. 23).

What does this mean for my classroom?

The prolonged and intense stress of teaching during the Covid-19 pandemic may push even the most skilled and passionate of music educators to experience burnout. Having an awareness of the factors that contribute to burnout, the symptoms of burnout, and the five-stage pattern of burnout can help music teachers assess their own risk of experiencing burnout and take steps to prevent it. It can also be reassuring to know that certain experiences may be associated with burnout. For example, if you’re noticing that you have been feeling cynical about teaching lately, you may wonder, “What’s wrong with me? I used to love this job! Maybe I’m just not a good teacher any more.” If so, you are not alone, and there is nothing wrong with you! Instead, you might recognize this as a sign of burnout and take steps to alleviate it and prevent further burnout.

As Nápoles stresses, “A burned-out teacher is not as effective as one who has chosen to establish healthy boundaries around work” (p. 24). Teachers should be encouraged to “find avenues for separating from work activities and taking necessary time off to rejuvenate themselves” (p. 24). Music educators might also consider “job crafting”—adjusting aspects of their job to decrease time spent on draining tasks or interactions in favor of experiences that may be more fulfilling. One example Nápoles provides is to reduce the number of performances during the school year and spend class time in a different way, such as inviting a living composer to speak with students or trying a songwriting project.

Finally, it is incumbent upon administrators and school communities to take an active role in preventing teacher burnout. This includes treating teachers with respect, compensating them fairly, providing recognition, and acknowledging that teachers are human beings. “The public perception of the heroic teacher, always willing to work under any condition for the benefit of children, is unhelpful to teachers” (p. 24).

RTRL.65: Reported Self-care Practices of Music Educators (Kelley et al., 2021)


Kelley, J., Nussbaum, K., Crawford, M. O., Critchfield, J. B., Flippin, S. H., Grey, A. N., & Mahaffey, C. R. (2021). The reported self-care practices of music educators. Journal of Music Teacher Education. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1177/10570837211056615

What did the researchers want to know?

What are the reported self-care practices of K-12 music teachers, and do they vary by teaching experience, age, gender, or level of instruction?

What did the researchers do?

Kelley et al. surveyed 337 K-12 music teachers in a southwestern U.S. state on their personal and professional self-care practices. Personal self-care includes behaviors that promote well-being, interpersonal connections, physical wellness, and leisure while professional self-care includes work-related behaviors like building professional knowledge, developing professional support systems, and work-life balance. (See table below for a full list of survey items.) Participants rated their agreement for each item on a 5-point scale (5 = strongly agree, 1 = strongly disagree) to indicate the degree to which they do or do not engage in each self-care behavior. (In other words, the closer the rating was to “5”, the more the teacher reported engaging in that behavior).

What did the researchers find?

In terms of personal self-care behaviors, the most highly-rated items were “I spend time with family or friends” (average rating= 4.34) and “I spend time with people whose company I enjoy” (average rating= 4.31). The lowest-rated personal self-care item was “I take time off when I am not feeling well” (average rating = 2.70). Participants also rated other physical and health-related items similarly low.

The most highly-rated items for professional self-care behaviors were “I participate in activities that promote my professional development” (average rating = 4.26) and “I find ways to stay current in professional knowledge” (average rating = 4.26). The lowest rated item was “I avoid over-commitment to work responsibilities” (average rating 2.79).

Kelley et al. also calculated composite scores for personal self-care, professional self-care, and total self-care by adding up the scores for the items in each category. Out of a total of 140 possible points, the average score for total self-care was 104.16. Overall, teachers reported engaging in more professional self-care than they did personal self-care. Specifically, “participants indicated the lowest levels of engagement in common self-care practices within the physical subcategory. Most participants indicated they continue to work when they do not feel well, do not maintain a physical activity routine or a healthy diet, do not take regular breaks during the workday, and over-commit to work responsibilities” (p. 8).

The researchers also conducted statistical analysis to see whether self-care differed by age, years of teaching experience, gender, or level of instruction (elementary vs. secondary). They found weak correlations between age and self-care and between years of experience and self-care, meaning that older teachers and/or teachers with more experience were slightly more likely to practice more self-care than younger teachers and/or those with less experience. There were no significant differences in self-care between male and female teachers or between elementary and secondary teachers.

What does this mean for my classroom?

Particularly in times of extreme stress, it is important that teachers engage in personal self-care behaviors. Given that Kelley et al. found teachers are more likely to engage in professional self-care behaviors than personal, it is important for teachers to consciously choose to commit time to taking care of themselves, both physically and emotionally. Most teachers are extremely passionate about what they do and are constantly striving to improve the learning experiences they provide for their students. However, given the extreme and prolonged stress of teaching during the Covid-19 pandemic, teachers must prioritize their own health and well-being. If this means temporarily dialing down efforts to advance their professional expertise, so be it! As the researchers clearly state, “we do not advocate for an additive solution to promote self-care” (p. 9). School districts should not add requirements for teachers to complete training on self-care. Instead, music teachers and music teacher educators should be encouraged and empowered to model “purposeful self-care, to promote healthy boundaries and work-life balance, and to embrace values of self-care over self-sacrifice” (p. 9).

I spend time with family or friends. (social)4.34
I spend time with people whose company I enjoy. (recreation)4.31
I make a conscious effort to appreciate positive things in my life. (psychological)4.31
I seek out activities or people that encourage and/or comfort me. (social)4.04
I find ways to cultivate a sense of social connection in my life. (social)3.84
I share my feelings with others during stressful times in my life. (psychological)3.79
I seek guidance or counseling when necessary. (psychological)3.45
I see a doctor or other medical professional when I have health concerns. (physical)3.43
I participate in physical exercise (physical)3.38
I make an effort to get enough sleep each night. (physical)3.37
I take some time for relaxation each day. (psychological)3.33
I eat a balanced and healthy diet. (physical)3.17
I make physical activity part of my regular routine. (physical)3.14
I take time off when I am not feeling well. (physical)2.70
I find ways to stay current in professional knowledge. (professional development)4.26
I participate in activities that promote my professional development. (professional development)4.26
I monitor my feelings and reactions to students and colleagues. (professional psychological)4.16
I cultivate professional relationships with my colleagues. (professional social)4.15
I confide in a trusted colleague regarding work-related stressors. (professional social)4.08
I try to reduce stress by proactively navigating challenging situations in my professional work. (professional psychological)3.99
I anticipate situations which may cause me stress at work. (professional psychological)3.98
I tell colleagues about positive workplace experiences. (professional social)3.96
I maintain a professional support system. (professional social)3.89
I make personal connections on campus to avoid feeling isolated. (professional social)3.70
I connect with organizations in my professional community that are important to me. (professional development)3.66
I choose to participate in school-related social and community events. (professional social)3.52
I take breaks throughout the workday. (work-life balance)3.14
I avoid over-commitment to work responsibilities. (work-life balance)2.79
Table 1: Survey Items and Average Responses

RTRL.63: Elementary Music Performance Preparation and Teacher Stress (Potter, 2021)


Potter, J. (2021). Elementary general music performances and teachers’ perceptions of stress. Update: Applications of Research in Music Education, 40(1), 36-44.

What did the researcher want to know?

What are elementary general music teachers’ perceptions of performance preparation and how do they perceive its impacts on their stress level?

What did the researcher do?

Potter conducted a multiple case study of three mid-career elementary general music teachers. She interviewed each participant two times over the course of two months. (Interviews took place over Zoom due to the COVID-19 pandemic.) Potter analyzed the interview transcripts through qualitative coding to identify themes in response to the research questions.

What did the researcher find?

Potter identified three themes in response to the research questions.

  1. Theme 1: Time Management
    • All three participants considered time management to be critical in performance preparation. They stressed the importance of planning performances well in advance, which included giving students enough time to learn the material. For example, one mentioned that she began preparing her students for a mid-February performance before Thanksgiving break. Balancing curriculum instructional time with performance preparation was a concern for all three participants. One participant said, “I feel like programs can take a little bit away from the curriculum that you’re trying to teach because they take so much time to put together and to get done to a level that you want to perform in front of people” (p. 40).
  2. Theme 2: Control
    • Participants expressed “concern about the degree of control they had over certain aspects of their students’ performances” (p. 40). For two of the three participants, performances were part of a supplemental contract, which dictated the number of performances required in a given school year. While all three felt they had control over selecting repertoire,  they did not all have control over factors such as equipment and venues. For example, one participant was required to perform at the middle school due to lack of space at her elementary school, which was a source of stress. In addition, “all participants discussed how their stress levels spiked the night of the performance, perhaps due to an overall lack of control in student, audience, or parent/guardian behavior” (p. 41).
  3. Theme 3: Isolation
    • All three of the participants felt there was “a general lack of understanding, from people outside the general music program, of undertaking so many extra responsibilities in facilitating these performances” (p. 41). One participant explained, “Nobody understands what I’m actually doing. Because they [teachers, administrators, parents] always see the product. They don’t see the process” (p. 41).

What does this mean for my classroom?

Performances can be a significant source of stress for elementary general music educators and may cause them to sacrifice time spent on student learning and accomplishing curricular goals. Elementary music teachers might consider shifting to in-class performances or “informances,” in which students demonstrate classroom activities and show what they are learning in a smaller setting rather than simply putting on a large show. This can help parents and administrators see the depth and breadth of the curriculum by focusing more on the process of learning than the final product of a performance.

For more information on “informances”…

RTRL.60: Confronting and Overcoming Music Teacher Burnout (Hanson, 2021)


Hanson, J. (2021). Research-to-resource: Confronting and overcoming music teacher burnout. Update: Applications of Research in Music Education. https://doi.org/10.1177/87551233211019999

What did the researcher want to know?

How can we equip music teachers and other educational stakeholders with research-informed definitions, warning signs, and potential remedies for burnout!?

What did the researcher do?

In order to offer suggestions for identifying and remedying music teacher burnout, Hanson conducted a literature review of existing research studies pertaining to teacher burnout.

What did the researcher find?

Burnout is defined as “a psychological syndrome of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment that can occur among individuals who work with other people in some capacity” (Maslach, as cited in Hanson, p. 2). Research shows that the most common sources leading to music teacher burnout are low administrative support and poor working conditions, as well as challenges specific to music teachers (e.g, classroom management, large class sizes, feeling “unprepared for their teaching assignment”). Hanson cites five categories of symptoms of music teacher burnout, according to Sandene (1995): 

  1. Physical symptoms
    • fatigue, sleep disorders, weight fluctuation, high blood pressure, headaches, etc.
  2. Intellectual symptoms
    • lack of focus, procrastination, impaired decision making, lowered productivity, apathy, etc.
  3. Social symptoms
    • irritability, feeling isolated, withdrawing from relationships, lacking adequate family time, etc.
  4. Psychological/emotional symptoms
    • anxiety, depression, hopelessness, low self-esteem, coping behaviors such as excessive drinking or eating, etc.
  5. Spiritual symptoms
    • detachment from religious practices or mindfulness habits, changes to one’s values system, etc.

Synthesis of the existing research suggests that “macro-level remedies” can be implemented in response burnout related to working conditions. These include the following:

  • Address issues of time constraints, resource inadequacy, and gaps in preparation. Possible solutions include providing targeted mentoring, course-load adjustments, and altered expectations for performing, traveling, and participating in contests/festival.
  • Provide more support and agency to teachers. Encourage teachers to set and maintain boundaries and help create a culture of open communication and shared decision making.
  • Address burnout prevention in teacher preparation programs and inservice professional development.

While these are not within an individual teacher’s control, teachers can introduce these ideas to administrative decision makers and begin a conversation about burnout.

Existing research suggests that music teachers can try stress-reduction approaches like the following:

  • Practice efficient time management. Set limits on the number of hours of daily work and stick to them. Get comfortable saying “no” to extra tasks.
  • “Seek clarity from supervisors on roles, responsibilities, and the boundaries governing what should and should not be included in teaching duties” (p. 4). If tasks extend beyond teaching, seek additional help, such as parent volunteers.
  • Prioritize health and wellness. Work on healthy sleep, eating, and movement habits. Spend time on a hobby and/or establish a mindfulness/meditation practice.
  • “Remember your ‘why’…. Keep students and the joy of learning in the foreground” (p. 4). However, if work becomes unbearable with no improvement on the horizon, prioritize your well-being by considering job changes: taking a leave of absence, going part-time, or applying for positions in different schools or districts” (p. 4).

What does this mean for my classroom?

We are going through a very stressful time! Teachers should be aware of the symptoms of burnout and consider whether they might be experiencing (or on the road to) burnout. While it is not within the control of individual teachers to make macro-level changes, music teachers can begin a conversation with their administrators regarding burnout and can proactively take steps to reduce stress.

RTRL.31: Role Stress in the Professional Life of the School Music Teacher (Scheib, 2003)


Scheib, J. W. (2003). Role stress in the professional life of the school music teacher: A collective case study. Journal of Research in Music Education, 51(2), 124-136.

What did the researcher want to know?

How and to what extent do music teachers experience role stress?

What did the researcher do?

Scheib conducted a collective case study of all four of the music teachers at one midwestern US high school. He observed them over the course of six months, interviewed each teacher twice, and collected a variety of documents, such as their job descriptions and concert programs. Scheib analyzed the data in relation to six previously-identified stressors from existing research on occupational stress:

  • Role ambiguity: when it’s not entirely clear what your job is.
  • Role conflict: when different people’s expectations of you contradict each other.
  • Role overload: when you have so much to do that you can’t do any of it well.
  • Underutilization of skills: when you have skills that you don’t get to use.
  • Resource inadequacy: when you don’t have what you need to do your job.
  • Nonparticipation: when you don’t have a say over what your job is.

What did the researcher find?

The four teachers didn’t experience a lot of role ambiguity or non-participation. Since these teachers each had several years of experience, they knew what their roles in the program were and had plenty of say over what they did.

The teachers experienced role conflict in several ways. One of the most important was that the roles of parent and spouse sometimes conflicted with their music teaching roles. There were conflicts within the music teacher role, too, as there are many different and competing roles that music teachers fill. Building a strong performance program and helping students become well-rounded musicians can feel like contradictory goals, but both seem important. There are also many administrative responsibilities that might conflict with other roles.

Underutilization of skills is sometimes called “role underload,” and it might seem like a person couldn’t have role overload and role underload at the same time. However, these teachers experienced both. The sheer number of different and often conflicting responsibilities led to role overload; these teachers just had too much to do. The underload came from having to do things that weren’t music-related and seemed like they should be done by someone else. Fund-raising, preparing spaces for rehearsal and performance, and managing schedules were some of the causes of role underload. One of the teachers felt like his role overload caused underutilization of skills; he didn’t have time to plan well, so couldn’t use his musical skills as effectively as he would like.

Surprisingly, the teachers in this study felt like they had adequate resources in the traditional sense. Scheib wrote that “they realize and accept the limitations of funding that comes with working in a publicly financed system” (p. 133). Instead, these teachers’ resource inadequacy came in the form of staff and students. They had big ideas about how their programs could grow but not always enough teachers in the department or students in the classes to make it work. Class scheduling was one of the main problems for getting students in classes.

What does this mean for my classroom?

Music teacher stress comes from many different places. Using the theory of role dynamics, music teachers can understand their stress in terms of some of the stressors studied here. Once you start to understand where your stress is coming from, you might be able to do something about it!

Scheib had some good advice in his article; here are a few helpful thoughts:

  1. “The subjects report that they themselves are to blame for any tension or stress they endure, since they are the sole determiners of the expectations and roles of their position” (p. 135). If you are stressed about something, then think about why you’re doing it. Is it the best thing for your students? Does someone important expect it of you? Maybe it’s stressful ultimately because it doesn’t need to be done, or at least not the way you’re trying to do it.
  2. “Often, stress comes from the incongruence of the teacher’s expectations and beliefs versus what the system allows… Teachers need to understand that each music program is, to some extent, confined by the system that surrounds it” (p. 135). Every school has different students, teachers, schedules, budgets and other resources. Trying to push beyond what’s possible is not a sign of dedication and strength; it’s a stressor that could hurt your program in the long run. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t push at all, it just means to be smart about what, how, and who you push.
  3. “Communication is the best weapon in the battle of incompatible role expectations” (p. 135). If different people expect different things from you, get them in the same room and talk it out. You’re only one person and there are only so many hours in the day, so you have to figure out how to prioritize some things and let others go.

* This guest post was authored by Seth A. Taft, PhD Candidate in music education at the University of Colorado Boulder.