Preventing Instructor Burnout

One of the best seminars I attended at the 2014 PATH Intl Conference was “Preventing Instructor Burnout” on the Community Connections Day. I wanted to share a list of ideas from the discussion in hopes that it will help everyone everywhere struggling with these issues.

burnout (Source)

From “Interactive Forum for Preventing Instructor Burnout” by Jennifer E. Donahue, MST, PATH Intl Advanced Riding Instructor, Driving Level II Instructor, given at the PATH Intl 2014 Annual Meeting and Conference Community Connections Day 

Whose responsibility is it to keep instructors happy?

  • The Management. Leaders are there to support the staff, and have the ability to positively or negatively influence them.
  • The Instructors themselves! “Leaders are anyone who finds himself accountable for finding potential in people and processes.” (De. Brene Brown). Step up and help lead your fellow instructors down paths that prevents burnout.

Ideas to Prevent Instructor Burnout

  • Make the environment doable for your instructors
    • Go watch other centers and how they operate – meet other people and ask them what works and see if it works for your program! There is no magic potion. In this industry you do not know everything and have to ask for help!
    • Determine what a reasonable class load is! The answer: It depends – on type of riders, how many horses you have, their other jobs, your facility, your arena, your weather, the experience of your instructors, etc. Communicate with your instructors to know what their good class load is. Consider separating cognitive and physical disabilities, and skill levels.
  • Support staff with awareness strategies
    • Time management accountability – help them learn responsibility, especially if it’s their first job
      • Virtual vs actual time spent on task
      • Time sheets – document hours
      • Extra projects – how reasonable is the request?
      • During Instructor Training have them keep track of how long everything takes them so they learn how long it takes to set up the arena, tack check, mount riders, chat with parents, etc.
      • Set them up well – schedule admin instructors to have lessons in chunks instead of dispersed
  • Identify Time Pirates and unspoken expectations
    • Which aspects of the program are stealing valuable time?
    • Accurately record time invested in each project
    • Schedule allow for town time, planning, and record keeping?
    • Time allowed for schooling and training horses?
    • Where can you use a volunteer? Ex) to coordinate all volunteer groups
  • Prepare them for success
    • Provide TRIs with effective leadership strategies
    • Create a culture that reveres personal and professional development
    • Realistically ID and utilize strengths
    • Discourage “it’s not my job” mentality – provide help and support for one another
    • Allow them to develop the skill of saying no
    • Monthly/Weekly Instructor meetings to discuss students and ideas – for example one barn every Monday has a meeting, 1 paid hour, no agenda, everyone’s on equal footing, to discuss what issues there are and how everyone can support the person/issue
    • Cross train staff
    • Mentor them
    • Explore specialty areas – send them to visit other barns
    • Continuing education
  • Address unspoken expectations
    • Special events
    • Extended work days
    • Additional training and schooling
    • Weekend details
    • Holiday feedings
  • Culture of R.E.S.P.E.C.T.
    • Rise to the occasion
    • Energize self and staff
    • Stay the course
    • Play
    • Expectations
    • Close the day – stop TR and go do what else you love
    • Time off
  • Management needs to be accessible to their instructors
    • Get out in the barn and interact. They need to see you know how to groom, pick hooves, etc.
    • Jar of chocolate on desk to encourage staff to stop in to your office and talk
  • Incorporate Fun
    • Incorporate Play – have fun in the arena
    • Instructor Play Days – order lunch, ride horses
    • Require instructors to ride each horse once a quarter
    • Take horses to trail trials, horse shows, etc.
  • Make them feel valued: practice Instructor Appreciation
    • Send them to trainings, regional meetings, PATH Conferences, pay their flight, etc.
    • Nominate them for community awards
    • Acknowledgement for extra duties
    • Appreciation for extra hours
    • Awarding benefits for time served
    • Ensure that staff discussions and concerns are received and heard
    • Offer Spa Days at the office
    • Free board for personal horses
    • Professional development days
    • Rotating schedule
    • Team building tie dying day
    • Alternate attendance at non-essential special events
    • Raffle for free day
    • Amusement park tickets and time to use them
    • Flex days
    • Birthdays off
    • Lunch/Dinner served at meetings
    • Encourage them to leave the office early
    • Massages
    • Yoga class once a week
    • Pay for them to attend a conference, go to a college course, continuing ed, etc.
    • Get a raise
    • If teach x lessons/hours a month earn a free riding lesson
    • Bring in clinicians and let ride for free
  • Add helpful volunteer jobs
    • Greeter
    • Gatekeeper
    • 1 vol responsible for each kid
    • Notetaker during lesson – who records how lesson went and if objective met etc. for TRI to use after

Do you have any ideas to add? Please share in the comment section!


Note: This is not professional advice, this is a blog. I am not liable for what you do with or how you use this information. The activities explained in this blog may not be fit for every rider, riding instructor, or riding center depending on their current condition and resources. Use your best personal judgement!

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