How Homeschool Leaders can Avoid Burnout
- Lori Hatcher Author
- 2014 27 Jun
Remember how, when you were little, your mother would say, “We don’t talk about that in public”? Usually her comments referred to bathroom issues or the fact that she and your dad had a fight the night before and for some reason you felt compelled to share it with the neighbors. As leaders in the homeschool movement, our churches, and in our homes, we often feel as though there’s an unspoken rule prohibiting us from talking about certain things. Burnout is one of them. We mistakenly believe leaders shouldn’t struggle.
Not only is this unrealistic, but when we fail to talk about issues like burnout, they simmer like an unattended pot of rice on the back of the stove until it boils dry, scorching our pan and possibly our home in the process. When we burn out, either as a leader, educator, wife, mother, or church member, people and ministries suffer.
In the following paragraphs, I’m going to apply some suggestions and observations to those who serve as leaders in the homeschool community, but the principles apply to whatever leadership role in which we find ourselves.
Three Ways to Prevent Burnout
Delegate instead of dictate.
One of the biggest lies is that a good leader has to do it all. This expectation is impossible, impractical, and a sure path to burnout. The most effective leaders are those who have a clear understanding of their calling, are able to motivate others to come alongside them, and can effectively match personnel with positions to form a team.
Once you’ve identified God’s calling for this season of your homeschooling life, you’ll have a clear sense of the role you are to play. In the early days of my homeschool journey, I served as the newsletter coordinator of our homeschool support group. Later I was the group’s leader. God never called me to fill both roles at the same time. And there are some seasons God sets apart as times of rest.
A productive leader is one who recognizes that her greatest contribution to an organization is not to fill all the job descriptions, but to equip others to fulfill their individual roles. Lest you misunderstand, one who delegates doesn’t just sit back and watch others work—that’s a dictator. Delegation involves identifying your members’ interests, passions, and giftedness, matching them with appropriate areas of service, and providing the training and resources they need to accomplish a goal.
This is an effective way to handle many of the suggestions we receive for field trips, special events, and programs. Suppose Fran and her children are physical fitness enthusiasts and propose that the support group hold a field day. A leader who is well versed in the skill of delegation will thank Fran for her idea, affirm the importance of physical fitness, and say, “I’d be glad to propose your idea to the leadership board. If the board approves the idea, are you willing to head it up?” How Fran responds will tell you whether this is truly a passion for her or just a passing idea she’d like someone else to make happen.
To avoid burnout, a good leader DELEGATES.
Decide what’s important.
Just like a clear sense of God’s calling keeps you on target in your leadership role, so a mission statement helps your group remain focused on God’s purposes. It’s crucial that your support group, committee, or team develop a mission statement that clearly identifies its purpose. When I led our homeschool support group, defining our purpose gave us a valuable plumb line for decision making. Ideally a mission statement can describe a group’s purpose in one or two sentences.
My support group’s purpose is to “encourage and equip parents in providing a quality Christian education for their children.” This mission statement clearly determines what our priorities are. Because we are committed to encourage and equip parents to provide a quality Christian education for their children, our focus is on parents, not children.
To this end, we provide monthly moms’ meetings, connect parents with resources and services, and facilitate activities that enable parents to better educate their children. We don’t sponsor coops, regular classes, or extensive field trips. If parents want to facilitate these activities, they are more than welcome to, but it is not the responsibility of the group. Deciding what is most important to your group (or ministry or family) and limiting your activities to only those that directly support your purpose will help your leaders and members avoid burnout.
The nature of leadership involves self-sacrifice, but sometimes we carry it too far. With rare exception, caring for the needs of others shouldn’t come at the expense of caring for ourselves. If we don’t nourish our bodies, minds, and souls regularly, we attempt to draw water from a dry well, and everyone suffers.
Here are three important ways to nourish yourself:
Regular physical exercise, even as little as 15 minutes a day can lower blood pressure and stress, increase energy levels, and prevent depression. If your children are young, put them in a stroller and go for a walk in the neighborhood. It’s amazing how much simple exercise and a change of scenery can alter moods for the better. On inclement days, popping in a fun exercise DVD for a mid-morning break can get us moving. Even tiny children enjoy swaying to happy praise music.
Regular mental exercise stimulates our thinking, stretches our imaginations, and sharpens our skills. A wise mentor once told me she keeps three books going at all times--one spiritual, one academic, and one fun. She scatters them in different rooms of the house and picks them up when she has a few moments during the day. She always has one in the car to read while waiting for a child, one on her nightstand, and yes, one in the bathroom. Even though she seldom has long segments of uninterrupted time, she still manages to read several books a year.
- Regular spiritual exercise increases our wisdom, builds our character, and grows our faith. Prayer and Bible reading are the pillars of a healthy spiritual life, and I would be hesitant to homeschool without them. Like Peter, when we keep our eyes on Jesus, we can walk on the waves and do impossible things. When we take our eyes off him, those same waves can threaten to drown us.
Over the years, I’ve had times of prayer in the middle of the night with a nursing baby, in the car during a child’s swim practice, or during their quiet reading or nap times.
I hate to say it, but sometimes when we’re in the trenches of parenting and homeschooling, the only way to have time for prayer and Bible reading is to get up earlier than anyone else in our household. Prayer warrior Becky Tirabassi once said, “I’d rather be sleep deprived than God deprived.” Even 15 minutes a day at the start of our days will give us direction, encouragement, and wisdom.
Nourishing ourselves physically, mentally, and spiritually will help prevent burnout.
Always be cultivating your replacements.
This doesn’t mean being ready to quit at any moment. It means using our leadership opportunities as a chance to mentor and train others. No leader is indispensable, and any well-run organization should be fully capable of carrying on when a leader moves, resigns, or retires. Each person should have an assistant who is learning her job description and assuming increasing responsibility so when the time comes, leadership transition happens seamlessly. Cultivating our replacements is another great way to share the load and avoid burnout.
Take the long view on service.
As Christian leaders in the homeschool movement, we must remember two things about our service:
First, we are working for something far greater than our support groups. As we enable and equip families to raise their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, we’re not just helping build strong families; we are advancing the Kingdom of God. The same is true about the service we extend in our churches and homes. As we influence and equip others to know and love the Lord, we are partnering with God to accomplish his work in the world.
Second, our labor does not go unnoticed. Whether our group members thank us, give us gift certificates at the end of the year, or recognize us at the annual banquet, the One who really matters sees every hour we’ve served and every afternoon we’ve spent organizing a field trip. He sees the hours of school we’ve lost while mediating squabbles between members. He sees the 10 times we’ve mentally written our letter of resignation and the 10 times we’ve torn it up. He sees it all. And he accepts it as service to himself.
I’m convinced that Hebrews 6:10 was written for every homeschooling mother, field trip coordinator, and support group leader.
“God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.”
May you claim this promise today. God bless you as you press on in faith!
Great Books for Mental and Spiritual Exercise:
- Love and Respect (Marriage) by Emerson Eggerichs
- Respectable Sins (Christian Living) by Jerry Bridges
- Do Hard Things (Christian Living) by Alex and Brett Harris
- I Am Last (Christian Living) by Jeremy Kingsley
- Safely Home (Fiction) by Randy Alcorn
- My Utmost for His Highest (Devotional) by Oswald Chambers
- 31 Days of Praise (Devotional) by Ruth Myers
This article originally appeared in the January/February issue of The Mother’s Heart magazine and is used with permission.
Lori Hatcher is an author, blogger, and women’s ministry speaker. A homeschool mom for 17 years, she’s the author of the devotional book, Joy in the Journey – Encouragement for Homeschooling Moms. You’ll find her pondering the marvelous and the mundane on her blog, Hungry for God...Starving for Time.
Publication date: June 27, 2014