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IES Grant

Title: BREATHE: A Burnout Intervention for Special Education Teachers
Center: NCSER Year: 2017
Principal Investigator: Ruble, Lisa Awardee: Ball State University
Program: Educators and School-Based Service Providers      [Program Details]
Award Period: 4 years (7/2/2017-06/30/2021) Award Amount: $1,399,852
Type: Development and Innovation Award Number: R324A200232

Previous Award Number: R324A170021
Previous Awardee: University of Kentucky

Co-Principal Investigators: John McGrew and Michelle Salyers (Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis); Philip Westgate

Purpose: The purpose of this project is to refine an intervention designed to reduce special education teacher burnout and attrition and improve teaching quality, classroom climate, and student outcomes (i.e., engagement, social/behavioral, academic). Teacher stress and burnout are major contributors to teacher attrition. The costs associated with teacher attrition are significant. Not only is teacher attrition financially costly to school districts, but it also reduces the organizational stability of schools, interferes with school improvement efforts, reduces teachers' instructional quality and productivity, and negatively impacts student achievement. Unfortunately, attrition is especially problematic in the field of special education, where annual attrition rates are approximately twice that for general education. The current project will develop a burnout intervention for special education teachers to reduce burnout and improve instructional quality and classroom climate and subsequently promote positive student outcomes.

Project Activities: This project will use an iterative process to develop an intervention to reduce burnout for special education teachers and improve instructional quality, classroom climate, and student outcomes. Data on teacher outcomes (i.e., burnout and job satisfaction); student outcomes (i.e., social/behavioral skills and Individualized Education Program (IEP) goal attainment, including academic outcomes); focus groups with school administrators and teachers; field-based observations of classroom climate, instructional quality, and student engagement; and information on the usability and feasibility of the intervention will be used in the development process to guide revisions. The research team will conduct a randomized controlled trial to document the feasibility and promise of efficacy of the intervention for reducing teacher burnout and improving instructional quality, classroom climate and, ultimately, students' academic and social/behavioral outcomes.

Products: The products of this project include a fully developed intervention that reduces special education teacher burnout and improves instructional and classroom quality and student outcomes, as well as peer-reviewed publications and presentations.

Structured Abstract

Setting: The research will take place in urban and rural public schools in Indiana and Kentucky.

Sample: In Year 1, six school administrators and six special education classroom teachers will participate in focus groups to provide information on teacher burnout and guide intervention revisions. In Year 2, 20 special education teachers will participate in an initial pre-post study. In Year 3, 52 special education teachers and 52 students with IEPs selected from their caseloads will participate in a randomized controlled trial of the fully developed intervention.

Intervention: The project will result in an intervention designed to reduce special education teacher burnout and improve instructional and classroom quality and student outcomes. The intervention will be adapted from an existing manualized intervention for mental health workers, Burnout Reduction: Enhanced Awareness, Tools, Handouts, and Education (BREATHE). BREATHE is delivered in a face-to-face small group format that takes place once per week over the course of 3 weeks. The sessions include a brief introduction, overview of principles of burnout prevention, and a series of exercises designed to increase personal resources and ability to cope with and manage stressful job demands. It includes a combination of traditional cognitive behavioral stress reduction strategies, meditation/relaxation practices, social skills training, and other self-care strategies. BREATHE was designed as both a prevention and intervention strategy as it provides skills to prevent burnout before it occurs and reduce burnout once it is present.

Research Design and Methods: In Year 1, the intervention will be adapted based on feedback from school administrators and teachers. Focus groups will be conducted separately with school administrators and teachers to gather information on teacher burnout (e.g., how burnout looks, how might it affect teaching, how might it affect student outcomes, how burnout is handled) in order to guide revisions to the model and measures. The research team will revise the intervention based on focus group data and convene a workgroup of administrators and teachers to review the focus group results and revised the intervention. In Year 2, a pre-post study of the revised intervention will be conducted to gather data on usability, feasibility, and teacher burnout outcomes. At post-test, teacher interviews will also be conducted to obtain additional feedback on the intervention. During Year 2, the research team will also develop an intervention manual and fidelity scale for the revised intervention and obtain feedback on the manual from the administrator and teacher workgroup. In Year 3, a randomized controlled trial will be conducted, with randomization at the teacher level, to assess the promise of the intervention for reducing teacher burnout and improving instructional quality, classroom climate, and student outcomes. In Year 4, follow-up data on teachers in the Year 2 pre-post study and the Year 3 pilot study will be collected to assess the impact of the intervention on special education teacher turnover.

Control Condition: In Year 3, control group teachers will receive online information on coping with burnout.

Key Measures: Teacher burnout will be assessed using the self-report Maslach Burnout Inventory. Additional teacher outcomes will include frequency of sick days, absenteeism, and turnover as well as teacher report of intention to leave and job satisfaction. Observational measures of teachers' instructional quality, classroom climate, and student engagement will also be collected. Student outcomes will include a measure of social/emotional/behavioral functioning using the Behavioral Assessment System for Children Second Edition and progress toward meeting IEP objectives (including academic outcomes) using goal attainment scaling. Teachers will also provide information on the feasibility, acceptability, and usability of the intervention through surveys, interviews, and focus groups. Researcher-developed fidelity of implementation measures will also be used to assess fidelity of the training and teacher knowledge and use of the skills taught in the intervention.

Data Analytic Strategy: During development of the intervention, focus group data will be transcribed and coded using content analysis. For the pre-post study, paired t-tests will be used to examine whether there are significant pre-post differences in outcomes for teachers who receive the intervention. For the randomized controlled trial, multivariate Gaussian linear models will be used to examine whether there are significant group differences in the teacher outcomes over time. Moderation analyses will also be conducted to better understand how baseline levels of burnout influence the impact of the intervention on teacher outcomes. Multivariate analyses of variance will be conducted to examine associations between changes in teacher outcomes as a function of the intervention and subsequent changes in student outcomes.