Teacher burnout is a big problem, but not for these educators. Here’s why.

Empowered is a teacher support network that encourages educators to pursue their own passions. The difference for teachers, and their students, is game changing.

Abstract photo of an apple cut in half next to a full apple

After 13 years of teaching in the public school system, Empowered educator Kenneth Nelson Jr. was tired of the same old routine. 

He taught social studies and physical education alongside his wife, Traciellya, who had taught English and social studies for a decade. Though they had enjoyed their time teaching, they gradually grew frustrated at how the system left little room to treat students as individuals, or employ creative ways of learning. 

“Every year, it was, ‘We’re going to use this lesson plan to gauge how the children are going to finish on the state test,’” he remembers. “You’re not really geared toward the student. It’s all about numbers. It’s not about relationships.”

He and Traciellya began picturing what they would do differently if they ran their own school.

Through offering resources and community, Empowered looks to help teachers build classrooms on their own terms.

“You want to do something impactful, you want to do something more powerful,” he says. 

But within his public school system, Nelson says teachers weren’t encouraged to be innovative. Instead, he says, their role was to be more of a cheerleader for students, traditionally relegated to the behind-the-scenes rather than treated like guides in their students’ learning journeys. Nelson felt powerless to lead the change he wanted for himself and his students. 

Then he attended an Empowered RiseUp session, which offers activities, classroom resources, training, community, and support tools to K-12 educators committed to offering individualized, experience-based learning opportunities. The organization also brings educators together to support one another as they expand their methods and break out of traditional routines to guide students in discovering their unique talents, passions, and purpose. 

“That was the most explosive conference I’ve been to, and I’ve been a football coach,” Nelson Jr. says. “I was like, ‘Wow, this is what education is missing.’ It was unlimited action the whole time.”

He was so affected that he attended another conference the same summer. By the end, he had found the tools and self-advocacy to found his own school: E.P.I.C. Academy

“It gave us all all the resources, all the ideas. I mean, everything,” Nelson says. “And I said, ‘What better way to start. You have all of the backing and the resources. What better time to start than now?’”

A teacher support network fighting against burnout

According to recent data from the Labor Department, teachers are quitting at the highest rate on record. Many believe standardized testing and outdated traditional learning routines are causing teacher burnout. 

Among K-12 educators in the U.S., 44% describe being “always” or “very often” burned out at work, which is higher than employees in any other industry. Of all K-12 employees, teachers experience burnout at the highest rate (52%). 

Teachers often remain background “cheerleaders” for students, rather than taking center stage themselves. In doing so, they accept an external locus of control and a fixed (rather than growth) mindset, leading to going with the status quo in classrooms rather than innovating and thinking outside of the box. Ultimately, teachers are often treated as tools for students’ growth. In reality, they themselves are learning and growing right alongside their students.

Empowered provides teacher support network for all educators

Within Empowered, community is critical. Educators do not go through these journeys alone; they are connected to other educators looking to grow in the same ways. They are able to compare ideas, share successes, and support each other, increasing the odds of success for all. 

“I can tell you the biggest asset from Empowered was [the community],” Nelson Jr. says. “They stayed in contact with us almost on a month by month basis. They sent us a lot of encouraging greeting cards. They checked in on us along the way.”

As the Nelsons have utilized unique lessons and programs from Empowered, the community has checked in to see how it has gone. When they posted examples of their innovative work on the Empowered community spaces, “Man, it was a bunch of support coming from the community on that.”

The more educators teach empowered, the more students benefit, too 

Empowered is transformational for both sides of the desk. Teachers are empowered with a growth mindset and grit. This in turn leads them to pass this on to their students, guiding them to realize their passions, unique strengths, and adaptability. 

Empowered’s resources have helped the Nelsons use a variety of different teaching methods. This includes a lot of activity-based learning, to reach students with a variety of different learning styles.

“Whenever we had a dull moment in school, whenever we needed a pick-me-up, we dug into the Empowered bag,” Nelson Jr. recalls. 

Expanding their teaching abilities and receiving the support of the Empowered community has allowed the Nelsons to better guide and empower their students.

“They’re looking for an opportunity to make an impact,” Nelson Jr. says of his students. “Not only in their own lives, but for somebody else in the classroom. They come to me giving me encouraging words like, ‘Hey, we’re doing a great job. We have so much fun here, we’re learning.’” 

What’s next for this online teacher community 

There are 3.2 million teachers in the country who, in their lifetime, will teach more than 3,000 students. Empowered is doing its best to reach as many of them as possible. To date, they have shared tools, resources, and inspiration with more than 40,000 educators on social media, and an additional 18,000 through their monthly email. Nearly 8,000 educators – a number that is steadily growing each week – in every state are part of the Empowerment Hub, sharing ideas and encouragement with the community.

For Nelson, Jr. that means that every time Empowered offers an event or conference, both he and his wife will be there. They just finished acting as facilitators at the Atlanta Conference, and may be facilitators again next year. Right now, they’re preparing for the new school year — with Empowered’s help.

“My wife said, ‘Maybe we do something explosive the first day of school,” Nelson Jr. says. “So I’m going to dig into my Empowered hat. We’re gonna open up with a bang.”

Empowered is supported by Stand Together Trust, which provides funding and strategic capabilities to innovators, scholars, and social entrepreneurs to develop new and better ways to tackle America’s biggest problems.

Learn more about Stand Together’s K-12 education reform efforts, and visit Empowered’s online platform and sign up for in-person training events