Dr. Chris Jenson is dedicated to applying proven techniques from his medical background to solve challenges facing schools.

Feb 14 2023

Q&A: Can Educators Improve Their Workflow and Mental Health with Technology?

Dr. Chris Jenson shares tips and strategies for school districts looking for ways to reduce burnout and retain staff.

Regaled as heroes during the pandemic, teachers and healthcare workers stepped into their roles as caregivers, going above and beyond on the front lines of the crisis in many ways.

At this year’s Future of Education Technology Conference, Dr. Chris Jenson shared how the heightened workload and expectations took a toll on members of both professions. Hospitals and schools faced staffing shortages as a result of employee burnout and poor mental health.

Bringing his expertise as both a former emergency medical physician and high school science teacher in Kansas, Jenson shared tips in his megasession for reducing teacher burnout through workflow and process alterations. 

EdTech spoke with Jenson, founder of Diagnosing Education, to learn more about his unique experiences and to further explore how technology and leadership can support necessary changes to educators’ routines.

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EDTECH: How did your experience as an emergency medical physician translate to the classroom?

JENSON: In medicine, I loved working with residents, students, and I never planned on having an interest in teaching at all, but I loved it. There was a unique opportunity in the school district near me; they were trying to set up an introductory class to healthcare. I jumped in and thought I would do it for one year. I ended up moving to a traditional high school and taught high school science for nine years. Around year five, I realized there are a lot of health issues in schools that schools are not prepared to solve.

The ideas for process changes to reduce these issues are scaled from healthcare. The individuals who started them in healthcare are way more intelligent than I am. All I’m doing is pointing out to the schools, “Here’s the data that shows it was great in healthcare. Here’s how you can make those changes.” Healthcare has a whole host of problems, but not with workflow efficiency.

EDTECH: What was your experience with technology as a high school science teacher?

JENSON: Kids can acquire information from anywhere so quickly, far better than I can. You can access information anywhere. I used to catch students off guard by saying, “Go ahead, pull your phones, use Google. Based on the information you have, how would you solve this problem?”

Some of my favorite activities involved technology and blended learning. Let’s say we were talking about pneumonia. I would have students write a public service announcement that kids their age would actually listen to. I didn’t care if it was a video or an infographic, I needed them to take the knowledge they’d learned and create a product. They learned how to problem-solve and leverage that information.

READ MORE: Learn how to teach the principles of computer science early.

EDTECH: Do you feel technology is contributing to the burnout among educators?

JENSON: One way that technology is helpful is that it fast-tracks your ability to teach and operate in a classroom. There are learning management systems that are great; the ability to put your work online and post it for kids is fantastic.

On the flip side, there is no way to pretend you’re not available. When I walked out of the emergency rom, my shift was done, and no one bothered me until my next shift. I was caught off guard when I went into teaching. I said, “Is there a closing time on this?” I think that’s one area where technology, unfortunately, is placing stress.

EDTECH: How can schools get started implementing the workflow efficiencies you talked about?

JENSON: The first thing to do is talk to your team. Make a triage algorithm together. Agree on the needs to address immediately, what comes second and what comes third. Can you think of everything? No, but you categorize it. You can’t think of everything in medicine, but you get a feel for where things fit. At the end of the day, it is a beautiful thing to know you did exactly what you were supposed to do. There’s still stuff that can be done, but I’m going to be human.

DIVE DEEPER: Here are five ways K–12 IT teams can help teachers save time.

Educators can also set up workflow operations for how they want to job share. Maybe this week, I’m the one who runs the copies for our science team. You’re the person who sets up the activities for our science team, and the third teacher is the individual who helps kids before and after school. Then the fourth teacher has nothing to do. They go home because the other three of us have covered it, and they come back, hopefully refreshed, next week, ready to do their share.

EDTECH: Can technology help educators and school districts implement these workflow and process changes?

JENSON: A lot of people have created schedules internally on Google calendars, and they’ve tracked their time with forms like Google Forms. The teachers like to involve the tech because it’s open and transparent. Technology allows the left hand to know what the right hand is doing. Also, as you’re studying the data, you can make changes in real time.

Chris Jenson
Tech takes this operation and scales it, so it’s transparent, open and rapidly implemented.”

Dr. Chris Jenson Founder, Diagnosing Education

Tech takes this operation and scales it, so it’s transparent, open and rapidly implemented. It allows your ideas to flow faster and get out there, and you can track them instantaneously. I’m grateful for it because doing it old school just takes forever.

EDTECH: What is the role of administrators in making these changes?

JENSON: There is often resistance to change, because it requires overcoming inertia and some bravery. However, attrition rates of educators are so high right now — and not expected to improve — that there’s never been a better time to make operational changes, because it will not be seen as risky. It can be seen as saving your staff.

Educators are exhausted, so making the workflow changes to give them time is one thing administrators can do. It’s not passive, allowing it to happen. Support them by saying, “This is a good model. Let’s buy this software to help you create your job distribution.” Investing in your staff tangibly, not only with products but with your own sweat equity and time, is what educators need to see.

It’s awesome to watch the response from staff. My favorite comment thus far has been, “I’m a little frustrated that I didn't realize I could have been doing this 20 years ago.” They love their predictable weeks. They love knowing their out times. They love working as a team.

UP NEXT: Technology reignites IT leaders and K–12 educators.

Photography by Dan Videtich
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