Avoiding School Burnout: Preparing High School Students for Next Steps

The Problem

Presently, school burnout is rising as our students are elevated to a higher achievement level mostly due to advances in technology and rising expectations from the private sector. Regardless, many students haven’t even mastered proper social interaction before they are reduced to learning from a picture on a screen. What are the effects? Certainly, parents funding education are upset to find their child drops out of universities sometimes before they even learn to navigate the intense admission and acclimation process. What are the causes of school burnout and answers to setting our students on the right path?

School burnout has been defined in many ways. Some think it’s an inevitable result of continuous stress and frustration with no available downtime. If this is true, there is no reason it should remain if a solid foundation including good social, behavioral and time management skills are learned and refined.

Cause & Affect

School burnout is defined as the response to stress brought on by academic demands combined with issues related to social interaction. Recent studies show when students detect shortcomings in their available resources which fails to align with their visions of success, burnout sets in (Parker and Salmela-Aro, 2011Salmela-Aro et al., 2017). More specifically, burnout levels are due to a cumulative process which may increase or decrease in relation to personal and external support resources (Front. Psychol., 13 May 2020). Trenchant Core® programs educate students to become their own advocates. We don’t just offer lip service, we help students create and continue to modify their own support system and processes which allows them to operate in very intentional ways to benefit themselves and others.

Specifically, burnout has been linked to tedium, poor quality of school life, an external locus of control, self-handicapping, failure-avoidance strategies, depressive-anxious symptoms, low self-esteem, general school maladjustment, a higher risk of dropout, risky behaviors, like gambling, and underachievement (Fimian and Cross, 1986Covington, 2000Salmela-Aro and Upadyaya, 2014Räsänen et al., 2015Fiorilli et al., 2017) Trenchant Core® encourages students to remain engaged in meaningful activities. We help guide students to prepare themselves in effective ways without the angst associated with outside expectations. Youth will begin to generate their own set of standards for themselves once they have the knowledge and tools to reach their goals.

Trenchant Core® programs and consultants connect students to resources and help them to become leaders within their own environment to elevate and positively impact their own socio-economic conditions. Salmela-Aro et al. (2008) found that negative school climate is positively associated with school burnout, whereas support and motivation offered by teachers can protect students from burnout. 

A study by Slivar (2001) with 1,868 high school students identified poor family relationships and emotionally-oriented coping as leading risk factors for school burnout. Trenchant Core® helps to strengthen each student’s family structure through education, skill, trait and leadership development. It’s a fact, we inherit most of our good and bad habits from our parents. It’s time to break cycles of shortcomings by identifying the problem in each family culture and provide workable solutions to each level of a youth’s network. Students will be set free from previously self-determined limits and empowered to rise to the height of their maximum potential.

Why Trenchant Core Works

We work to assist students regulate empathic skills and build personal and professional skills early and effectively. Struggling, disengaged, and burned out students identify tools to inspire self-motivation. Students are no longer dependent on others to motivate them. They learn the tools, resources and knowledge necessary for self-sufficiency and personal management. Each individual works to identify and solve problems to improve their own academic performance. Additionally, they boost their own self-esteem by helping others achieve their goals.

Recent studies show that when students are satisfied with their relationships at school (fellow students and teachers alike) they perform better and the risk of student burnout is significantly reduced. Long term benefits are many, including better grades, on-going interest in higher education and better career performance.

Furthermore, students understand basic human motivations and learn to combat cynicism and employ a mutually beneficial and productive outlook. Practical learning experiences reveal and create awareness of human motivations, potential biases and resulting pitfalls. Students learn to apply conflict resolution tools, resources, personal knowledge and collaboration skills to connect, defuse and reframe interaction.

At Trenchant Core®, we believe in helping students develop and polish their interpersonal skills (including empathy) in conjunction with their leadership skills. This approach helps us empower students to find their voice. Students become adept at identifying and constructively articulating their needs to engage parents, teachers, fellow students and other student advocates. This process helps students understand how to develop, manage and engage their own support system when each cooperates and contributes.

School-related Interpersonal Variables

School engagement, on the other hand, can play a positive role in mediating the effects of burnout on academic achievement (Fiorilli et al., 2017). Still other studies have identified a range of protective factors such as problem resolution coping strategies (Yusoff, 2010), high-achieving peer groups (Kiuru et al., 2008), the pursuit of achievement-related goals (Vasalampi et al., 2009), teachers’ autonomy support (Shih, 2015) and social support (Kim et al., 2018Wang et al., 2018).

Positive relationships between teachers and pupils are an even more crucial form of support when it comes to preventing school burnout (Salmela-Aro et al., 2008García-Moya et al., 2019). Trenchant Core® supports students as they identify their own collaborators such as teachers, parents and other mentors. They learn to create their own solid network to support them through life. The development of support systems and skills to identify and modify them as needed is vital. Long term success of each individual is achieved when each link in the chain is complete.

Emotional intelligence is key to both the effective management of stressful school situations and school well-being (Davis and Humphrey, 2014Gugliandolo et al., 2015). Additionally, empathy is reported to foster positive relationships, social adjustment and, indirectly, personal well-being (Batson et al., 2007Eisenberg and Eggum, 2009). Trenchant Core® helps students to connect with what keeps them grounded and steadily working toward a productive outcome.

How Does Trenchant Core® Offer Solutions?

Trenchant Core® programs are developed with forward-thinking and progressive personal development principles. Youth need tools that evolve with their age. Recent advances in cognitive neuroscience have identified four key components of empathy: affective response, self-other awareness, perspective taking, and emotion regulation (Gerdes et al., 2011). Trenchant Core® coaching encompasses all aspects of a person’s social, emotional and behavioral development. We practice mindfulness training, respect for the gifts and contributions of others in our lives and discernment in determining usefulness within the range of thoughts and feelings that bring stress to our lives.

Utilizing methods employing these recent discoveries, we explore behavioral tools as they relate to environmental management. Affective response is a physiological process of affect sharing, or the automatic mirroring of another’s emotional behaviors (Decety and Meyer, 2008). This is just one way of introducing students to behavioral responses to effectively manage challenging social environments throughout their life. Students will share practical scenarios including time and context when each skill is most effectively used.

All Phases

Experiments in which people were trained in either empathy (trying to feel what others feel) or compassion (trying to develop warm and positive thoughts about others’ distress). Individuals who had received training in empathy displayed higher levels of distress (a risk factor for burnout and avoidant strategies), whereas those who had received training in compassion displayed greater positive affect and resilience (which are linked to pro-sociality and effective coping amidst stress). Plausibly, empathy may lead to either exhaustion or a positive attitude toward difficulties, depending on how individuals balance the affective and cognitive components of their empathic competence in specific social contexts (Bloom, 2017). 

Technology has removed the personal element from education. It is up to parents and educators to figure out how to reinvent opportunities for emotional development in our youth. Empathic competence may foster social adjustment, thereby assisting the individual in developing a network of supportive relationships, which – in turn – can help to prevent school burnout (Kim et al., 2018Wang et al., 2018) Trenchant Core® Programs help students identify connections between the skills learned and the need for such skills within the context of their family, career and social relationships.

Good Tool or Bad Choice

An approach aiming at balancing compassion and emotional distance in helping professions seems to prevent burnout: studies on this issue often refer to the concept of detached concern (Lampert and Glaser, 2018), which integrates the empathic concern and the necessary detachment toward patients. Trenchant Core® helps youth understand the difference between creating and maintaining healthy boundaries and lack of empathy or callousness.

Trenchant Core® aids students in identifying the positive and negative views of the world around them. The negative association between cognitive perspective taking and cynicism is consistent with the notion that the cognitive dimension of empathy protects individuals from stress (Wagaman et al., 2015), whereas cynicism – which may be viewed as a cognitive defense strategy of avoidance/devaluation in the face of stressful events – can prove costly and ineffective over the long term. Humor is an excellent coping tool, but can be used in negative applications if students are not mindful of the potential for unhealthy outcomes.

Trenchant Core® and the Mission of its consultants is to bridge the gap between what youth cannot yet perceive they need and the skills, tools, knowledge, and practices that support them as they strive to fill that gap. Students who are more satisfied with the quality of their school relationships are less at risk of burnout, which indirectly confirms that it is important for students to be able to draw support from within the school setting itself (Kim et al., 2018Wang et al., 2018).

Finally, concerning the effects of age, burnout was found to increase over the high school years, while satisfaction with school relationships declined. This is consistent with reports in the literature that older secondary students are at greater risk of burnout (Fiorilli et al., 20172019), being also less satisfied with the quality of their school relationships. Do not wait to add the much needed component to the life of the youth that matters to you.

The bottom line, a good social network at school and in all other facets of life will provide the fulcrum where youth should rely on at times of peak stress. This resource will continually reassure students and help them to meet the demands of school and cope more effectively in critical situations.


Covington, M. V. (2000). Goal theory, motivation, and school achievement: an integrative review. Annu. Rev. Psychol. 51, 171–200. doi: 10.1146/annurev.psych.51.1.171

Fimian, M. J., and Cross, A. H. (1986). Stress and burnout among preadolescent and early adolescent gifted students: a preliminary investigation. J. Early Adolesc. 6, 247–267. doi: 10.1177/0272431686063004

Fiorilli, C., De Stasio, S., Di Chiacchio, C., Pepe, A., and Salmela-Aro, K. (2017). School burnout, depressive symptoms and engagement: their combined effect on student achievement. Int. J. Educ. Res. 84, 1–12. doi: 10.1016/j.ijer.2017.04.001

Parker, P. D., and Salmela-Aro, K. (2011). Developmental processes in school burnout: a comparison of major developmental models. Learn. Individ. Differ. 21, 244–248. doi: 10.1016/j.lindif.2011.01.005

Räsänen, T., Lintonen, T., Joronen, K., and Konu, A. (2015). Girls and boys gambling with health and well-being in Finland. J. Sch. Health 85, 214–222. doi: 10.1111/josh.12246

Salmela-Aro, K., and Upadyaya, K. (2014). School burnout and engagement in the context of demands–resources model. Br. J. Educ. Psychol. 84, 137–151. doi: 10.1111/bjep.12018

Salmela-Aro, K., Upadyaya, K., Hakkarainen, K., Lonka, K., and Alho, K. (2017). The dark side of internet use: two longitudinal studies of excessive internet use, depressive symptoms, school burnout and engagement among Finnish early and late adolescents. J. Youth Adolesc. 46, 343–357. doi: 10.1007/s10964-016-0494-2

Eleonora Farina, Veronica Ornaghi, Alessandro Pepe, Caterina Fiorilli, and Ilaria Grazzani High School Student Burnout: Is Empathy a Protective or Risk Factor?, Front. Psychol., 13 May 2020 | https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.00897

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