CharterFolk Contributor Julia King Pool – Burn-in Mindset and Mastery Charter Schools Partner to Build and Retain School Leaders

Good morning, CharterFolk.

Today we are pleased to share a Contributor Column from Julia King Pool, the Founder and CEO of Burn-in Mindset.

We provide a bio for Julia below.

Julia King Pool is the Founder of Burn-in Mindset and a faculty member at the University of Pennsylvania. She joined Teach For America in 2008 and started her career as a teacher in Gary Indiana, where she won Teach For America’s Sue Lehmann award. Over the next ten years, Julia gradually grew as a successful teacher and then principal. She won the 2013 DC Teacher of the Year; opened a new middle school for the highest performing charter network in Washington, DC; and led a turnaround school in Southeast DC. While everyone was thinking about trauma-informed instruction and burnout, Julia wondered how some students and teachers were not only succeeding, but even thriving in these challenging environments. This question led her to get her Masters in Applied Positive Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, where her dissertation research eventually became the backbone of the Burn-in Mindset Program. Since its founding in 2018, Burn-in Mindset has served more than 1,500 educators who continue to sustain high performance and well-being.

Burn-in Mindset and Mastery Charter Schools Partner to Build and Retain School Leaders

The field of psychology recognizes three symptoms of burnout: cynicism, low self-efficacy, and emotional exhaustion. For school leaders, sources of burn-out are rampant and immutable. Burn-in Mindset coaches school leaders to burn in – and experience more optimism, self-efficacy, and energy. Take for example Mastery Schools – a network of charters who have partnered with Burn-in Mindset to prioritize retention. Jessie McDonald, a Blue Ribbon principal at Mastery Cramer Hill in Camden, NJ, exemplifies the benefits of Burn-in coaching.  Here is Jessie McDonald’s story.

School leaders like McDonald often consider their profession a calling. This orientation to work presents a paradox: it fuels burn-in, but it also fuels burn-out. Researchers have studied this paradox, examining the question: What’s the difference between those who quit and those who stay and move up in their profession? One key factor is how individuals respond to problems. And for school leaders, there’s no shortage of problems.

McDonald describes herself as “the great shield for my staff, students, and families.” She takes constant hits: “Another tough convo with a parent that I absorb for a teacher. Another conversation with a teacher regarding feedback for the school.” The list goes on. 

Before coaching with Burn-in Mindset, McDonald felt emotional exhaustion: “There was no relief to the tension.” She felt low self-efficacy: “I wondered, would it be possible to stay in this same role.” And she felt cynicism – “always ready for the other shoe to drop.”

It’s important to emphasize that Burn-in Mindset does not eliminate problems – it doesn’t even try to, and for good reason. As McDonald put it, “I knew that there were things that I would have to just accept as ‘the job.’” Instead, Burn-in Mindset equips top-performing educators to leverage their strengths and understand, from a research standpoint, what will sustain high performance within their context. 

One way to leverage strengths is to reorient to problems. This means viewing problems – critical emails from parents, rising referral rates, staffing problems, gossip in the staff lounge – as pathways to learning, growth, and mastery rather than as personal indictments or institutional failures. Research has found that those who exemplify this practice-oriented approach tend to build longer and more successful careers than those who are driven by identity or contribution. During Burn-in Mindset coaching, McDonald learned how her practice-oriented approach fueled burn-in, and how she could coach others toward sustained high performance based on their orientation to work.

McDonald experienced the benefits right away. She says, “Coaching completely affirmed for me, through scientific research and data, that the things that I do every day aren’t just things that I got lucky with. These are research-based practices that WILL sustain my career.” Since completing the core curriculum of four, one-hour phone calls, McDonald has continued with coaching, adding advanced concepts from positive psychology to her well-being toolkit. 

Throughout coaching, leaders gain an actionable framework for unlocking collective efficacy – the idea that educators lift student performance as their common commitment to excellence rises. It goes without saying that well-being fuels excellence, and positive psychology research shows that well-being travels between people. In this way, an investment in educator well-being directly supports student achievement. This is especially true when educators participate in Burn-in Mindset as cohorts. Sources of burn-in like positive emotions, strong relationships, and high engagement (all topics parsed out in 1:1 coaching sessions) build onramps to the upward spiral that culminates in positive student outcomes.

For McDonald, sources of burn-in mitigate symptoms of burn-out. She’s on a well-being regimen that works for her. “I know that I have the tools. I know that if I stick to the research, the data, and the fundamental belief that being reasonable and kind to humans is the best way to engage, I will be ok.”

All Mastery leaders receive robust coaching and training — 250+ hours annually. Mastery Principals have monthly differentiated professional development, central team coaching support, and receive 1:1 coaching weekly from their Regional Schools Officer. In addition, Principals and Principal Fellows have a menu of executive coaching opportunities, of which Burn-in Mindset is one of the most popular.  

In a sense, these sources of burn-in have become the “great shield,” instead of McDonald herself. And the evidence suggests this dynamic is spreading: Mastery Schools, where Burn-in Mindset partners with the majority of its 23 schools, is retaining 100% of their 2023-2024 principals into the 2024-2025 school year.