The daily duties of an administrator, from the demands of student success to parental concerns to staffing decisions, can be demanding. As a superintendent who also serves as principal, I understand the day-to-day obligations that can easily demand all of your time. However, there is no single administrative responsibility more important than investing in teachers.
The investment made by administrators is cyclical: When we invest in our staff, teachers return the investment by giving back to their students. The return on investment is often in the form of program ideas, school culture initiatives, or parental partnerships. In this way, school communities benefit from continuous investment cycles.
Even so, administrators often miss opportunities to invest in teachers. There are three areas where administrators can focus that will immediately impact their school community.
1. Spend Time with Teachers
Imagine the impression you would make if each week you ate lunch with a group of three teachers—not to be friends but to show them you care. No agenda, to-do list, or deadlines, just genuinely checking in with them.
Spending time with staff is an invaluable opportunity for leaders looking to invest in their schools. For me, this was transformative. A few years ago, I began this process with my leadership team and slowly took time throughout the school year to meet with each teacher in an informal setting. Undeniably, spending time with my staff was the best investment I made all year.
It sounds simple, but spending time with teachers makes an impression and helps build relationships. It is not about setting aside time for grade-level or staff meetings. It also does not consist of discussing the curriculum. Instead, it involves an authentic, intentional approach. School leaders can leverage opportunities during teacher duties, such as recess, lunch duty, arrival and dismissal, and before and after school to take the time to talk with staff.
Now, I make it a point to spend the first few weeks of school observing students and staff during unstructured times such as recess and lunch. My conversations are casual: “How was your weekend? Did you do anything exciting?” Other times I ask, “What are you most looking forward to this weekend?” These simple conversation starters are the key to discovering what my teachers deem important in their lives.
Get to know your staff; ask them how their children are doing and how they themselves are doing. Educators care for others daily, and the school leader should take the time to make sure every teacher knows they are cared for.
2. Express Gratitude
Teaching can be a thankless profession. I have never met a teacher who had decided to teach in order to receive a thank-you; however, that does not mean hearing “Thank you” or feeling appreciated isn’t important. Gratitude is one area where I struggled as a young leader. I remember thinking, “This is your job.” But education is more than a job, more than a career: It’s a lifestyle of investments.
I recall one instance when a teacher had to make a difficult phone call to a parent. I knew the teacher was stressed about making the call, so I offered to let them use my phone for support. The teacher took me up on the offer and made the call. Once the call was done, I was immediately called to another situation.
The day ended, and I missed the opportunity to tell the teacher what a great job they did. Although it was challenging, I appreciated their completing the difficult task. I decided to write the teacher a note to express my gratitude and left the note on the teacher’s desk for them to see the next day when they arrived. The teacher was appreciative and thankful that I had noticed their apprehension and that they had overcome their fear. These are the investments that enable growth.
It’s important to let teachers know they are seen and acknowledged for their hard work. Rethink teacher incentive initiatives, and create teacher recognition programs. Just as teachers find ways to recognize students, administrators can find opportunities to show appreciation and recognition to staff. Cards, snacks, thank-you notes, and even emails are great ways to express gratitude to teachers.
3. Create Opportunities
After spending time with my teaching staff, I noticed that they were full of ingenuity and creative ideas. We needed to create space for teachers to move their ideas from their minds into practice. I began to strategically work with specific teachers to create opportunities for them to pursue their passion within the district. We met with the teachers to create a sustainable plan and started to build capacity to enact some of their ideas. Once the capacity was built, our school saw increased student activities, new committees, and leadership opportunities.
Based on the advice of teachers, opportunities such as student council, data and assessment director, robotics team, administrative assistant, and district safety teams were created. These opportunities were embraced and planned together as a partnership between staff and administration. The team aspect allowed staff to own the opportunities and help avoid the concept and feeling of wasting time. Staff believed they were making meaningful investments in the school that added value to our community.
Administrators are working around the clock to ensure that districts are equipped with staffing and resources to help support teachers and students. The desire to create programs to support the district is a priority for administrators, but time or lack thereof is the biggest obstacle for leaders. Undeniably, spending more time may sound antithetical to gaining more time, but spending time with teachers, expressing gratitude, and creating opportunities will be the best investment an administrator will make. These three actions can unlock a district’s culture and develop more leaders.