For the past two and a half years, educators have had far too many barriers in the way of their being able to access and execute their why. If we want to change this situation and revitalize our educators and educational system, we have to change our approach. This is quite possibly the perfect example of “The system is perfectly designed to get the results it is getting; if we want to get different results, we must do something different.”
It’s important for us as leaders, in whatever capacity that may be, to take responsibility and ownership for turning this ship. We can reset boundaries for ourselves and for our staff. Most important, this is our time to remind ourselves that education and leadership aren’t about us but about others.
Help Educators Handle Hardships
The importance of the whole child approach to education has been discussed for years. This has undoubtedly been true and has become even more evident throughout the pandemic. It’s necessary to meet students not only where they are academically but also where they are socially and emotionally. This isn’t new, but while we often expect our teachers to approach each child in this manner, many leaders model the opposite behavior toward teachers.
“If you don’t like the job, there’s the door” is a line I have heard more times than I’d care to. It’s common for educators to hear it in opening convocations, faculty meetings, and evaluation meetings. Statements like “Leave your baggage at the door” and “Don’t bring your issues with you to school” still permeate the educational system. But what if the issue isn’t staff bringing their baggage or struggles with them, but rather the fact that administrators have never attempted to provide them with a better way of carrying it? What if the issue isn’t about what they’re doing but more about what we as educational leaders aren’t doing?
Rather than waiting for it to get easier, which it never does, we can, as Kara Lawson, head coach of the Duke women’s basketball team, says, “handle hard better.” Instead of simply focusing on professional development that improves pedagogy, we can provide space for professional development that supports wellness. Instead of expecting the baggage to go away, administrators can work to help others learn how to carry it better.
Model Methods That Make Teaching More Manageable
There are three basic actions that every leader can implement tomorrow to begin to create an environment and culture where educators can have the greatest potential for success.
1. Set boundaries. Setting boundaries may be the most important and most difficult thing to do as a leader. We often feel as though we need to be on the clock 24/7, and quite honestly, sometimes that’s the case. However, what we model is what we get. When we model that we don’t have boundaries, it unintentionally communicates the same thing to those whom we lead. For teachers’ well-being, it’s important to establish boundaries between their professional and personal lives. We can ensure that we’re supporting our staff in doing that.
- Don’t send emails past the end of the contractual day to staff.
- Educate parent(s)/guardian(s) that while you may have a 24-hour expectation for communication and responses, teachers are not available 24/7.
- Communicate to your staff what you do for wellness and health (e.g., exercise, nutrition, sleep).
- Don’t send emails, if at all possible, during the academic school day. This interrupts instruction and makes staff feel as though they may need to check email all day.
2. Provide clarity. We can either provide clarity or add to the confusion. Administrators can make priorities, expectations, and their vision abundantly clear. If that’s not the case, there’s a high likelihood that your staff is confused about what they need to do. Even the slightest confusion adds to the large mental load that each of your educators already carries. Make sure that you and your staff know what the two to four most important areas are.
- Communicate your expectations, vision, and goals in every communication possible. When you feel like you’ve communicated your vision ad nauseam, you’re communicating it the perfect amount. Ask staff frequently if they know what the expectations are in relation to your visions, goals, etc. (faculty meetings, weekly emails, impromptu connections, PLC meetings, team meetings).
- Have visuals posted throughout the school that highlight the theme, expectations, vision, and goals.
- Ensure that your goals and expectations align with your vision and that your staff can see that alignment.
- Create collaborative teams to help evaluate progress toward annual goals. This can be done by engaging with any and all stakeholders. Creating parent advisory groups, school improvement teams that invite all staff to participate, teacher-leader teams, or staff advisory groups can all help ensure that the ownership of the vision is collaborative in nature.
3. Believe in them, deeply. Simply put, every single person deserves someone in their life that believes in them more than they believe in themselves. When we communicate this clearly and consistently, we increase the self-efficacy of those we lead. Ultimately, we want the best outcomes for our students, and the best way to achieve them is to have educators who have deep confidence in their practices, their work, and their why. Believe in them enough to support them so that they can truly be their best.
This may sound simple, but in my research related to school culture, I’ve noticed a glaring sentiment: Staff do not consistently feel that administrators value their work. As an administrator, you have the power to change this and prioritize recognition and appreciation.
- Visit or be present and engaged with every classroom every day. Say hi and engage.
- Write at least one handwritten note (sticky note or card) to a staff member per week.
- When you see something, say something. Don’t wait to tell staff you’re proud of them or excited about what you saw. Do it immediately.
- Remind staff often that they are appreciated and valued.
- Be interested in who they are as humans, and help them grow not only professionally but personally.
Create space to engage with staff about their personal lives. It always means more when a compliment is given based on what you know their values are. Support teachers to create boundaries so that they can take care of themselves and their families. Trust me, doing these things will pay off far more than the inverse.