Administration & Leadership

One Teacher’s Ideas on How Administrators Can Support Teachers

The key point for school leaders, this teacher believes, is to focus on collaboration, inquiry, and active listening.

June 20, 2023
SolStock / iStock

Around the world, students are struggling. The adversity posed by the pandemic has impacted children and adults alike, resulting in disruptive behavior, academic apathy, and burnout in the classroom. 

I’ve taught for 26 years, and for the past five months, I had the opportunity to travel across Greece on a Fulbright fellowship to teach, observe, and talk with teachers, students, and administrators. Though the countries and educational systems are different, I’ve been struck by the similar struggles that teachers and students face across contexts, and through discussions about teacher stress in particular, I have developed concrete ways that administrators can support the adults in their learning space and make a true difference at school. 

Ask Teachers What They Need

Open-door policies are commonplace but not always implemented in practice. And that’s understandable: Leading a school is complex and time-consuming, and it’s not reasonable to expect administrators to be available to teachers 24/7. 

But it is possible for administrators to create a schedule to regularly visit teachers’ classrooms—during prep periods, or at the beginning or end of a school day—to ask, genuinely, how they’re doing and what they need. Doing so is an excellent way to take the temperature of staff morale and culture and to spark ideas about possible solutions that you might otherwise miss. 

Create Time for Collaboration

Teaching can be extremely isolating. Across my career, I’ve learned that I thrive and grow best when I have a community of colleagues with whom I can share challenges and ideas. Carving out a few hours every week, or even every few weeks, for teachers to meet and discuss their needs and successes will pay off exponentially. And this doesn’t mean professional learning communities. PLCs are valuable when assessing and improving instruction, but teachers also need autonomy, choice, and time to work through the other complex challenges of teaching together.

The administration at my home school provides and funds collaborative time for teachers, and it has gone a long way in demonstrating their respect and care for us—which, in turn, has directly impacted staff morale and student achievement. It’s my hope that more schools can follow suit.

Provide Social and Emotional Support for Students and Staff

Throughout my career, I’ve always heard how important it is for students to feel connected to other students, teachers, and their school. But it wasn’t until I encountered social and emotional learning (SEL) that I finally understood that it really all comes down to emotions. If teachers tap into students’ emotions, they will have their attention and, with some strategies, techniques, and practice, their engagement when it comes to learning. 

At my high school, I created the Connected Group—a group of teachers who get together every two weeks to discuss challenges and successes, and to study best practices in implementing SEL. Learning about SEL can be complex and overwhelming, but together we were able to build our understanding. 

We started by studying CASEL’s Three Signature Practices Playbook, which gave us a solid footing across subjects, and then moved on to the RULER system from Yale’s Center for Emotional Intelligence. We tried techniques in our classrooms and lives and reported back on what worked and what didn’t. Participating in a regular cycle of learning, practice, and reflection with colleagues was so much more effective than taking a workshop or webinar that, though useful, doesn’t always have longstanding impacts.

My colleagues concur: A recent survey garnered reflections such as “I think the meetings are a good way to discover new strategies and confer with colleagues. Always time well spent,” “It is forcing me (for lack of a better word) to branch out and… build connections with kids,” and “As a new teacher, the group is a great support system and a place to get new ideas.”

I was given the opportunity to try this model with teachers in Greece and received similar responses; one math teacher spoke to the impact of trying only one SEL technique: “The impact of just a few moments connecting with kids at the beginning of class was incredible. They were so much more engaged with the subject matter—the mood of the class was so different!”

Teachers learn and thrive when they are given the opportunity to regularly collaborate, and students are the direct beneficiaries of this learning. 

Utilize Teacher Leaders

As an administrator, you can’t possibly do everything that is needed to help a school grow and thrive—but you don’t have to. There is often a wealth of untapped expertise in schools—teachers who are ready to step up and lead their colleagues if presented with the opportunity. 

In the Connected Group at my school, for example, a first-year technology teacher implemented the idea of a class charter (a RULER technique) and had great success with some of the most challenging students. His example inspired veteran teachers to try out his techniques, and he grew his confidence and connection to colleagues, demonstrating how, when we provide teachers with opportunities to share ideas and expertise, and to mentor and support colleagues, we empower everyone while nourishing a culture of collaboration and growth. 

I’ve witnessed the unique power that administrators have to create a thriving school culture. Despite the systemic challenges plaguing education across countries, there are many learning communities in which teachers are tightly knit and excited to engage in their work. This doesn’t just happen. Behind every successful school community, I’ve found caring, intelligent school leaders who understand the potency of listening to and empowering teachers. Let’s take care of teachers so they can take care of students.

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