Here’s a question, or two, for school administrators: How can you inspire teachers to keep or rekindle the joy of teaching that brought them to the profession? How can you maximize time and resources while also keeping great educators in the classroom?
I’ve found three ways that administrators and coaches at every level can help retain and encourage teachers.
Listen to your teachers. What are they excited about? What strategies, innovations, and new ideas are they trying in their classrooms? What are they complaining about? Sometimes people just need to vent, so let them know you hear them. Seek out staff input on how to launch initiatives, address challenges, and resolve frustrations. Most important, follow through on their suggestions.
That said, don’t ask if you don’t really want feedback. This is key. A well-intentioned administrator once asked the staff at my school for input on a scheduling decision. It was later revealed that the district had already made a decision and asked as a gesture. The result was instant frustration and disillusionment. If a decision has already been made or you’re not in a position to implement suggestions, don’t waste teachers’ time.
What you can do right now: Create open office hours, and encourage staff to stop by to talk with you. Set up a Venting Voxer so that your team can leave voice records of their concerns. Conduct end-of-the-year and exit interviews. If you can’t do so in person, use Flipgrid or a short Google Form to gather responses. Ask the following questions:
- What did we do really well this year?
- What are the top issues preventing student success?
- What issues are preventing teacher joy and leading to burnout?
What’s in it for you? Teachers are in the best position to give feedback on school issues. You can improve the climate and culture of your school by making space to vent frustration while nurturing your greatest educational asset—your staff.
After a midyear class evaluation, my assistant principal, Dr. Holly Ripley, asked me, “How’d you do that?” I had no idea what she was talking about and stared at her blankly, then stammered, “Well, that’s what I told them to do today. So that’s what they did.” (In this case, “that” was having the students do a short role-playing activity involving a novel and then leading their own class discussion.) She smiled. “You do realize these kids do not do that in other classes, right? So, how’d you get them to do that?”
It was a transformative moment. I had no idea I was especially good at something as a teacher. She not only forced me to reflect on what I had done but also helped me to become even more strategic about what I’d always done on instinct. She helped me to believe in myself as an educator, and in doing so, she set me on a path of modeling those practices for other educators.
As an administrator, you’re in a unique position to give this powerful gift. You can see teachers in ways they cannot see themselves. As you visit classrooms (a vital part of connecting with your staff), share those insights.
What you can do right now: If you don’t have time to personally see each staff member, ask staff and students for stories: What’s one thing a staffer here at XYZ School did this year that was awesome? That made school better? Offer a small thank-you for submitting stories of awesomeness, then share those stories, in person, via a nice message.
What’s in it for you? As with listening to your staff, systematically seeing what makes each of them unique allows you to maximize your greatest resource. You can encourage strategic learning walks, make mentorship matches, empower staff to share strategies, and model best practices at professional development and staff meetings.
Probably the hardest, but also the most important, component is trusting your teachers. Trust that they know what students need and will do what it takes to serve and support them.
Whenever possible, let your staff personalize their professional development. This goes beyond providing breakout session choices. Give them time to work on the issues that impact students and time to hone the skills they feel they need to better support their learners—no specific schedule, just time.
What you can do: After the last year and a half, teachers may be too exhausted to do much right now. Trust that and give them the time to rest and recover.
In the future, use staff meetings or in-service days to problem-solve. Share the results from your “Hear Them” survey above. Provide a framework to support the work (the Educator Canvas, a human-centered design model, or an action research guide), then step back and give them the time to do what teachers do best: design solutions to improve teaching and learning.
What’s in it for you? Trusting your staff, trusting teachers to do what needs to be done, will yield a happier, more productive, more passionate team. Most teachers enter the profession because they want to make a difference. Nothing kills that vision faster than being micromanaged like a child. The more you trust your staff, the more they’ll trust you.
These are the gifts I’ve been given as an educator. You, as the administrator, have the power to give these same gifts to your staff.