In times of crisis, taking care of their team should be of utmost priority for school administrators. With the impending staff shortages this coming school year, schools will undoubtedly be in crisis mode for an unknown period of time. Results from a new survey conducted by the EdWeek Research Center are bleak and tell us the following:
- More than 40 percent of the teachers surveyed reported they were “likely to leave the profession in the next 2 years.”
- Only 44 percent reported they were “treated like professionals by the public.”
- Less than 15 percent reported they were “very satisfied with [their] jobs.”
It’s difficult for school leaders to support their staff through crises if they’ve never learned how to do so effectively and are unaware of the pain points of those under their charge. A Harvard Business Review article tells us that the best leaders take personal ownership in a crisis despite meeting challenges not of their doing and outside their control. Moreover, school leaders will need to listen to what teachers say they need from them to feel better supported.
For example, continuing to drill down relentless mandates and new initiatives when teachers are overworked, underpaid, and exhausted will further erode morale. Also, presenting emotional regulation techniques as a panacea for crises is harmful and doesn’t get to the heart of the issues that require action for improving their workflow.
Administrators, therefore, need to rally teachers in ways that don’t seem disingenuous or with an agenda to have them comply. That said, school leaders must consider the best ways of supporting their teachers who are staying in the profession by choice and new colleagues entering a potentially tricky new job situation.
3 Ways to Support All Teachers During a Crisis
1. Align and communicate school focus. While many school leaders want to establish some normalcy in the instructional day, a combination of Covid, staff shortages, and other unforeseen challenges may continue to decimate instruction in many districts for the time being. One superintendent told me recently, “This school year, we were just trying to survive and couldn’t always tend solely on instruction!” Colleagues also express similar sentiments in many schools I visit and on social media.
Therefore, in some places, we must accept that we are living in an extended time of having to be flexible and shift focus—sometimes a lot. At times, items unrelated to instruction may need more priority momentarily, and the teaching staff will need your trust and guidance when having to change priorities.
Not having the school’s focus aligned and articulated to staff as needed will confuse and frustrate them, especially if they are being held accountable. Instead, do the following to remain in alignment with your schoolwide priorities:
- Document the top three to five in order of importance.
- Keep abreast and review performance daily or as required.
- Share all pertinent information and status changes with the corresponding staff members.
- Give clear direction.
- Review and update the schoolwide priorities list as needed.
These strategies are also good to implement when schools are not in crisis mode.
2. Make your school environment intellectually safe. Author Simon Sinek once tweeted, “A team is not a group of people who work together. A team is a group of people who trust each other.” My time in education continues to show me that school leaders earn teachers’ trust when their actions unite the staff in both easy and challenging times with consistency and fairness through their actions, words, and policies—thus creating an intellectually safe school culture.
More specifically, in intellectually safe spaces, teachers and other staff are not belittled, undermined, micromanaged, or devalued in their efforts. In turn, they can become confident to do the following:
- Speak their minds and offer their honest views. This may be an opportune time to get their valid and reliable expertise in a crisis. They also may need an opportunity to vent or ask for help when things get difficult.
- Know they will be supported when making decisions and judgment calls, even in a crisis.
- Seek honest feedback from their supervisor and others.
- Trust what’s being asked of them.
3. Focus on people, not metrics. This does not imply that school leaders shouldn’t care about measuring student achievement or how their school is doing, but when in crisis, attention needs to be on people first. In difficult times, people need to know that school leaders really care about them without an agenda. Administrators can do that best by taking the time to understand their staff’s perspective and then honoring it.
Teaching during a crisis may cause some teachers to worry and to have uncertainty—they will require empathy and engagement from leaders. Here are some ways to keep the focus on them primarily as people:
- In action and words, show them sincere gratitude for their efforts.
- Take time to check in consistently. This maintains your presence and lets them know you’re available for support.
- Look for ways to boost their well-being at work by asking them what helps them and then letting them do it. I’ve seen well-intentioned wellness and mindfulness training sessions backfire when the entire staff gets the same message and strategies. If your school makes time for wellness, let folks do what works for them during the allotted time (e.g., listening to music, reading, going for a walk, exercising, eating comfort snacks).
- Be flexible. For example, when holding faculty meetings or professional development after school doesn’t work for a weary faculty, don’t force it.