School administrators—including principals, assistant principals, deans, specialists, curriculum coaches, and more—you have a big task ahead!
You are making curriculum choices, identifying social‑emotional learning programs, planning family engagement initiatives, and keeping a close eye on public health guidance. You are also working to re‑establish workplace culture and build morale after a tough year. You have a lot on your plate!
So, how can you support your teachers in their professional goals while holding on to all of your other responsibilities? In this article, we share 6 strategies for supporting teachers at the start of the 2021–2022 school year.
1. Assume the Best
You’ve probably asked your teachers to assume the best of their students. We never know what burdens learners carry with them as they enter our classrooms each day. We hope our children come to us from a home where they rested peacefully, ate a nutritious breakfast, and felt secure and loved—but we know this isn’t always the case. Even minor disruptions in the home or community can have a big impact on a child’s behavior and ability to focus in the classroom. As supportive educators, we offer our students grace. We assume the best, genuinely believing that they’re trying as hard as they can given the resources available.
School leaders will do well to adopt the same attitude toward their staff. Teachers crave respect for their professional judgment. Therefore, start by presuming competence. Try not to micromanage your teachers—this is demoralizing and disincentivizes innovation and problem-solving. Micromanagement is an easy trap to fall into because you naturally want to ensure the teachers in your care are meeting their goals and serving students well. Instead, allow and encourage creativity and instructional autonomy. Trusting teachers is a good way to bolster the school’s culture and student performance.
If a teacher seems to be “off” for some reason—maybe disheartened body language in the hallway or an unusually negative comment during a grade level meeting—approach him with an attitude of curiosity to discover what might be troubling him. Don’t assume he is upset about something related to work or frustrated with you. Begin by assuming he is doing the best he can, and offer to be a support in whatever ways are helpful and appropriate.
2. Protect Teacher Prep Periods… Please!
This one is a really big deal. One of the most frustrating things teachers face in the day‑to‑day grind of their work is losing out on precious minutes to plan. Inadequate and missed prep periods are big contributors to the poor work‑life balance that many educators face, and ultimately contribute to teacher burnout.
So, unless absolutely necessary, don’t schedule meetings or other obligations during teacher preps.
3. Reduce the Number of Meetings
As a school leader, you have participated in meetings whose objective could have been accomplished with an email or collaborative document. The past year and a half of virtual learning taught leaders across industries to prioritize the most important topics for meetings that required synchronized attendance. They knew their staff were juggling school schedules, childcare needs, and other responsibilities at home while working on their professional tasks.
As a result, a lot of organizations—including schools—learned to be more efficient and effective with meetings.
Support your teachers by holding onto this habit of reducing meetings. It’ll save your sanity, and that of your teachers, too.
4. Collaborate on Decision‑Making
One of the best ways to support your teachers and show you genuinely care about their well‑being and professional success is to invite them into the decision‑making process.
This won’t always be possible; some decisions are important for school leaders alone to make. Examples would include HR concerns, budget, legal issues, and some school‑wide policy changes. But most big and little decisions can and should be made with teacher input. Include teachers in curriculum choices, schedule shifts, school culture planning, and policy initiatives (particularly concerning the pandemic).
For example, it’s easy to ask teachers to step in for one another when someone is out sick. And it might make sense to do so on occasion. But if it is the norm for teachers to cover for absent colleagues, morale will suffer. Instead, use a collaborative brainstorming process with teachers to come up with a better solution.
If you are short on substitute teachers (or don’t have access to them), try any or all of these possible solutions:
- Rotating administrator coverage
- A designated “floater” who may wear multiple hats throughout the day
- Hourly staff
- Combining classes
- Extending recess/specials
Even areas that are traditionally reserved for administrators, such as performance evaluation and hiring decisions, can include teachers. You can solicit the input of peer feedback to contribute to the teacher performance evaluation process, and offer teachers the opportunity to be part of a panel during the hiring of the new teachers.
5. Lead by Example
Is a teacher having a hard time with classroom management? Is she struggling to create engaging hooks for her lessons?
Even if you’re not her curriculum coach, be willing to step in for a moment and help out. As the principal (or other school leader), teachers want to know that you are an effective educator as well as a capable leader. This builds trust. When a leader steps into a lesson to teach for a few minutes or helps an individual student or a whole class, teachers get a powerful message: you’re on the same page as they are.
Professional learning is an ongoing process. Sometimes it’s helpful to participate in a webinar or sit through a training session with an expert. And other times, it’s more helpful to learn by observing master educators and school leaders model the skills you’re working on.
So instead of popping in only for evaluation, step in from time to time to offer practical help!
6. Show and Tell Support for Your Teachers
It is important to demonstrate your support for your teachers by showing and telling them how much you appreciate their hard work.
Kind gestures like a coffee and bagel staff breakfast “just because” really do make a difference in morale. You might also show support by giving each teacher a new set of dry erase markers, canceling professional development one afternoon in the middle of the year to give teachers time to deep clean, or shout out teacher accomplishments in an email newsletter to staff.
It is also important to tell teachers how you are supporting their work. Take the time to handwrite a note and drop it in their mailbox. Send a personalized email noting how you appreciate their hard work. Or, better yet, find a couple of moments to have an in‑person conversation to acknowledge the teacher’s efforts.
When you have these conversations with teachers, be real. As opportunities arise (and staying within professional boundaries), be willing to be vulnerable with some of the things that are challenging for you, too. Honesty builds trust and empathy with your teachers and shows you are human. You are working hard to figure it out and do what’s best for students and staff, too. Yes, projecting confidence and being prepared as a school leader is incredibly important. But we all need support sometimes—and it’s okay to say so!