Speak To My Heart
Let’s talk about teacher care and well-being. How can we better meet the needs of those people on the front lines with our students daily?
What leads to teachers feeling low levels of satisfaction and considering alternative careers? How can schools retain their most valuable asset when it comes to learning? When issues of low pay and budget cuts continue to plague public education, it’s imperative school leaders create a culture that values the single greatest resource a school has to influence and impact student learning, its teachers.
But the reality is this resource often feels stretched thin by the combined weight of district-wide and building-level initiatives, standardized testing expectations, feedback with stakeholders, differentiating instruction and accommodations, and the challenges of classroom management. Teachers are continually pouring themselves into others without much replenishing of their own tanks. This leads to burn-out and dissatisfaction.
So if we know that teachers feel this way, what can we do, within our control, to mitigate these feelings and perceptions? One thing is to start within and begin our own individual reflections and increase our own awareness. Without true awareness, we’ll not know what the pressing areas are that demand our skills and insights. So, one question I would ask teachers is, “What do you see as your own priorities?” From there, do teachers have those priorities written down? Although it may seem minor, having them written down makes it even “more real” and meaningful. Interestingly enough having them written down is your own reminder to stay true to yourself and your values.
Often we discuss SEL within the context of students, and anyone with any legitimacy in our field would certainly agree with that. However, since when did teachers cease to be human beings? They haven’t, and in the same spirit of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, teachers have some of those same SEL needs that students have.
So what might be a next step? If teachers have common planning periods and with time they have discretion over, periodically maybe every 2 weeks or monthly they can come together and talk about what SEL needs they have. Even this seemingly small act is huge in significance as some teachers “suffer in silence”. Creating a dialogue and that being in a “safe place” is paramount to true productive change. One of the potential benefits is teachers sharing and hearing stories about how they’ve seen SEL needs met with their school. We sometimes need to be reminded that the life of a teacher is often confined to the “four walls” of their learning space. Collaborative, authentic dialogues where teachers feel safe and at ease in sharing is a step forward. No dialogue...No progress.
Creating a Twitter #PLN is one way for teachers to make valuable connections and have those authentic discussions about teaching and learning outside their “four walls.” It can be a wonderful PD tool, as teachers have the freedom to delve into areas of professional interest. We often touch on the value of students owning their own learning and narrating their own learning journey, but the same is true for educators. Social media platforms can offer both students and teachers the opportunity to connect with others, document their learning, and hone their voice.
If you’re a leader, you might be wondering what your next steps should be and what you can do. As a former campus administrator, I would recommend looking at all of the places where the topic can be broached and become part of an ongoing dialogue. One, in a staff meeting have staff stand up. Once they do that, have them look at someone next to them, shake their hand, and tell them, “Thank you for what you do.” This is an example of an affirmation amongst staff.
Here’s another idea for leaders. Something else I’ve seen some of my friends do as part of campus leadership, is go to Sonic and buy the favorite large drinks that every teacher likes and deliver them to their rooms or in PLC’s. While this may seem like a small act, it communicates care and appreciation.
Yet another approach for leaders is to talk about culture openly with staff. This could take place in a PLC Room or other common area where people could see what’s posted. Have everyone in the room, teachers, admin, and other staff alike, write down and post on the walls what they feel makes a solid culture. Seeing what everyone has posted (keeping it anonymous is a key to preserving authenticity) will provide “collective insight” that everyone can glean.
Without a shared, collective insight, a campus can have well-intentioned people working on pursuits that are juxtaposed to each other creating a net wash overall or even a negative effect. I sense though, and have seen over the years, that some leaders are reluctant and sometimes very reluctant to even discuss these things, but that’s where the real wins are. Once leaders venture into that territory, they see that most people, just like them, seek the same understanding that they do. They as well, regardless of title, seek to be seen, heard, and understood. What makes us all unique as human beings is that we all have different ways that we believe best honor those values.
These dialogues inform us as to how to acknowledge, recognize, affirm, and truly value each other as people. I dare say individuals that feel affirmed and valued are more likely to stay in their position short of a promotion or other extenuating circumstances. This is how we address employee retention. This is how we develop leadership capacity beyond titles. This is how we create, foster, and sustain a campus culture that serves all, both students and staff. So as you reflect on this article, ask yourself this question, “How can I speak to someone’s heart?” You are that voice. Speak, and speak with inspiration. That inspiration transcends all races, colors, and ethnicities. That is the inspiration that brings us all together across this globe.