Just as teachers carefully consider the ways in which they want students to use their time in the classroom, leaders must regularly reflect on the ways in which teachers are using their time during the day. Being thoughtful about providing time for teachers to reflect, connect with colleagues, and celebrate growth can go a long way to improve teacher morale.
My teachers are tired and morale is low.
It’s a common refrain that principals all across the country are unfortunately repeating these days. The past nearly two years have stretched educators in good ways and encouraged them to be more creative, more technologically savvy, and more innovative in the methods they use to connect with students and families. Despite these gains, however, teachers have been stretched in ways that haven’t left them feeling productive or effective. Days that are crammed with tasks and void of the time to think or breathe do nothing to improve morale. It is this fact that many teachers cite when they leave the profession. Working in such an unsustainable way only serves to undermine the many talents and expertise that teachers bring to the classroom.
While there’s no magic formula or single act that serves to improve teacher morale, leaders who think about how teachers are being asked to use their time can often find ways to repurpose that time to improve morale.
Think about how time is being spent
Leaders can start by taking a close look at how time is used in a day. They can ask teachers about the work they are doing during the day, before school, and after school. Are there things that can be removed from teachers’ plates? Are there opportunities to split duties? For instance, can there be a rotating schedule for bus duty or hall duty so that teachers can use that time in other ways? Have new things been added to teachers’ plates lately? When something new is added, it is important for leaders to consider taking something away. Otherwise, teachers will feel as though they are buried each day by a series of tedious tasks.
Encourage teachers to reflect, and carve time for them to do so
Reflection time is critical to growth, so it is important for leaders to encourage teachers to reflect through a reflection journal or other method. This is not to be something that is monitored by principals. Teachers can share thoughts in Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) or other small groups if they find this helpful, however. The normalization of reflection sends the message that reflection is essential to growth.
Create time for teachers to have group discussions
Because teaching can sometimes feel isolating, it is vital that discussion time is a regular part of the support that colleagues provide each other. Regular Staff Talking Circles can improve morale and allow teachers to assist each other. While this BetterLesson strategy was designed to give teachers the opportunity to have discussions related to bias and inequities that may exist in the school, the process can be used to have discussions about any topic teachers or leaders feel need to be prioritized. If there is a regular discussion protocol to guide the process, having the time to discuss challenges with peers and having steps to implement afterwards is a great use of time.
Encourage feedback from teachers about their experiences
Start, Stop, Continue is a strategy that teachers can use during a lesson to find out what students feel that they or the teacher needs to start doing, stop doing, or continue doing. How powerful would it be for a leader to also employ this strategy with teachers. If a leader provided time for teachers to share their ideas for stop, start, and continue, that leader can then better understand the things that are working for teachers and which things may be hindering productivity. These can be shared verbally or anonymously so that teachers feel comfortable being completely honest with leaders.
Create a celebration station
While it is vital to share problems of practice so that teachers can help one another brainstorm solutions and try new tools, it is also necessary for them to share the things that are working well. Making time for celebrations during faculty meetings and PLCs is crucial. Those celebrations and reflections can also live in digital or designated spaces in the school. Carving time for teachers to share positives during meetings or on positive reflection boards can help teachers remember the things that are going well, and in turn, boost morale.
Ultimately, teachers are the greatest resource in a school. Just as teachers carefully consider the ways in which they want students to use their time in the classroom, leaders must regularly reflect on the ways in which teachers are using their time during the day. Being thoughtful about providing time for teachers to reflect, connect with colleagues, and celebrate growth can go a long way to improve teacher morale.
Watch the webinar for a deeper dive into Leadership Strategies that Boost Teacher Morale. Monica Washington, Director of Inclusive and Responsive Educational Practices and Instructional Coach at BetterLesson, will share resources and examine how leaders can help develop and support teachers in meaningful ways. Watch the webinar.