Tuesday, August 29, 2017

5 Ways to Raise Teacher Morale

You may have heard it said, "We're here for the kids... not the teachers."  You may have even said it.

It's true.  We are here for the kids.  Students are the reason that schools exist, and every decision should be driven by the needs and interests of the children.  However, don't make the mistake of thinking that student needs and teachers interests are mutually exclusive propositions.  I would actually argue that they are inextricably linked.  To put it simply, happy teachers are more effective teachers.  In fact, the morale of your faculty is an important component of a strong school culture.

Here's the good news: it's not that hard to raise the morale of your teachers!  But it usually doesn't happen by accident; you must be intentional about it.

Here are 5 ways you can raise the morale of your teachers:

Keep your teachers focused on the difference they are making for kids.   Being a teacher is a profoundly gratifying career.  It's easy to get bogged down in the administrivia, though.  The daily grind of planning lessons, grading papers, and dealing with the knuckleheads can sap the energy and joy from teachers. We need to remind our teachers why we come to work each day.  We keep the focus on our students and not the "hassles" of the job.  We remind our teachers about the difference that they make in the lives of their students. Our teachers are heroes in the classroom every day, and we never want to overlook that.  When we help teachers keep their eye on the ball, they are more likely to keep their head in the game.  When teachers remember their "why," it can carry them through the stresses of their day.

Involve your teachers in the decisions of the school.  In my experience, teachers are more motivated when their administration leads collaboratively.  When teachers are involved in the decisions of the school, they are more invested in the process.  When their opinions are valued, they feel valued.  Listen to the feedback of your teachers... and take it seriously. When teachers feel included in the decision making process, they will take ownership of the entire school, not just their classroom.

Trust the judgment of your teachers.  Teachers are professionals.  Treat them like professionals.  Respect their experiences, and respect their expertise. I realize that principals are responsible for the entire school and are ultimately accountable for everything that happens.  But micromanagement is the quickest way to destroy the morale of a faculty. Give your teachers an opportunity to prove themselves. Good leaders will quickly learn which staff members require closer supervision.

Give your teachers the benefit of the doubt.  Trust is foundational to any healthy school culture. When you are frustrated with something a teacher said or did, assume that they had good intentions. Don't start off being judgmental. When your default setting is to give teachers the benefit of the doubt, it will not go unnoticed. Your teachers will feel supported, respected, and valued.

Notice the little things your teachers do... and recognize them for it.  Praise your teachers often.  Give them shout outs in front of their colleagues.  Thank them for the little things they do that make a difference for their students, for their colleagues, and for the school.  Be specific, and be genuine.  Never take your teachers, or the important work they do, for granted.

As teacher morale increases, so will the positive energy in the building.  Students will notice it; parents will notice it; and anyone who visits the building will notice it.  In my world, there is never a time when teacher morale is irrelevant.  I strongly believe that teachers who feel good about coming to work and who feel good about the work they do, will be more effective employees.  They will bring a higher level of energy into the their classroom, and they will demonstrate greater resiliency when confronted with adversity.  And the kids will benefit!

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Statues, Empathy, and a Path Forward

On occasion I have asked both students and teachers: "Is it more important to be right... or to be reconciled?" As educators, we understand the importance of relationships. James Comer noted, "No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship."  Without a doubt, effective school leaders understand the importance of building positive relationships within a school building. Sometimes, relationships get broken, and as a principal, I am wired for reconciliation. I want aggravated parents to be on the same page with their child's teacher. I want quarreling students to work through their differences.  And when I realize I have inadvertently alienated a staff member, I work hard to mend that fence. The personal quality that goes the furthest toward achieving reconciliation... is empathy.

This is sort of a letter to my fellow Americans who want to preserve the Confederate monuments. I feel compelled to write it because much of what I've seen and heard lately reflects a lack of understanding of the emotions on the other side. (I choose to believe that it is a lack of understanding and not a total indifference. An "indifference" would bring me too much sadness.)  It is my belief that we will never achieve reconciliation without an attempt to understand.

[If your goal is not reconciliation, I guess you can stop reading -- this post is not for you --- you and I don't share the same core values, and more than likely, my writing will not resonate with you.  This post is intended for people who care about other humans, who desire a brighter future for our country, and who want to make the world a better place.]

Statues are not just about "history." They are about a specific kind of history ... the history that we want to honor -- the history that we want to celebrate.  Make no mistake about it -- slavery is an ugly stain in our country’s history.  And the racism and discrimination that persisted after the Civil War has left a tragic legacy with which we are still dealing.  The South fought the Civil War to preserve the institution of  slavery.  I actually have ancestors who fought for the confederacy. But they were on the wrong side of history, and they should not be honored.  Robert E. Lee's statues need to come down because there is no redeeming value to his historical contributions.

To those who would argue that the removal of Confederate monuments puts us on a “slippery slope” that will eventually lead to the removal of statues of our founding fathers and the blotting out of our history, please reflect for a moment.  History books tell us what history we should remember; statues tell us what people in that history we should revere. MLK was unfaithful to his wife, but we still have statues of him because he was and is a revered leader of the Civil Rights Movement. His legacy... his contribution to history, has nothing to do with his marriage. Thomas Jefferson had slaves, so his character was flawed to be sure.  But we honor him with statues because he made contributions to our history that transcend his moral failings with respect to slavery.  Taking down statues does not erase our history; it simply clarifies our national values and underscores our capacity for redemption. Removing certain historical monuments is not “rewriting history”; it is redefining what it is in our history that we honor.

In a very difficult moment in our nation's history, Robert F. Kennedy said, "But we have to make an effort in the United States.  We have to make an effort to understand, to get beyond ... ."    To those of you who don’t see what the big deal is, I would encourage you to consider how Confederate monuments are perceived by African Americans.  What you see as a harmless statue, others see as a reminder of the unspeakable evil that was visited upon their ancestors... and is still visited upon them, as they live in a society that honors those who owned their ancestors. The bigotry and racism that still confront many African Americans is a testament to the fact that the monuments don't just point to an ugly past... but a painful present.  As long as those monuments stand,  we will not be reconciled with the darkest chapter of our history.

I want to work in a school that is characterized by empathy and a collective commitment to understanding one another. I want to live in a country that reminds me of my school. As school leaders, we build a stronger culture within our building when we work to restore relationships that are broken.  As citizens, we make our country stronger when we demonstrate empathy toward those whose heritage may be different than ours.  This is not a post about politics. It is a post about people...  about relationships… and about the values we want to define us as a country. It is my hope that all of my comments are constructive. Please don't make any political comments on this.  If you want to engage in some dialogue, feel free to call me or send me a message.  Peace.