Sunday, November 24, 2019

Maintaining Staff Morale

David Weinberger once said, "The smartest person in the room is the room."  This poignant adage speaks to the power of collaboration, and it is something I got to experience first hand this summer.  I had the very cool privilege of working with ten talented and passionate educators to write a book - Volume III of the Education Write Now series.  Under the leadership of our skilled editors, Sanée Bell and Jeff Zoul, and with the support of our amazing editor, Lauren Davis, we each wrote a chapter.  Our goal, and the focus of this project, was to provide solutions to common challenges in our schools and classrooms.

I tackled the challenge of maintaining staff morale, and you can check out my intro below:

"Teaching is hard, and it can be emotionally draining. Educators deal with the pressure of standardized tests.  They are tasked with teaching rigorous academic standards but also developing strong character while responding to the social and emotional needs of their students.  They have the often overwhelming challenge of identifying students at risk of suicide. They work under the pressure of state mandates and district initiatives. Their schedule and position often create feelings of isolation.  They may struggle to keep up with evolving technologies and shifting standards. And recent news stories of teacher strikes across the country have underscored the reality that teachers are underpaid and often struggle to make ends meet.  So teacher burnout is real, as are the teacher shortages we constantly hear about.  
What can we do to mitigate the impact of pressures that confront teachers every day they come to work?.  What can we do to stay motivated in spite of the adversity? There is hope. Administrators and teachers can both play a role in creating the kind of school culture that fosters strong morale.  This chapter will outline ten strategies for administrators and ten strategies for teachers. While schools are often underfunded, staff morale does not need to be a function of fiscal resources.  Educators have tremendous potential to impact the attitude and joy of all those in the school building through clarifying their values and shifting their perspectives.  So here we go." 

You can get some other teasers by checking out blog posts from my colleagues linked here:

Lynell Powell
Rachelle Dene Poth
Jennifer Casa-Todd
Josh Stumpenhorst
David Geurin
Jeff Zoul
Sanée Bell
Ross Cooper
Katie Martin

We were all fortunate to have this amazing professional experience, and we sincerely hope that educators benefit from the wisdom, insight, and strategies found in this volume... but we all understood that our mission carried an added significance.  All of the royalties generated from this book will support the Will to Live Foundation, a nonprofit foundation working to prevent teen suicide.

I'm grateful for the opportunity provided by Routledge Publishing.  I'm grateful for the vision of Lauren, Jeff, and Sanée... and their passion to see this project through.  And I am grateful for the honor of working along side Jennifer, Ross, Rachelle, David, Katie, Lynell, and Josh.  It is our hope that other educators will find this volume a useful resource as they seek to refine their craft and improve their corner of the world.  Education Write Now: Solutions to Common Challenges in Your School or Classroom is out now.  Check it out here!

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Rethinking Fundraisers

On the way to school, my daughter told me about the talent show going on today.  I asked her if she needed money, and she indicated she already had the three dollars.  And she told me a little story from earlier in the year.  "Dad... when we had the faculty / student basketball game, only one student in our homeroom didn't bring money.  But my teacher opened his wallet and put in the three dollars so everyone could go.  It was so sweet."  I responded, "That was sweet of him.  I wonder how the student felt."

If you bring $1 you can go the game.  If you bring $3, you can go to the school dance.  Bring $5 and you can support your classmates at the talent show.  These fundraisers during the school day are ubiquitous in schools around our country and at every grade level.  As a principal for eight years, we had them at our school.

I regret it.

When we provide these extra experiences only to the students who have the money, what message are we sending to them?  What message are they receiving?   I have become convinced that these practices reinforce inequity, and they are harmful to students.

Kids can't control the income of their parents.  Why should the quality of experiences enjoyed in school be a function of something out of their control?  I realize that everything is not equal in the "real world" but our schools should be undermining systems of inequity, not reinforcing them.  Some students enjoy extra advantages at home because of the income of their parents.  And now these students also enjoy extra advantages at school, courtesy of the three dollar fundraiser.  They get additional socialization with peers, bonding with friends, and engaging with teachers outside of the academic setting.  They get "downtime" outside of the regular classroom.  They get the added energy and inspiration from participating in something out of the routine of the normal school day.

I realize schools want to generate more funds.  But we shouldn't do it in a way that embarrasses students.  And we shouldn't do it in a way that some students miss out on fun experiences enjoyed by their more affluent peers.  We can do better. 

You might remember Harper Lee's great quote from To Kill a Mocking Bird:  "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... until you climb into his skin and walk around in it."  I'm challenging us to rethink our fundraisers during the school day.  Consider the kid who doesn't get to go to the dance because her parents don't have the money.