Newsflash (in case you haven’t heard): TEACHERS ARE BURNED OUT. The sprint has turned into a marathon, and although things seem kind of back to normal, the pandemic continues to exert its unsettling presence. Some kids are behind academically, some kids have forgotten how to behave in school, and yet all of the demands on the teacher (and then some) remain.
What teachers need right now is authentic, practical help from their administrators. They don’t want to hear empty phrases about self-care or peppy reminders about “doing what’s best for kids.” Morale is low, teachers are leaving the field in droves, and things have to change.
Here are 7 ways principals can help.
1. Take things off teachers’ plates
As much as possible, find ways to relieve teachers from anything that is not directly related to what is happening in their classrooms. Come up with creative solutions for extra things, like duty. Enlist volunteers or create a rotating schedule so that teachers only have to serve at recess or in the bus lanes every couple of months. Don’t pile on too many things at one time. Spread out observations, conferences, and professional development meetings. Cancel meetings that can be handled with a simple email. Offer to take a class now and then so teachers can have a break.
2. Adopt an open door policy
Teachers are up to their eyeballs dealing with the emotional and academic challenges of anxious kids. It takes a toll, and teachers need a safe space to process their own thoughts and feelings. Provide ample opportunity for teachers to voice concerns related to their burnout. Validate their feelings, and steer away from judgment because, to be honest, we’re all overwhelmed.
3. Become a communications expert
Be extremely purposeful with the style and frequency of your communication. Clear, positive messages that do not overwhelm an already overwhelmed staff are very much appreciated. Remember, less is more. Be their filter—distill information for teachers without bombarding them.
4. Help teachers maintain a healthy balance
More than ever, teachers need support maintaining their balance. In order to do their best, there has got to be a clear boundary between home time and work time. Rest and recovery, away from school, are essential. Good principals stand firm on life-work boundaries and communicate this policy to parents as well. Keep an eye out for teachers that continually put their own needs in last place. Your teachers’ welfare is as important as your students’—make sure they’re taking care of themselves.
5. Lead with purpose
Be vigilant about using teachers’ time wisely. Plan faculty meetings and PDs to operate with the utmost efficiency. Make sure that any new policy you implement has a powerful, clear, connected purpose. When directives come from the district level, break them down into manageable chunks for your teachers. For example, when new technology comes along (even if it will ultimately be super helpful), don’t dump the whole curriculum in their laps. Introduce one bite-sized piece at a time.
6. Check in on them daily
Make a habit of walking the halls to check on your teachers. Your presence shows them that you care and you’re willing to be in the trenches with them. Offer more than a “How’s it going?”. Practice active listening to find out what’s working and what’s not working.
7. Have your teacher’s back with parents
Your teachers are your team, and you are their coach. Just like a coach wouldn’t tolerate parents on the sideline attacking their players, principals shouldn’t tolerate parents harassing their teachers. While most parents handle questions and concerns in a respectful manner, there are those that step outside the boundaries. Stand up for your teachers and show that your loyalty is with the team.
8. Discipline disruptive kids appropriately
We all know it only takes one out-of-hand kid to throw the whole class off track. And nothing frustrates a teacher more than sending a disruptive child to the office, only to have them return ten minutes later with a lollipop in hand. Most teachers do not ask for help unless they absolutely need it. Take their concerns seriously, and find solutions that work for everyone involved.
9. Trust your teachers
Now is not the time to micromanage. Remember, autonomous teachers are happy teachers. Aside from district-wide expectations and agreed-upon building norms, don’t sweat the small stuff. Give your teachers wide berth for deciding what’s best for their own classrooms.