It’s been two years since the start of the pandemic, and even as we inch back toward something we recognize as at least resembling “normal,” it’s still not business as usual. The effects of the disruptions to education have taken a cumulative toll—on teachers just as much as students. Admins understandably have school improvement planning on their minds, but the first step has to be taking care of teachers. It’s not an overnight solution, but there are ways principals can support teachers right now.
We talked to our friends at VAI as well as our principal community to come up with a list of practical ideas for boosting morale in this moment:
Many teachers are being pulled in to cover classes during their planning period, but planning time is sacred. Make sure teachers have time to plan individually as well as collaboratively with colleagues. Can you use ESSER funds to hire enough permanent subs to cover typical daily outages?
Listen deeply, be responsive, be present, advocate, support them, show up when it’s hard, fill in as a substitute teacher when needed, help them prioritize themselves and their families first. —Jenn Check, Interim Principal at Palmyra-Macedon Intermediate School
2. Play fairy godteacher
You’re busy too, but whenever you can and as often as you can, step in and teach a class for a teacher. This gift of time is perhaps the greatest gift. Plus, it’s good for you to be visible to the students and staff as an instructional leader. Don’t have time for a full class? Annette Varcoe, Assistant Principal for Oak Tree at Broome Tioga BOCES in Binghamton, NY, suggests running errands and getting kids (on and off buses, to therapies, from specials, etc.).
3. Ask yourself, “Could this be an email?”
Take a long hard look at the value of the meetings you’ve put on the calendar. Ask yourself: Can the content be covered in an email? Do we need a full hour for this? Principal Stephanie Huxel Heinchon of Naomi Pasemann Elementary in Taylor, TX, took all faculty meetings off the calendar in December and January and then again mid-February through spring break.
4. Pay them for those “other duties as assigned”
With ESSER funds, schools have access to more funds than they have had in living memory. Use this money to show teachers you respect their time, effort, and expertise. Pay more for subs and offer sign-on bonuses, retention bonuses, and raises. Give teachers extra pay for extra responsibilities or extra time.
5. Say “no thank you” to new initiatives
Maybe you just got your hands on a new SEL curriculum. Or you’re really excited about a new student-run recycling program. We get it. But this is probably not the time to implement major schoolwide changes. Let things lie a bit. Don’t add to teachers’ plates.
6. Move out from behind the desk
When teachers come to talk, move from behind your desk to a table or set of chairs. Changing from your “normal” work environment signals to them that you are attentive and listening without distraction.
7. Hire a licensed professional counselor (LPC)
Schools are taking the mental health of their staff and students more seriously than ever, and rightly so. Some are even hiring a professional counselor to be on staff at the school. You may want to look into this option for your site.
8. Write some handwritten notes
Take a few minutes to compose a few handwritten thank you notes. Make sure you thank teachers not just for the extra tasks, but for showing up and giving their best to their students on any given day.
9. Relax the dress code
Honestly, with recruitment as hard as it is, you may want to relax the dress code permanently, but if you do have a “no jeans” or other dress code policy that you know teachers roll their eyes at, now’s the time to ditch it—at least for a day, if not for good.
10. Get the community involved
Solicit help from parents. Ask them to share a positive note or even bring a meal to a teacher. Work with your community. Ask local businesses (restaurants, spas, community centers, gyms, memberships, etc.) to offer teacher discounts or freebies.