By Susan Stone Kessler, Ed.D., coauthor of The Principal’s Survival Guide
March Madness means something totally different to school people. This is the final time morale dips during the school calendar year before the May–June madness of field days, graduations, and standardized testing pressures. How can principals increase morale and help support discouraged teachers?
Research on morale-building efforts indicates that just the act of trying to increase employee morale works. It’s kind of like getting flowers for no reason: It’s the thought that counts. Whether it’s a principal-delivered donut, a shout-out in a faculty meeting recognizing the efforts of several people, or a good old-fashioned surprise ice cream party after the buses are in the distance, doing nice things for your staff makes them feel appreciated—and it builds morale!
Principals should always be present with teachers, but since we are such busy people, we often rely on multitasking to get things done. This is the time of year when teachers are thinking about their plans for next year. Should they change schools? Switch grade levels? Offer to coach cheerleading? Teachers often seek out their principals to ask for advice or their opinion on what to do next year. We never want to close the door on those discussions. We need to use those opportunities to remind teachers why we hope they will stay at our schools, why we need them in third grade more than fourth, or to share our vision of what the next step is for that teacher. Be present. Listening to what they are thinking about and being responsive to their requests and concerns goes a long way.
In many districts, principals switch schools over the summer, and knowing who your boss will be is incredibly important. There are some principals who are rumored to be leaving every year. Don’t hide from the rumors. If you are staying, state your commitment to and love of your school to your faculty. If you are going (or applying to go), share that, too, in a general way so that you are transparent.
Remind School Staff of the Difference They Make
We too often assume that teachers can hoard one compliment like a camel maintains water. This is the time of year when you have to remind teachers about the good things students and parents tell you about them—and how important they are. This time of year, when our work is so challenging, it’s easy for teachers to feel like they aren’t making a difference. But we know that teachers are the most important factor in student achievement.
Be a Great Model
You are the principal. Model self-reflection. Model taking your job but not yourself seriously. Model how every day you give yourself a fresh start and forgive yourself for not being perfect yesterday. Model that education is more about kids than it is about tests.
Finally, there is nothing that perks up an educator more than a reminder about the difference he or she makes. It can be fun to start off an email or a faculty meeting with an uplifting video or story that illustrates that difference. (Google “inspiring teacher stories” for many options.) Remind teachers that you sometimes get caught in the “administrivia” yourself, but it’s important to remember that although being in the business of building children is tough work, there is no better job.
Dr. Susan Stone Kessler is an award-winning educator who has spent the past 21 years working in schools with Middle Tennessee teenagers. She has been a teacher, an assistant principal, and a high school principal in two Tennessee school districts.
Dr. Susan Stone Kessler is the author of The Principal’s Survival Guide.
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