Teachers (and administrators) appreciate breaks as much as students do. Time away from the classroom allows teachers to clear their minds, celebrate the holidays, relax with family and friends, and maybe catch up on grading or lesson planning in comfy clothing, slippers, and with a ready cup of tea or coffee at hand.
Now that teachers have returned to their classrooms refreshed and ready for the second half of the year, school districts should have a plan to help them maintain that energy — and keep burnout at bay.
Here are four strategies school leaders can employ to support their educators, help reduce their stress and maintain their enthusiasm after the holidays (and all year long).
1. Reinvest in teachers’ career growth and knowledge-building
Many districts bookend the school year with professional development workshops for teachers, but continuing education and career training opportunities available throughout the year have the greatest benefit. A commitment to ongoing professional development signals a district’s commitment to its teachers and empowers educators to stay up to date on current research and best practices in their fields.
Professional development must focus on useful strategies relevant to each teacher and their classrooms. The mid-year point is the perfect time to ask teachers to reevaluate their professional goals and needs. Districts should empower teachers with a voice — and a choice — in what professional development would benefit them the most. Otherwise, teachers will find themselves dedicating hours of their already hectic schedules to listening to professional development not applicable to their current needs.
Continuous professional development programs provide more opportunities for teachers to put their professional development takeaways into practice. Incorporating something new into their lesson planning often requires a little trial and error. Districts — and supervisors — need to give teachers room to experiment as they align these new insights and methods with their approaches.
2. Create space for teachers to connect and engage with each other
Most teachers naturally gravitate toward each other — during lunch breaks or cafeteria duty, standing at the copier, or before faculty meetings — to run ideas by each other, ask for resources and more. It’s how less experienced teachers might work through teaching a lesson on an unfamiliar topic, or a veteran teacher might find a new approach to freshen up an older unit. Teachers are constantly supporting each other — and school leaders should provide as many opportunities as possible for them to collaborate formally and informally.
Collective efficacy, coined by Albert Bandura in the 1970s, is a shared belief that a school’s staff and faculty can positively impact student learning and achievement. School leaders should provide teachers space to collaborate, building in time during department meetings, for example, and establishing professional learning communities. It may be challenging — but not impossible — to launch these initiatives mid-year. Perhaps start with a monthly meeting after school, with a simple framework built around the principles of professional learning communities, including:
- A focus on student learning
- Instructional leadership
- Adult learning
- Privileged time
- A commitment to continuous improvement
- An evidence- and data-driven approach
District leaders and administrators should help teachers build informal and formal communities by:
- Conducting mid-year data analysis and planning.
- Creating moments for teachers to serve as “coaches” and share experiences and insights with colleagues.
- Providing lunch breaks for specific subject teachers or grade-level teams to brainstorm solutions for similar challenges they share.
- Building time into department meetings and encouraging teachers to share their reflections on new and innovative teaching practices.
- Creating schedules for teachers to observe each other “in action.”
These opportunities provide creative outlets for teachers to lean on each other for advice and find new ways to excel in their classrooms and improve instruction.
3. Bring on the volunteers!
A new calendar year provides a perfect time for reflection — and a natural opportunity to try something new. Teachers assess and readjust all year long, whether it’s tweaking homework routines, changing seating arrangements or mixing up small group rotations.
Some changes, however, require observant administrators who ask — and proactively suggest — other solutions to provide their teachers with more support, especially in the classrooms. Budgets meticulously calculated down to each line item might not have room to include additional paid staff for classroom support, but what about inviting families and other community members to lend a hand?
Think about it. Most classrooms have only one educator to meet the emotional and academic needs of 20 to 30 (or more) students. To support teachers in addressing all their students’ needs, school leaders can assign volunteers and interns to classrooms to help with one-on-one or group instruction and enrichment. Check with your local university and solicit volunteers from pre-service education programs.
A bonus: many edtech programs offer scripted lessons and ready-made materials volunteers can use to supplement classroom learning. These materials reduce the prep work lessons often require, saving teachers time and providing students (and volunteers) with a meaningful, beneficial experience.
This community of support benefits everyone. The students gain the perspective of another adult cheering them on. The volunteers and interns gain the opportunity to mentor the younger generation. And the teachers gain valuable support for their mental well-being.
4. Involve the community
Teacher support begins in the classroom but shouldn’t be limited to the school or district. Why? Because only 46 percent of teachers feel like the public respects them as professionals — a 31 percent decrease from 2011. And why shouldn’t educators expect their school communities and students’ families to appreciate them? After all, they’re entrusted with teaching the world’s most precious resource: its children.
As a leader, look for opportunities for the community to understand and recognize teachers for the time and effort they dedicate to shaping the future for millions of children, community leaders should:
- Showcase teacher achievements during focused gatherings within the larger school community.
- Set aside time for teachers to share the complexities of their careers during administrative and leadership events like school board meetings.
- Publicize job and volunteer opportunities within school districts.
- Contact local media and news outlets to showcase small, medium and large accomplishments at the classroom level.
An ancient African proverb says, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Now more than ever, communities should embrace their role as advocates for teacher success by encouraging and recognizing teachers as valuable and vital professionals.
Fewer than 15 percent of teachers feel “very satisfied” with their jobs. But it’s not because of the students they’re teaching; in many cases, the districts are doing the best they can with the available resources. School district leadership can show teachers (through actions, not words) that they’re valued by implementing innovative strategies via volunteers and edtech, slight schedule adjustments, and meaningful professional development to offer support and remind them everyone’s in it together — for the students.