5 Simple Ways to Improve Teacher Morale &
Decrease Principals’ Stress
Written by Dianne McKinley
Just when we thought education was one of the most stressful jobs on the planet, BOOM, it got more stressful. Educators are reporting record high levels of job dissatisfaction and we are experiencing the effects of a large number of teachers leaving the classroom.
Teachers seem to be scrutinized more than ever before (And that’s saying something!). Of course, there are factors that we cannot control that take place outside of the classroom. However, there are 5 things you can do to help improve teacher morale and decrease your stress.
Teachers are people first. That may seem obvious, but often teachers do not feel as though they are treated as human beings. We ask a lot of our teachers and if we expect them to meet and exceed our expectations, we must first build a connection with them.
We ask teachers to do this with students in their classrooms. It is important that we, as building leaders, do the same. Take time to get to know your teachers on an individual level. Find out about their families, likes/dislikes, hobbies, and important things going on in their lives outside of school.
By setting up monthly one-on-one meetings with teachers, you can learn so much about them and build a strong and trusting relationship. Try building time into your schedule to meet with one teacher a day for a month. Just spend 15 minutes getting to know them. No need for an agenda or talking points, just make genuine connections with each teacher. It will be the best 15 minutes of your day and both you and the teachers will reap the rewards!
Create a Problem Solving Team Approach
All too often, principals find themselves playing the role of firefighter. Every time there is an issue, the entire staff looks to you to solve the issue. This is a problem on many levels.
Even if you had plenty of time to run around and solve all of these problems, which you don’t, it wouldn’t give you the results you hoped for. Instead, no matter what decision you make, someone is always going to be unhappy. You will be blamed if your problem-solving solution does not work out the way they wanted it to. Staff will distrust you if you make a decision that they would not make themselves. Furthermore, they will find more problems for you to solve right away because you fell into the role of firefighter.
A far more effective approach to solving problems would be to teach your staff how to collectively solve problems. There are two steps to creating a problem-solving team approach.
Step 1: Whole Staff
Work with your staff to build a team problem-solving approach. Begin by turning at least one staff meeting a month into a Problem Solving Team Meeting.
For the first meeting, create Meeting Protocols together. This should be a collective effort so that every staff member buys-in. Ask the staff to tell you some things that they would like to agree to in order to have productive, collaborative meetings that feel safe. Grab some chart paper and record all of their ideas as they say them. Some ideas for meeting protocols are:
- We will begin and end on time.
- We will listen and ask questions to gain understanding.
- We will be fully present.
- We will support one another with a “Can Do” attitude.
- We will speak the truth and be respectful.
Once you have your protocols in place, you can begin having regular monthly meetings. During these problem-solving meetings, follow these steps:
- Present the Problem- be clear about the problem, but do not add your thoughts or opinions
- Organize Solutions- allow all voices to be heard, write it down, organize it
- Come to Consensus- you will not always have everyone agree on the solution, but you need to be sure that everyone is ready to support the final decision
Step 2: One-on-One
Whenever people are involved, we can be sure that miscommunication will happen. People will disagree, get upset, and cause drama. Gossip and passive-aggressive behavior can crush the morale in your school. It is important for you to teach your staff how to resolve conflict and avoid drama. Learn more about how to talk to your staff about the Drama Triangle.
Celebrate the Little Things (and the Big Ones)
This strategy seems simple, but it can be the hardest to implement effectively. We all think that we are celebrating with our staff, but oftentimes the staff reports that they don’t feel appreciated. It is important that we focus on the things that we want to see more of. If we like something a teacher is doing, be sure to give it attention. That is the best way to ensure you will see more of that behavior in the future. Here are a few suggestions on how to up your celebration game!
- Make staff responsible for giving “Shout Outs” to colleagues during staff meetings (they need to be involved).
- Leave a positive sticky note on each teacher’s desk after a walk-through or observation.
- Ask your staff to visit a classroom and leave a positive note for the teacher.
- Highlight a staff member in your weekly newsletter to staff.
- Highlight a staff member in your weekly newsletter to parents/community.
- Thank staff members in person for going above and beyond.
- Share success stories during staff meetings.
- Invite the local newspaper in to highlight great things happening in your school.
- Give awards for things you want to see increase (For example, award a “Jeans Day” for having zero staff absences during a week).
- Ask parents to support teacher appreciation initiatives once a month or once a quarter.
Support Teachers as Professionals
Great teachers want to continuously grow in their craft. When stress levels start to rise, many principals back off of walk-throughs and professional development. This is done in an effort to lower teachers’ stress, but it actually produces the opposite result. Teachers are then left on their own and that can lead them to feel isolated and alone.
Humans thrive on consistency and predictability. When teachers are feeling stressed, it is important to stay connected to them and stay focused on supporting them as colleagues. You can do this with regular observations, feedback, and support.
Informal classroom observations done weekly will allow you as the principal to see how things are going in classrooms. You will be able to keep a pulse on the building as a whole and know individual teachers’ strengths and weaknesses. These observations should always be followed up with short feedback.
We love to use the observation/feedback cycle. In this cycle, we observe teachers for 20 min, once a week and then provide 15 minute face-to-face feedback. We focus on what is going well, identify one bite-sized thing the teacher can do to improve and ask if the teacher needs any support. These short meetings build relationships, set the principal up as an instructional leader that teachers trust, and help teachers focus on things that are within their control. This helps to lower their stress levels.
Having fun is a great way to increase morale and build community with your staff. There are so many ways that you can insert fun into your school culture. Here are a few:
- Have a potluck/carry-in/pitch-in (whichever you call it in your neck of the woods). Eating together builds a sense of community.
- Play team-building games together. These short activities can be built into any staff meeting, PD, or retreat.
- Host a staff retreat and focus on building relationships, collaboration, and collective/shared purpose.
- Establish a Sunshine Committee to plan fun events throughout the year for staff.
- Have an off-site event at least once a year to laugh, have fun, and bond.
Teachers and administrators are stressed! By implementing these 5 strategies, you can help reduce that stress for your staff and yourself. If you would like guidance, coaching, or support on how to implement these strategies, we would love to help.
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