This is the hardest time of the year for many of us in the classroom. The never-ending days of winter, the testing season, and the overall feeling that all of us are in a bit of a rut. It is no new revelation that we as teachers are feeling stressed. While there are many negative implications of this on our profession ranging from high teacher attrition rates and the subsequent investment of billions of dollars to hire and train new teachers, there is one side effect of our stress that that is rarely discussed: We are passing it onto our students.
Anyone who has taught for a measure of time knows this instinctively: Our energy, whether it is positive or negative, shapes the work we do with our students and how our students feel in our classrooms. While changing the dynamic of testing season in school is a much bigger topic than I can address here, I think there are some concrete things each school community can do to thrive even in these stressful times.
As leaders of learning communities, I think principals and administrators can do a great deal to keep their community moving forward. Here are five ways that building leaders can start to turn the tide and find ways to better support their teachers:
1) Listen. Many of your teachers may simply need you to listen to them about their day, that difficult sixth period in their schedule, or about a new approach that they are trying out in their classroom. Taking the time to simply listen will empower your teachers to process their thinking about teaching and help them to be more reflective.
2) Take time to celebrate the good that’s happening in your building. Highlight the good work that’s happening in your building by giving shout-outs in meetings and posting pictures on your school’s social media sites. This is an effective way to recognize the great work that’s already happening in the classrooms and give parents a peek into the work we do every day with children.
3) Provide time for teachers to learn with and from each other. Create opportunities for teachers to share their expertise during meetings. Recently, I sat in on a session led by my colleagues Matthew Kay and Pearl Jonas on creating meaningful conversation opportunities in our classrooms. It was an amazing way to learn from my colleagues.
4) Extend the ethic of care to your teachers. We often talk about the ethic of care our students need, but this applies to teachers as well. When someone is experiencing challenges in their personal life, be flexible in your expectations. This is not about bending rules; this is about treating teachers with the same respect that you would extend to our students.
5) Monitor your own stress and anxiety and examine how it affects your teachers. There’s no question that testing season is a “test” for all of us but be mindful how your stress is being transferred to your teachers. Find ways to connect with other administrators and share strategies to reduce your own stress.
If you’re an administrator reading this, I want to thank you on behalf of teachers everywhere, and I extend an invitation to try these ideas out in your building and report back your experiences. I look forward to your responses.