I was asked about how to motivate your teachers just the other day. How do you help them stay invested? How do you stave off burn out? An earnest question and also one that deserves a thorough answer. Yet, before I was able to answer in full, another administrator at the table, threw out a quick idea, “Jeans Friday…”
“Tell them if they work hard, they can earn the right to wear jeans that week. It works every time…”
And while this may be true, I still carried the comment with me, not quite sure how to process it. After all, allowing a teacher to wear jeans as a reward seems like the lowest type of compliment there is; you finally get to dress like other adults, congratulations! Perhaps it is because I work in a district that expects us to dress professionally and allow us to wear jeans whenever we want. Because they trust us to dress for success. Because they trust us to dress well. Perhaps it was because of the unbridled enthusiasm shown for the idea as if our burn out would magically appear when such a token was placed on the table. Perhaps I just was tired and could not come up with something good to say, so I sat in silence and quietly buried my thoughts.
So today, I am here to say what I wanted to say in how to motivate your teachers and trust me, it goes beyond allowing them to wear jeans on the last day of the week. Because the thing is, it may seem complicated, but it comes down to just a few things that can be implemented easily. Just a few key ideas that can make all of the difference or at the very least offer us all a place to start.
Trust us to be professional. That includes how we dress. That includes the lessons we create. That includes the everyday decisions we have to make. Tell us you trust us, so often it is assumed as a known fact but I can tell you, many teachers assume they are not trusted because of the lack of curricular decisions or even smaller things they are allowed to make. And yes, when it happens that we make a mistake, because we all do, then help us fix it. Have our back because you trusted us in the first place.
Trust us to try new things. So many administrators say that they want their teachers to take risks but then don’t give permission for the things they want to try. So many look to innovators and wish that they were in their district. What if they are and you just don’t know it yet? What if the most innovative teacher is already working in your building but because of technology restrictions, scripted curriculum, or teaching to fidelity, they haven’t been able to do what they wish to do. Which limitations are being placed on staff that aren’t actually needed? And how can those be lifted?
Trust us to invest ourselves. From staff meetings to professional days, the educational field has such few choices when it comes to how we, educators, spend our time learning. Yet so many of us actually burn to learn about specific things, isn’t that the mark of a passionate learner, so give us the time to do so. Let us choose our path and plan your staff development as if everyone will take the opportunity to pursue meaningful learning rather than the opposite. For the few who are not motivated, and you may know who they are, help them find a direction that matches them. No more one-size PD for all at all times where few walk away inspired. No more staff meetings that could have been handled via email. No more one thing, no choice, please.
Help us leave it at work. Teaching is a never-ending job. There are always more lessons to plan, more ideas to think of, something more we can do to try to reach every single child. To make this year matter. And yet, we have to leave it at work sometimes. We have to have full lives outside of school so we can truly be the best that we can be in school. So make it a policy that staff is not expected to answer emails after 5 PM, that it is not about getting it all done, but getting enough done. Protect our prep time and our collaboration times. Don’t steal away minutes here and there for quick announcements or that extra little thing. Help us achieve a better balance by protecting the precious time we have in building so that we can fully utilize it.
Help us forge connections. Teaching can be incredibly lonely, especially if you are seen as an outlier in some way, so build in opportunities to get to know one another beyond the in-service days at the beginning of the year. Run book clubs and health clubs, yoga and garden clubs. Create events that go beyond the school walls, that go beyond the work. Give us time to praise each other at every meeting. Give us time to see the good that happens in our classrooms so that we can stop with our assumptions and instead see what the experience is like in other classrooms.
Help us see the good. Not just in each other but in ourselves. Check in with your staff to make sure they are okay. That they feel supported. That they know the good they are doing. While admin can be quick about sharing concerns and even complaints with staff, what if a pointed effort is also made to share the good, those small comments from parents, from kids, from the community? Write a card of thanks, find out their favorite candy and leave it for them, do something to share the appreciation so that we, in turn, can share ours.
While warding off teacher burn out starts with the decisions we, educators, make ourselves, there are also so many small things that can be done to help within the school, within the district. Teaching is a hard job but we were never told it would be easy, we were told it would be worth it, sometimes we just need a little bit of a reminder from those that make the decisions. What have you done to help your teachers stay motivated?
PS: Many ask how I get to do what I do; teach, travel, write, speak, be a mom, have a life etc. There are two main reasons I can do what I do – an incredible husband and an incredible district. Both support me in ways I could never have dreamed of when all of this started. I hope you all may find support like what I have.