During my first year as a principal, I got a lot of great advice, but two specific things have stuck with me over the years. First, always keep both feet firmly planted in midair, and second, delegate or die. A good administrator knows that working with children is an ever-evolving challenge and that it takes a community effort to succeed. There’s no way around it—teaching is a stressful job, and teacher burnout is very real.
This is a huge issue that all school and district administrators face, and it is arguably the most significant issue facing education in the United States today. Administrators intent on building successful schools must demonstrate and reinforce positive self-care for teachers and staff. Here’re six ways to help new and veteran staff establish teams that they can rely on in order to keep teacher retention rates up and increase student achievement.
1. Provide mentors for new teachers
New teachers, including those new to your building, should have a mentor assigned to them with time set aside for regular meetings and check-ins. This is a critical component of long-term teacher success. Mentors can assist with learning routines, developing strong classroom management, navigating parent communication, monitoring student progress, and more. For new staff members, having a go-to person they can rely on for support and information is vital. And, for you, mentors can provide periodic updates on new teachers’ progress and needs, including any warning signs of burnout or stress.
2. Know the warning signs of teacher burnout
A good administrator pays attention for tell-tale signs of teacher burnout. Watch for excessive PTO days or missed deadlines and assignments. If you think teachers may be struggling, ask what they need—most likely they already know what would make the situation better. Make it part of each school day to visit classrooms and conduct virtual check-in’s via email. Let teachers know that you have their back, and follow through when difficult situations arise. Strive to develop a way for teachers to reach out when they have issues or concerns, and be disciplined about responding quickly. Building in even 10 to 15 minutes per day for these kinds of personal interactions with your staff can make a huge difference.
3. Don’t flood teachers’ calendars with meetings
Educators tend to be an overachieving group—they set lofty goals, maintain high expectations of themselves, and often struggle to say “no.” Administrators need to keep a 30,000-foot view of the whole school community in order to determine when staff members require some help tempering their commitments and when certain things need to be postponed or eliminated. Start by building a culture of open communication. Ask members of your staff what’s working for them, what isn’t, and what solutions they propose. Don’t hold meetings simply for the sake of having a meeting (sometimes email is equally effective), and always be respectful of set times and locations for meetings that are on the calendar.
4. Garner parent support
Parents who are involved in a positive fashion in their children’s education can be critical to building a strong teacher culture at your school. And, when the administration models an attitude of gratitude for the efforts of your school’s teaching staff, parents are likely to absorb and reflect that attitude as well. Encourage parent groups to offer frequent gestures of thanks for teachers and staff, such as bringing in lunch during conferences, providing a monthly Friday breakfast, or periodically leaving handwritten cards on teachers’ desks. If this is something new to your building and parent groups, set a goal of one “thank you” per month for each staff member. This is a great opportunity to delegate to parents who are willing and able to be involved.
5. Delegate projects equitably
Keep track of committee assignments and special projects, and be sure that staff members are taking equivalent responsibility for various duties, such as recess, bus, and hall monitors. Be willing and able to take something off a teacher’s plate, whether temporarily or permanently, if he or she makes a reasonable request. And, most importantly, don’t assign teachers duties arbitrarily or reactively. A good rule of thumb is one or two committee assignments for first- or second-year teachers, respectively, and no more than three for veteran teachers. This may be difficult to stick to, especially in charter or private schools that don’t have district office support. In these cases, consider having an open forum staff meeting to prioritize various projects (research, special events, review of curricula, etc.), and be willing to place certain items on the back burner.
6. Think about your leadership style
Whether you are a top-down principal or more of a bottom-to-top administrator, it is important that you clearly communicate it along with your expectations and follow up with concurrent actions. Do what you say you are going to do. Strive to be proactive, as opposed to reactive whenever possible. And, before making any decision, stop and ask: Is this necessary? Is this best for the entire school community? Is it fair? And, finally, who will be affected by this decision? This kind of mindful, respectful decision-making won’t go unnoticed by your staff.
Looking for more ideas to keep great teachers on your staff? Check out these Easy, Cost-Effective Strategies to Boost Teacher Morale!