District leadership does more than just create guidelines for staff, students, and parents to follow. School leadership makes or breaks school culture—and, most importantly, teacher retention.
Every leader in a school district has great power. Superintendents, school board members, and school principals: all have a final say in directives and school-wide initiatives.
Instead of offering
- casual Fridays,
- free doughnuts, and
- mindfulness seminars,
district leaders need to take action to keep their teachers in their schools. Thankfully, there are concrete ways to better support your teachers and create a positive school community.
Create a Culture of Caring
Since the pandemic’s start, mental health issues have dramatically increased. Teacher burnout is one of the leading causes of depression in teachers nationwide. Many districts have attempted to support their staff with various methods, like meditation training on professional development days or by providing a catered lunch. But these attempts address surface-level issues. Sometimes, they add additional responsibilities to teachers’ already overloaded plates. And, even with the best of intentions, these gestures appear hollow and out-of-touch.
A chief complaint among teachers? That their district leaders don’t hear or use teachers’ voices in their decision-making.
A great way to address that complaint? Conduct empathy interviews with current and former teachers. Much like teachers collect performance data on their students to inform instruction and learning goals, so too can district officials determine the needs of their teachers with thoughtful data collection.
District leaders may find that simply by asking what teachers need, morale improves. Also, they may learn that providing programs that support social-emotional and financial well-being will encourage teachers to stay.
Teachers are under immense pressure from students, their families, and their leadership. The job demands thousands of decisions every day and the work of a classroom teacher is never done. That sort of mental exhaustion won’t improve with a single meditation session or deep breathing exercises in a meeting. District leaders can look for ways to offer more comprehensive mental health services to their staff members by looking for healthcare services that offer mental wellness support.
Certainly, teachers are underpaid for the amount of work that they do. Most teachers do feel that they are unfairly paid. While some districts are adding signing bonuses to newly-issued teacher contracts, consider how to honor those teachers who choose to stay with your district.
Additionally, many teachers are unaware of how to create financial wellness. They trust their retirement and pension programs to take care of them. But, districts can do more to promote financial wellness. They can invest in programs to help staff members receive important legal and financial advice. Assisting with creating a living will, setting up beneficiaries, or helping with benefits enrollment are wonderful ways to prove to teachers that their long-term financial health is important to leadership.
Whatever the personal need is, districts can cater to them to maintain a high standard of care. Actions that demonstrate care for the whole person create a culture of caring.
Create a Culture of Safety
School safety has long been a polarizing issue in the country. But school shootings aren’t a modern-day issue. Instances of school violence date as far back as the 1700s. That said, when we look at the past 20 years, we can name specific tragedies that shake us and motivate us to do better for our schools.
But it isn’t just mass-shooting events causing fear and anxiety. Post-pandemic teaching sees our children in crisis. Enforcing “typical” classroom expectations can lead to behaviors that escalate into physical aggression against classmates and teachers. The fear among teachers is real.
Teachers shouldn’t feel unsafe in their classrooms. After all, their primary job is the safety of their students. But every time teachers see situations in which their safety is compromised in the media, it only reminds them of how little is done to protect them and their students. It’s no wonder teachers feel more anxiety and stress coming into schools. But there is much school administrators can do to ease these worries.
When it comes to creating safer schools, district leaders can invest in school safety solutions. Action speaks louder than words. When administrators implement effective school safety devices, they send a powerful message to their community: we care about your safety.
There are safety solutions that create a positive and safe culture. The CENTEGIX CrisisAlert™ badge empowers every staff member in your building to call for help quickly and discreetly. The badge not only alerts first responders and police but also alerts you, the administrator, of the event. This type of safety measure helps mitigate threats and creates a more positive school environment. Over 2,000 schools across the country use CrisisAlert, which keeps growing because CENTEGIX provides top-rated security and peace of mind.
Create a Culture of Autonomy
One of the greatest joys of teaching is coming up with creative ways to teach students content and concepts. Post-pandemic, teachers returned to in-person learning only to find more scripted instruction and uncertainty in how they’re allowed to teach.
Of course, curriculum is an important part of instruction. But removing a teacher’s autonomy leads to an even more hostile school environment.
The best approach to creating a positive school climate is to trust teachers to do what they’ve been hired to do: teach. Many teachers have advanced degrees in pedagogy, content, or both. Others are seasoned teachers who have experience in what works—and what doesn’t. Administrators can earn the trust of their teachers by demonstrating respect for that expertise without micromanaging. Do pages-long daily lesson plans need to hang on the clip outside the door? Or is it enough to see learning goals clearly posted on the board?
When a teacher has a say in how they run their classroom, it leads to greater job satisfaction, which is critical in this time of low teacher retention rates.
To facilitate greater autonomy amongst your staff, build out intentional time for collaboration. Create and use Professional Learning Committees (PLCs) to give your teachers time to share lessons they’ve loved or those that flopped. Encourage teachers to look at those lessons through a lens of reflection to ensure that it helps students progress toward learning goals. Give teachers time to collaborate and spark their creativity. Allow them to reflect on their teaching so that they can find ways to improve and give them the space they need to make those changes.
Trusting your teachers to do their jobs and giving them opportunities to be social and creative will allow teachers to reconnect with their purpose. It will allow your teachers to inspire and be inspired once more.
Address Teacher Burnout Head-on with a Clear Path Forward
It’s no easy task to address a nationwide teacher shortage, but there are actionable steps you can take right now to send a clear message to every teacher in your building:
You matter, and your work matters.
When district and school administrators stop asking teachers to “remember their why” and instead, focus on ways to help them discover it again, they actively demonstrate empathy and care for their staff.
Without an intentional support plan for your staff, there will only be more stress, burnout, and resignations. Support can no longer be offered at the surface level. Now is the time to act and support your teachers in wanting to stay.