Schools across the nation are gearing up for the new school year. For leaders in education, the start of a new school year presents new opportunities to re-think how to best support teachers as they deliver a quality academic program that meets the needs of all students in our communities. Ideally, district and campus leaders have spent the greater part of the summer evaluating strengths and growth opportunities for their organizations. Each school year presents varying areas to reflect upon and make improvements, and there is no doubting that the unthinkable school shooting tragedy in Uvalde, Texas had every school district re-focusing its planning relating to safety and security this summer. Another top priority is creating supportive school environments that attract great teachers to your organization – and keeping the best ones on your team.
It is well-documented that K-12 education in the US is in the midst of a significant teacher shortage. The impact of the pandemic, lagging teacher salaries, added pressures on teachers as a result of a volatile political environment, ever-increasing “paperwork” or reporting requirements associated with new laws, and unfortunately, the perception of a diminishing respect for the profession have led to many phenomenal teachers seeking other career opportunities. This challenge is likely to worsen before we see improvements, and as a result school district leaders must explore and implement strategies that make the profession more attractive in their own organizations. School district leaders should prioritize the following:
- Value teachers’ time. As I routinely visit campuses and chat with teachers, the number one request they have is the need for more time. With all of the challenges and pressures facing teachers in the current environment, they feel overwhelmed with the amount of work on their plates and time they are given to not only complete their duties, but also take care of themselves personally. Leaders should examine their annual calendar to identify ways to give back some additional time to teachers without overly disrupting the academic schedule for students and families. This may include an additional student holiday strategically placed within the school year, or providing some relief in the teachers’ daily duty schedule.
- Focus on your organization’s culture. I always say that the culture of your organization is like a garden. If you’re not consistently watering and caring for it, you can lose control of it very quickly. For many teachers, working in an organization where they truly feel valued and appreciated for the work they do is just as – if not more – important than the paycheck they receive. Additionally, many teachers have reservations with providing constructive feedback to school or district leaders, fearing repercussions. To recruit and retain high quality teachers, it’s imperative that the culture of your organization is one that makes teachers feel valued and offers a sense of “psychological safety”, where they can share input and raise concerns without hesitation. School leaders should continually monitor the workplace culture within their organizations and work intentionally to develop a “Culture of Respect”. The Culture of Respect will likely look different in every organization, but it should be developed and led by a wide range of stakeholders within the organization.
- Seek teacher input, actively listen, and act on it when you can. Many teachers say that at times they don’t feel heard within the organization, or feel like their opinions don’t matter. School district leaders should develop strategies for gathering teacher input and including teacher voice when making major decisions – like the development of the annual academic calendar and strategic planning. When appropriate and practicable, school district leaders should act on the input. You can do this by forming leadership committees that meet with you quarterly, or by expanding the scope of existing committees. These processes will operate differently in every organization, but a stronger focus on seeking teacher input and actively listening is an important step towards empowering teachers and making them feel respected in your organization.
School district leaders are confronting a critical teacher shortage challenge. In an atmosphere that has spurred many great teachers to leave the profession, school district leaders must increase their focus and attention on meeting their needs in new, unique and innovative ways. If educational organizations don’t shift their focus in these areas, they will struggle to meet the needs of their students with outstanding teachers on-hand to help navigate the path.