Teaching is tough—it’s incredibly hard work and can be very taxing. There is increasing stress and work on teachers today, as evidenced by the high attrition rate that we see across the country.
Part of the stress that teachers feel is from outside influences, such as parents, government, district initiatives, and mandates, just to name a few. Additional stress comes from within the school—conflict with other staff members, student issues, lack of resources, and lack of support. As a school leader, how do we help teachers to combat this stress so they can thrive in our schools and not just survive in them?
We need to give them permission. Expectations are such that too many teachers feel their list of “have tos” is not possible to complete each day. Teachers have to email parents back, update grades, and post pictures to the classroom Facebook page. They also have to follow the curriculum, respond to the observation sent by the principal, and keep up with the pacing guide—even if the students have yet to master the material. On top of all that, teachers have to learn the new standards. The list never ends.
As leaders, perhaps we can reduce the “have tos” for our teachers. Maybe we can grant them permission to choose. Here are some ideas for what that looks like:
- Permission to take risks.
It sounds good to say it, but as a principal, do you really support teachers taking risks? What happens if they fail? What happens if parents get upset? What happens if it's a mess or costs more money? These are things that can happen when we take risks. However, school leaders should be ready to support it—teachers will never grow if we don't support them getting out of their comfort zones and trying something new.
- Permission to have higher expectations.
Again, it sounds great to say we have high expectations for our students, but what happens when students don't meet them? Too often, society, parents, students and even administrators back down when students don't meet high expectations. If we want our teachers and our students to flourish, we must support them through the struggle of what it takes to meet high expectations. This means protecting teachers from some of the guff they may get for doing this.
- Permission to limit communication.
Teachers should not be expected to respond to emails and texts 24/7. Whether it's a self-imposed expectation or if it comes from an attempt to please parents, many teachers feel as though they can't let an evening email wait until the next day. The truth of the matter is there are rarely emergencies when it comes to education. A student forgetting a homework assignment or losing a paper is not an emergency that a teacher should have to deal with in their free time. Teachers have a right to an evening without interruption, and we need to give them permission to do so.
- Permission to question administration.
This can be a harder one. As principals and administrators, sometimes we don't like having to respond to questions. It can slow down progress and can sometimes even create negativity. But just as our students need to know the why behind what they are learning, teachers need to know the why behind what we are doing as well. Teachers should ask why, should crave detail, and should question when they don't feel like things are best for students.
- Permission to say no.
Our best teachers serve on all of the committees and do much of the leg work that helps schools to run. However, teachers don't need to be overburdened by these administrative and leadership tasks. It is ok for a teacher to say no—we must honor that and dignify it.
- Permission to not have every social media ever created.
It can make teachers feel like they are only engaging parents if they have a Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat, Facebook, webpage, Remind account, and email updates. This is just craziness! These tools can help us engage parents, but they can also be too much to keep up on and still have any kind of life outside of school. It is okay to just email parents and call it a day.
- Permission to have a non-Pinterest-worthy classroom.
Most rooms don’t actually look like that anyway. Teachers shouldn’t fall for it!
- Permission to not grade everything you assign.
Sometimes teachers hesitate to assign work for students because of the large amount of grading that can be involved. The reality is, not every assignment needs a grade assigned to it. Feedback that's meaningful and helpful can be provided to students without scoring an entire assignment for a grade and entering it into the gradebook.
Teachers, permission has been granted. Go have a life outside of school and (hopefully) stay sane enough to continue in our great profession! For more helpful teaching tips, be sure to subscribe to the Educator blog today.