education career started in teaching, do you remember that great sense of relief and celebration that Fridays usually brought? You wanted to share the feeling with someone who could relate to you in a real and meaningful way. Perhaps you still do. It hit home to me as a superintendent several years ago on one Friday afternoon while conducting a building walkthrough.
I had stopped into a classroom to say goodnight to one of our newly hired teachers. Apparently, she had just finished grading a stack of tests. She asked me, “Can you believe this? Marcus has finally mastered his addition facts and passed his first unit assessment!”
Of course, I was thrilled to hear this and joined her in excitement.
With tears in her eyes, she then recounted how she and her mentor were struggling to find some strategies to help Marcus for more than two weeks. Finally, the persistence paid off. I smiled and celebrated this achievement with a few of my best high fives and whoops. We experienced such a bonding moment of excitement and celebrating over the achievement of one special student.
“Remember this as a day you
made a difference for a child,” I told her.
She replied, “You know Doc, I know our district doesn’t pay the highest salary around, and it doesn’t have the fanciest classrooms, but I would never work anywhere else. This district is like a family. I’ll never leave.”
Since I had this encounter, I have noticed school districts with the highest teacher morale tend to be those with a “family support” network that teachers experience. The key characteristics of that network tend to be these five.
» COLLABORATIVE TEAMS.
Teachers meet frequently in teams to plan and work together. They jointly plan, assess and celebrate their students’ successes. They view the work time together as opportunities to learn and grow from one another in a safe and risk-free environment.
This is channeled through personal interactions. Frequent building walkthroughs by administrators offer feedback about performance and encouragement for improvement. Teachers appreciate positive notes of praise from their supervisors. They want their administrators to be visible throughout the day to observe and interact with students so that stories from the day can be shared.
» CRISIS COPING SKILLS.
Many teachers today are experiencing crisis issues of their own. Administrators build trusting relationships with their staff and frequently check in with them. Time is prioritized to listen and hear concerns from each staff member. Empathy is modeled throughout the organization.
» APPRECIATION OF OTHERS.
Teachers need to know they are appreciated. Special activities throughout the year let them know they are valued members of the organization. I surprised our district staff during Teacher Appreciation Week with a districtwide raffle with the winner treated to an afternoon off while I covered the classroom.
The excitement this generated throughout the district was amazing. It helped staff to see I cared about them, and I appreciated what they were experiencing each day.
» PLANNED FUN.
Social activities can be arranged periodically for staff in and out of the school setting. These can be as simple as designated days for wearing a favorite hat or cap or a college t-shirt.
When teachers research school districts that are hiring, they want to find a supportive, encouraging environment where they can plan to stay for the long term. For this reason, teachers will apply to a place that they can call home.
is superintendent of the Crete-Monee School District 201-U in Crete, Ill. Twitter: @karacogs