Psst! Principals, over here. We need to talk. This blog post is for us. More specifically, it’s about what we can do to support the most hard-working, amazing people I know: teachers. It’s a rough time to be a teacher. They are asked to do more and more with fewer resources and less support. They likely have more students in their class each year and less dollars in their paycheck. Often times it’s easier for society to blame the teachers instead of looking in the mirror and facing the real problems that plague our country: poverty, lack of affordable healthcare, and opportunity inequalities. These are big issues that we need to tackle, but they likely have long, slow solutions. Fortunately, as principals, there are things we can do immediately to better support and appreciate our teachers.
I really want to be a good principal. I care deeply about the students in the building and want them to have every opportunity to reach their full potential. I want my teachers to see themselves as I see them. I want my teachers to feel valued, appreciated, and HAPPY. I know I often come up short being the principal they need, but I am determined to do better. If principals are going to better support teachers, we need to understand what they need and what they want us to know. I can’t think of a better way to find this information other than asking. So that is exactly what I did. I sent the following email to several teacher friends from all different schools.
I am working on a blog post for the new year. I know the culture and climate surrounding teaching has been negative lately. I know you probably feel like principals don’t always know the struggles, fears, obstacles, and vulnerabilities that you feel as a teacher. If you have time and you’re comfortable, please respond to the following question:
What do you want your principal to know about your teaching, your classroom, or your students that they might not know?
All responses will be kept completely confidential. The responses may be used in the blog post, but no names will be tied to any of it.
Thank you in advance for your responses.
The responses were both incredible and eye-opening to me as a principal. They were eerily similar to one another. Regardless of the building, the grade level, or the experience level of the teacher, each and every response had a very similar message. Here were the most frequent responses:
“I want my principal to know that I am doing my best and even though I make mistakes, I’m working to improve.”
“Don’t punish me for a job well done. I can’t serve on every committee and serve on every team. It is burning me out.”
“A little acknowledgement goes a long way. A simple note, text, email, or passing word in the hallway makes my week.”
“Check in with me and be available. I need a principal to listen. I don’t need a solution to every problem but I want to know my voice is heard.”
“When you make a mistake, as we all do, own it. Admit the mistake and try to correct it.”
“I want the principal to be a real person who is visible to teachers, students, and parents. Be involved in the school activities and not just sitting in the office.”
“We believe in your (or the district’s) vision, but stick with it. Give us time to implement new strategies and programs. We can’t chase every shiny new idea. Let’s pick good practices and perfect them before abandoning them or trying something new.”
However, this was the message that rang the loudest to me:
“Don’t forget what it’s like to be in the classroom. The stresses, the demands, the pressures, and the many balls in the air. Remember that lessons go wrong, especially when trying something new. Teaching and learning is messy.”
I love the rawness and honesty of the responses I received from teachers. They weren’t bitter, although you certainly couldn’t blame them if they were. When they complained about lack of services, class size, or resources, it wasn’t because it was an inconvenience to them; it was because they cared deeply about helping their students.
We need to be better about acknowledging the tremendous work they do each day. This can be a quick email, text, kind word in the hallway, or a sticky note on their computer. We need to check in frequently and ask how we can better support them as teachers. This can take many forms including covering classes for them so they can observe colleagues, providing more opportunities for collaboration and professional learning, and giving them time to implement new strategies. We need to stop bouncing from new idea to new idea. Instead, let’s focus on getting better at the strategies we are already using. If we are going to preach for teachers to innovate and be risk takers, we need to understand that lessons will not always go as planned. Teachers need to be praised for taking risks, not punished for a lesson not going perfectly. I often tell my teachers, “I would rather have a lesson be a complete disaster while trying something new than have everything go according to plan with an outdated practice.”
The message teachers want us to hear is loud and clear. They are working as hard as they can. They are doing everything in their power to help the students in their classroom. The classroom is where the rubber meets the road. Teachers are the ones working directly with students. The responses to my email provide a roadmap on how we can better support them. Principals, let’s make sure 2018 is the year every teacher in our building knows that we have their back and support their work.