Teachers act as a frontline support system for students’ emotional needs. COVID-19 intensifies the emotional needs of students, which intensifies emotional stress for teachers. Many district leaders are looking for ways to increase their emotional support for teachers.
You are probably interested in supporting teachers emotionally because it is the right thing to do. Did you also know that emotionally supporting teachers has practical benefits as well? It promotes a positive district culture, improves student learning, and is cost-effective.
Improving trust and relationships among teachers and administrators is the first step towards creating a positive district culture. District leaders build confidence when they value and support their teachers. Ebony Bridwell-Mitchell, a leading authority on organizational culture from Harvard Graduate School of Education, said, “A culture will be strong or weak depending on the interactions between the people in the organization. In a strong culture, there are many, overlapping, and cohesive interactions among all members of the organization.” Simply put, district leaders who consistently interact with teachers will be in a better position to support them.
Experienced teachers positively influence student learning because they develop their skills over many years. Teachers who feel supported by their leaders are more likely to stay in their positions. Unfortunately, even before the pandemic, statistics showed that over 50% of teachers quit teaching before reaching retirement age. That attrition rate hurts students.
The National Association of Secondary School Principals describes how principals should not underestimate their role. According to the Wallace Foundation, principals rely on district leaders to provide resources and help. Research shows that even leaders as high in hierarchy as the superintendent impact student achievement.
Retaining teachers also saves the district money. The cost of recruiting, hiring, and training one new teacher typically ranges from $9,000 to $21,000. An urban district with 5,000 teachers could save five million dollars by reducing teacher attrition from 15 percent to 10 percent. Dedicating half of it to support teachers equals 2.5 million dollars. Dividing those resources among 5,000 teachers equals $500. $500 per teacher will provide a lot of supportive resources.
Respect, Listening, and Responding are Foundations for Emotional Support
We asked teachers across the US to describe how administrators are supporting them this year.
Some teachers gushed, “My administrators are the best! I don’t have enough superlatives to describe how they go above and beyond to help us teachers feel supported. I love my job.”
Others said, “My administrators are not helping at all. They make it worse. I am stressed beyond belief, and they keep piling on the work.” Emotionally supporting teachers requires respect. Micromanaging kills respect. Instead, empower teachers to play critical roles in decision making about how to achieve shared goals. Giving teachers agency fulfills their inherent desire to make a difference.
Another key to emotionally supporting teachers is listening and responding appropriately. Listening sounds easy, but not enough leaders intentionally incorporate listening into their day. The danger of not seeking input from everyone is that more vocal teachers will dominate what you hear. To get a balanced understanding, go into classrooms or call each teacher regularly. You will learn a lot from these informal conversations.
Crafting a response that values the teacher is hard too because leaders must confront their limitations. However, failure to listen and respond appropriately creates a chasm between teachers and district leaders.
One teacher wrote that teachers in her district told leaders they were suffering from work overload. The district responded with, “Take time for self-care,” but then added more meetings to the schedule. Luckily, most district leaders are more perceptive than that.
Support that Goes the Extra Mile
You may be looking for specifics for taking your emotional support to the next level. Teachers sang the praises of the administrators going above and beyond the norm. Read on for inspiration about outstanding teacher support that fell into four categories.
- Reducing Responsibilities and Granting Time Off
- Giving Gifts and Supplying Food
- Building Community
- Providing Technology Tools
Helping Teachers Fulfill their Responsibilities
Teachers feel overwhelmed and expressed how much they love getting time off from work to relax and recuperate. However, unless administrators also amended professional responsibilities, receiving time off felt disingenuous. After all, most teachers are already putting in more than their contract hours. As one teacher said, she doesn’t have “a work fairy.” Here are a few ways principals and district leaders lightened teachers’ loads.
- Taking over recess/lunch duty
- Making phone calls to students’ homes
- Covering classes when a guest teacher isn’t available
- Shortening and canceling meetings
- Postponing professional development
- Not requiring teachers to turn in lesson plans for review
- Making one non-instructional day per week to allow for planning, collaboration, and communication
- Streamlining the Educator Effectiveness Plan process
Giving Gifts and Supplying Food
Food and gifts show teachers that you care about them and build morale. Here are a few gestures from principals and district leaders that made teachers smile.
- Organizing parents to bring meals to teachers
- Buying gift cards for a restaurant
- Catering staff meetings
- Bringing coffee and doughnuts on Mondays
- Stocking the staff lounge with grab-and-go snacks and drinks
- Organizing meal delivery to teachers experiencing hardship
- Giving door prizes at meetings where the lucky winner received a bottle of wine, a gift card, or a gift basket
- Cash bonuses or raises
- Adding an ergonomic chair to every classroom
- Giving token gifts such as a meditation app, hand sanitizer, lotion, masks, a book of inspirational quotes
- Adding a teacher’s calming corner, complete with a massage chair, in the teacher’s lounge
Teachers often feel isolated from peers. Principals improve camaraderie and innovation with community building. Teachers like the following ideas.
- Relaxing the dress code
- Book clubs
- Throwing eggs at a big sign saying “COVID”
- Putting a blank poster outside the door of staff members and encouraging everyone to write uplifting words and praise
- Virtual game nights like Bingo and Trivia with small prizes
- Starting each meeting with a quick icebreaker
- Scavenger hunts
- Creating a book with a page dedicated to each staff member, showing what makes that staff member special
Providing Appropriate Technology Tools
Social distancing required teachers to adopt technology at warp speed. Unfortunately, many teachers spend their personal money to equip themselves and students with the proper EdTech tools. Districts support their teachers emotionally by supplying improved software and hardware to teach efficiently. Here is a list of some of the tech tools teachers appreciate.
- Microphones, document cameras, monitor lights, tablets
- Communication platforms
- Access to an easy to use and robust Learning Management System
- A discretionary budget for learning apps and subscriptions
- Digital collaboration tools
- Curriculum software that includes automatic grading and data collection.
As leaders, you may follow the philosophy of the French statesman, Andre Malraux, who said, “To command is to serve, nothing more and nothing less.” At Harris Education Solutions, we want to help you honor and support our community heroes-teachers.