In a staff meeting a couple of weeks ago, the principal at my school shared a video about successful schools. In the video, Todd Whitaker makes the argument that ultimately, great schools are great because they have great people. The key, though, is getting great people into our schools and keeping them.
For most outside (and some inside) of schools, the “easy” solution is simply pay teachers more than districts and states already are. A competitive wage is important. A schedule that is conducive to balance in life outside of the school is also important. Make no mistake; time and money are relevant in this conversation. However, let’s also recognize that major systemic change (like paying teachers more and providing more time within the contract to effectively do their jobs) isn’t easy. It isn’t impossible, but it isn’t easy. It may take a long time, a lot of people, and a great effort. It’s a worthwhile effort, but is it the only effort we can put forth?
I don’t think it is.
As classroom teachers, we are used to having control–we know what our learning targets are, how we plan to help our students reach them, how we’ll assess them, and what we’ll try if students don’t “get there” right away. Teacher recruitment and retention might feel too big for a classroom teacher to impact, but I like to think we have more control than we realize.
Just like I can make a difference for my students every day, I can make a difference for other teachers every day. What I choose to do on a daily basis is almost entirely in my control. How I respond to, encourage, and support other teachers might have a HUGE impact on another teacher’s choice to stay with the profession and not pursue another career. If I see the value in what I’m doing as a teacher, I might be more likely to continue to choose to teach if I know that I have other adults in my corner. Just like all kids deserve to have someone rooting for them, all teachers similarly deserve to have someone rooting for them. On a day-to-day basis, that’s something I have control over. I can choose to serve, encourage, and uplift others–or I can choose to keep my door closed. Teachers play a crucial part in creating a positive building culture, one where people want to come to work instead of have to come to work. In the end, that benefits our students.
And that’s why I’m mentoring a new teacher for the first time this year. We are only two months into the school year, so I obviously still have a lot to learn about how to support and encourage a new teacher, but here are some ideas I’ve had success with so far. This list doesn’t just apply to new teachers, of course, but here are some techniques I’ve tried out in my new role this year that others may also find effective:
- Provide words of encouragement
- Ask how you can support them
- Listen to what they say
- Leave random notes of encouragement in their box or on their desk
- Learn their favorite snack and surprise them with it at a random time
- Learn from them — by trying a strategy they’ve used successfully, it shows them that every single person has something valuable to contribute and that we are all continually learning
Teachers, like individuals in every profession, need to feel valued and supported. If we recognize their expertise and use that expertise to benefit our students, it’s a win-win. We shouldn’t underestimate the role of teachers in recruiting and retaining other high-quality teachers. What ideas do you have for supporting, encouraging, and elevating the status of teachers in your school or district?