Giving Your Teachers What They Need

Fewer and fewer students are entering colleges of education and many current teachers are discouraging them from pursuing a career in teaching.  (Read here, please. )   Principals say that many of their teachers report being overwhelmed, overworked, and stressed.

During this era of transformation in education, it is a challenging time to be a teacher;  it is also challenging to be a principal or assistant principal whose task is to support the teachers.

Don’t let the challenge get the best of you!  It’s your guidance and steadiness during challenging times that sets you apart as a leader.  We can continue to have great schools that lead students to success as long as we have effective teachers.  Your mission:  support your teachers (even in tough times) and help them be good at their work.

  Something good for every teacher to focus on?  Purposeful, meaningful work.  The kind of work that will make you proud of your chosen career;  the kind of work that will make you want to go to school every day.  Purpose is the antidote for pressure.

How?  Here are five ways to support your teachers and help them do the things they need to do for students (there are certainly more than five, but this is a start).

  1.  Stability:   Humans aren’t fond of change in general;  teachers, specifically, prefer security to adventure.  Change is hard for many teachers;  provide them with as much stability as you are able.
  2. Listening:   If your teachers are stressed, you need to provide them a chance to vent in a positive, productive way.  Set up focus groups to give them that opportunity.  Be available, be genuine, and be listening.  It matters more than you think!
  3. Appreciation:  Find out how they like to be shown appreciation and then set out to do it regularly.  Michelle Dyal, Principal at Bleckley County Middle School in Cochran, GA used the form at the top of this page to find out what her teachers preferred.
  4. Visibility:  When you are in the halls and in the classrooms, everything is better.  Students who might otherwise make poor choices in behavior are more likely to behave appropriately if you “seem to be everywhere” all at one time.  The good that comes from being in the building and away from your office is hard to overestimate.
  5. Focus:   Principals and APs aren’t really at the school to make teachers’ jobs easier;  we can, however, help them to find more meaning in their work.  One of the best things good administrators do is keep teachers (and the whole staff) focused on the right things.  Something good for every teacher to focus on?  Purposeful, meaningful work.  The kind of work that will make you proud of your chosen career;  the kind of work that will make you want to go to school every day.  Purpose is the antidote for pressure.  Help your teachers focus, and you’ll be giving them what they need to be their best.


What do YOUR Teachers Think About the Profession?

Recently, the Georgia Department of Education conducted a survey answered by over 53,000 of the state’s educators to explore why so many teachers leave the profession.  The report from the survey can be read in its entirety here.

The survey posed these questions:

1.)  If you had a student about to graduate from high school, how likely would you be to encourage teaching as a profession?

2)  In Georgia, 47% of teachers leave the profession within five years.  Rank the following statements often cited as the as the predominant reason a teacher leaves the profession.

(The second question presented eight often-cited reasons for teachers leaving education in Georgia and asked respondents to rank them with 1 being the “most predominant” and 8 being the least. The options were restricted to causes that can be influenced by state policy.)

  • Levels of benefits/compensation;
  • Level of preparation when entering the profession;
  • Level/quality of support, resources, and professional learning;
  • Level of teacher participation in decisions related to profession;
  • Non-teaching school responsibilities/duties;
  • Number and emphasis of mandated tests;
  • School level/District level leadership;
  • Teacher evaluation method.

3)  Please list any additional reasons why you believe 47% of the teachers in Georgia leave the profession within five years.


What do your teachers think about the profession?  While you can’t address every concern suggested in the survey at the school level, you can open a dialogue that can lead to conversations that can help you better understand what your faculty is thinking.

Professional conversation is a step towards empowering your teachers, and offers an opportunity for them to identify areas in which you can collaborate.  Consider posing these or similar questions to your teachers as a pulse check and using the data you collect for even deeper conversations.

Our teachers should be proud to serve in their profession.  You can help lift up your teachers through talks about the profession and by doing what you can at the school level to restore honor, dignity, and pride in being a teacher.


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Thought Starters About School Redesign

What should school be?  Everyone is encouraged (sometimes with a push from state and federal mandates) to develop schools into places different than they’ve been.  If you and your faculty & staff are contemplating innovation, something new, and redesign, you already are on the right track merely by beginning a genuine conversation about doing things differently.

To assist you in those conversations, PM! recommends a look at the following resources.  None of them represent products or formulas for school change.  They do, however, serve as thought starters that can aid in your conversation.  It’s there that the answers lie.  The nuances of your school and community have to be considered when bringing about change.  Great ideas, customized for an individual school and tackled with genuine collaboration lead to tremendous success.  Those efforts begin with a conversation,  and the following resources may help you get that conversation started. Click, watch, share, discuss. Repeat.

Sugata Mitra’s School in the Cloud

Sir Ken Robinson’s TED Talk: Do Schools Kill Creativity?

From, what we DON’T teach in schools.

Article: Teach Kids to Think, Not Memorize

Learning Through Grit: New Hampshire Teacher.






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The Precarious Life-Work Balance of the Principal

In working with principals, regardless of where it may be, one topic is always sure to stop the conversation and leave a pall over the room.


We can pull off some amazing things as school leaders:  juggle student requests, teacher preferences, and bus pickup/drop off times into an elegant, workable schedule.  Teachers are marveled at how we can remember hundreds of student’s names, favorite lunch spots, and cumulative tardies in our head with efficiency IBM’s Watson would turn from blue to green with envy over.

Principals can make it to a tennis match, Spring band concert, retirement reception, and an FFA Banquet all between 5 and 7 PM (and get a haircut during intermission of the band concert).

We have conditioned ourselves to schedule ourselves at a clip that seems like we are at more than one place at time.  However, do we sacrifice being where we most ought to be to do so?

Chantal Panozzo posted a story today entitled “Living in Switzerland ruined me for America and its lousy work culture.”  You can read it here.  In it, she gets to the root of our work/life balance issues: our cultural expectations of work.   Principals and APs are products of those expectations, as well as unsuspecting promoters of this lifestyle to others around us.

At some point, your vision of what a principal must do was shaped by those who modeled it for you.  You are doing the same now, for your assistant principal and others who are watching you.

“… if you don’t find a balance between your job and the rest of your life, you are doomed to burn out.”

Please know this isn’t a suggestion that you slack off in your work.  It is, instead, a reminder that one of the puzzles you should always be seeking to solve is that of balance.  And, it’s not just a self-serving quest.  Simply put, if you don’t find a balance between your job and the rest of your life, you are doomed to burn out.  On the road to that, you’ll become decreasingly effective, increasingly grumpy, and you won’t be as good at your work as you have been.  That’s right, if you can’t be convinced to seek balance for your own good, consider your work;  it’ll suffer if you don’t take care of yourself.

At this time of year, principals and assistant principals (and teachers as well) face MORE to do rather than less.  How do you get back in balance at such a critical time?  This is actually the BEST time to do so.  In future columns, we’ll explore specifics on how to get yourself into balance, but for now, focus on a first step and move forward from there.  One day this week, go home 15 minutes earlier than usual (which is still much later than normal people do!); turn texts and email off at 9:00 PM and keep them off until the morning so you can not only sleep but you can rest; and spend time with the people you enjoy, doing something that makes you happy that isn’t school related.

Remember, someone is watching you now to see what principals do.  Give them something to see that will help them be excellent in their work, but in their life away from work as well.  They’ll be the better for it and so will you!


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