Successful schools have faculty who are respected, fulfilled, satisfied and proud to be teaching where they are. That is one of my conclusions having recently completed a comprehensive study of teachers’ attitudes and impressions about the schools at which they work. Teachers want to feel pleased to be employed by their school, like their jobs, and feel well supported in their efforts to do meaningful, satisfying work. Given that, a key criterion in measuring the effectiveness of school administrators is their contribution to making the school a good place for teachers to work. Based on this research here are eight ways in which teachers want to feel valued.
Teachers want their school to be run in ways that respect the primary importance of classroom instruction. They want administration’s fundamental purpose to be the support of teaching and the education program. Teaching and teachers should not, in contrast, be seen as subordinate to the needs and convenience of administration. One simple example is intercom announcements that needlessly interrupt lessons. A message intended for a particular teacher or student can be delivered to an individual classroom, as opposed to broadcasting it throughout the school.
Co-curricular activities should not be given priority over classroom time and routine. Inasmuch as co-curricular activities are very important to students’ development, it should be extraordinary for students to be excused early from a class to participate in activities like athletics or play rehearsals.
Teachers want school administrators to appreciate the work they do beyond their classroom teaching. When teachers spend significant time coaching and sponsoring teams and clubs, they want those contributions recognized and appreciated. While teachers don’t necessarily expect to be paid extra for this work, they want those contributions to be taken into account when they need consideration, such as leave for personal matters or emergencies.
Teachers’ time should not be consumed by needless, unproductive and unduly long meetings. Conscientious teachers are extremely busy with the demands of lesson and course planning, marking and co-curricular responsibilities. Indeed, many new teachers are surprised, and some leave teaching, because of the very heavy work-load.. Meetings should be to make decisions, not merely to transmit information that could be done much more efficiently through (brief!) emails or memos. Meeting agendas should be distributed in advance to allow teachers to prepare. Meetings should be followed by minutes, which summarize what was decided, and who will implement decisions and by what date.
Teachers expect to have meaningful input into decisions that affect the educational experience. As highly educated professionals, they should be encouraged to participate in decisions – to offer their ideas, insights and perspectives. When regarded as unskilled labourers, as the mindless minions of their superiors, they are frustrated and insulted. Educational leaders should recognize the limitations of their own wisdom and acknowledge that teachers can make a valuable contribution to decision-making. Messy and time-consuming as any collaborative decision-making process will be, it will typically result in better outcomes. Yes, there will be contention. There will be a clash of ideas. The debate will be vigorous. But the consequence will be a better and better-run school, with a more engaged, loyal, energized and committed faculty.
In situations where direct input is unwarranted or impractical, teachers still want to be heard. They should never be left with the feeling that a Head pretends to listen, but will do what she wants anyway. Not every decision has to reflect a consensus or the majority view. Some are too petty to be worth the expenditure of much time and debate and there are decisions that do ultimately have to be made by the school head. But those decisions should at least be made after careful consideration of the views of the professionals concerned. Extremely important is that consultation be honest. Nothing is more frustrating and alienating than pseudo-consultation, when in fact the decision was pre-determined.
Major new initiatives should only be adopted after careful thought is given to the resources that will be required and the additional teachers’ time that will be necessary. For example, the implementation of the International Baccalaureate program or accreditation by associations like the National Association of Independent Schools require consideration of their implications. Is the school well-positioned to take on the initiative and is it worthwhile for the school at that or any other time? Sometimes these programs or affiliations are adopted because it is hoped that they will provide some marketing advantage to the school. However, unless they really do improve the school, and are well implemented, they will backfire. Teachers cannot be expected to do the enormous amount of planning and other work often required for these changes on their own time without relief from other responsibilities, and without proper support.
Teachers expect communication from administration to be timely and appropriate. Of course emergencies occur that will require unexpected interruptions to planned lessons and activities. But absent such situations, teachers should know in advance of assemblies, special events and meetings. Teachers should never receive important information “through the grapevine”. The communication of anything that will affect others has to be planned by considering who needs to be told what, how, by whom and in what order. A teacher should never receive administrative information first from students or parents. It is every staff member’s responsibility to protect others from unnecessary and unwelcome surprise. I have known of situations where an administrator hears of a change in her responsibilities from a subordinate who reports to her! When a principal has directed a dissatisfied parent to bring the matter to a teacher, that teacher needs to be given a “heads-up” before being confronted by the parent.
The research revealed many other important factors that contribute to teachers’ sense of well-being and satisfaction – and that will will be addressed in future posts.