6 Ways Principals Can Show Teachers They Care

care

In March of 2017, Education Post published an article by teacher Tom Rademacher titled, “Hey, Principals, When You Lose Good Teachers, That’s On You.” The whole thing is worth a read, but this paragraph sums it up well:

“Principals (and just like I use “teachers” to mean everyone who works with kids, I’ll use “principals” here to mean everyone who is supposed to be supporting teachers), the number of teachers you keep year to year says something about you. I know you’d like not to believe that, I know your job is easier if you ignore it, but teachers matter, and keeping them around is your job. When you lose good teachers, it’s on you.”

Well, it’s that time of year again. Teachers are right now deciding whether to polish up their résumés in search of greener pastures or to return to their buildings and, maybe more accurately, their bosses. Because for many of them, it’s not the pay, the kids, the parents, the curricular materials, their colleagues, the amount of technology, or the physical condition of the schools in which they work that will drive this decision. It’s their principal.

There are a number of reasons why principals should want to keep their teachers (or at least, the vast majority of them):

  • Teachers who leave take with them all their expertise and the training their districts have paid for and provided.
  • The search for replacements is time-consuming.
  • New teachers need to be trained.
  • There’s no guarantee (especially in these days of teacher shortages and lower enrollment in teacher education programs) that you will find anyone better.
  • Frequent turnover is unattractive and can harm the reputation of a school.
  • A lack of stability is a continuation of the fragmented lives our neediest students already experience outside of school.
  • New relationships must be built.
  • Staff morale may suffer as teachers lose valued colleagues and friends.

Nothing good comes from losing good teachers.

So it’s odd when some principals act as though they could not care less if their teachers return. Some don’t even take the simple step of saying, “Hey, I really hope you’ll come back next year. We need you. You’re important.”

Perhaps that’s because, as Rademacher suggests, they don’t believe teacher attrition is their fault. When you’re the boss, it’s easier to blame other factors than it is to accept that most people quit because of you.

But if we’re going to give principals the benefit of the doubt — and I’m inclined to, if for no other reason than they have a REALLY difficult job — maybe it’s because they just don’t know how to show teachers they care.

So here are six easy ways principals can show their teachers that they care about them.

1. Focus on Their Happiness

Most people believe that to be happy you must first find success. They have it backward. Research from the field of positive psychology clearly shows that happiness comes first. Success doesn’t lead to happiness (just ask Amy Winehouse, Heath Ledger, Robin Williams, or any number of other successful people whom you can’t actually ask). Happiness makes success more likely.

Richard Branson, who knows a few things about running successful organizations, puts it this way:

If you focus on your teachers’ happiness, you’ll not only get happier teachers who will treat students the way you want them treated and will come back year after year, but you’ll also get more effective teaching. Don’t give your teachers more PD, or hand them another program, or offer instructional advice. None of that will help if they’re miserable. Focus instead on creating an environment where your teachers are happy.

2. Show Appreciation

79% of employees who quit their jobs cite a lack of appreciation as a key reason for leaving. According to a recent survey, 82 percent of employed Americans don’t feel that their supervisors recognize them enough for their contributions. 65% of North Americans report that they weren’t recognized even once last year.

Appreciation is the number one thing employees say their boss could do that would inspire them to produce great work. O.C Tanner, a recognition and rewards company, surveyed 2,363 office workers and found that 89% of those who felt appreciated by their supervisors were satisfied with their jobs.

Principals who show gratitude experience a win-win because their teachers will feel more appreciated and the principals themselves will he happier at work.  Dr. Martin Seligman, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania and the “father of positive psychology,” tested the impact of different interventions on 411 people, each compared with a control assignment of writing about early memories. When their week’s assignment was to write and personally deliver a letter of gratitude to someone who had never been properly thanked, participants immediately reported a huge increase in happiness. This impact was greater than that from any other intervention, with benefits lasting for a month.

Principals who want to make everyone in their schools happier should take the simple step of showing appreciation for others’ efforts. Take 30 seconds to write a thank-you card.  One survey found that 76 percent of people save them.

3. Tell Them To Have a Life

Most teachers are agreeable and conscientious. The job attracts these personality types. As a principal, you can use those traits for good or evil. If you ask teachers to stay after school to help out with family math night, or to attend the PTO meeting, or to chaperone a dance, most of them will because they won’t want to disappoint you and because they will worry about the success of the event if they don’t show up.

Asking too often is a good way to burn out your teachers, but you can also use teachers’ agreeableness for good. Tell them to go home. Direct them to not check their email over the weekend. Order them to not even think about school over Christmas break. Tell them to do things that will help them be happier, better rested, and ultimately more effective. Most teachers, if you tell them what to do, will do it. Telling them to take care of themselves and detach from work will be a refreshing message because teachers are rarely told to put themselves first, and it will show you care about their well-being.

4. Take Things Off Their Plates

School districts love to load teachers with an ever-growing heap of responsibilities without removing anything. Just last week, teachers in my school were told that next year we will be implementing a new social skills program. We are to teach these lessons once per week. But guess what we weren’t told? What not to teach.

Keep teaching everything you’ve always taught, just add this one more thing on top of it. Sound familiar?

I can count on a whole lot of hands how many teachers complain that their principals, mostly former teachers, have forgotten what the job is like. Ensconced in their offices with the freedom to choose what to work on and how much time to devote to it, they seem amnesic about how overwhelming and hectic teachers’ days are. A principal who explicitly takes things off teachers’ plates shows understanding and empathy. Give your teachers less to do. They’ll be grateful for it, and they’ll be more likely to do the most important things well.

5. Encourage Socializing

Some principals see off-task chatting as a problem, a deviation from their meeting agenda. But social connectedness is a major cause of happiness and good health. Don’t merely abide teachers’ socializing, encourage it. Instead of promptly starting your staff meeting at 7:30, require attendance at that time but don’t actually start on the agenda until 7:40. Send the message that you value your teachers enough to know that they need time to just talk with each other. Teachers spend most of their work hours isolated from other adults. They crave connectedness. Give it to them.

6. Spend Money on Their Well-Being

We spend money on those things that are important to us. I buy expensive beer because I like to drink it. I don’t spend money on new clothes because I don’t care about clothes. A district that spends thousands on a reading program but provides their librarians (if they still have them) with a $100 annual budget for books sends a clear message about what matters.

Most principals have a discretionary budget. How they spend that money matters.

A cottage industry has grown up around teacher stress and burnout. You can now find many resources that aim to improve teachers’ well-being. I’ve written three books on the topic: Exhausted, Happy Teacher, and Leave School At School.

The master class for teacher well-being is Angela Watson’s 40-Hour Teacher Workweek Club. Teachers get weekly materials for an entire calendar year on topics such as Grading and Assessment, Sustainable Systems, Maximizing Your Summer, and Work/Life Balance. They get weekly emails, audio files, printables, planning forms, and an abundance of great advice on how to optimize their classroom practices so they can still have a life when they get home at night. If you want your teachers to know you care about them, consider signing a few up for the club.

Read reviews from club members here.

Instead of spending money on PD, which, according to research, doesn’t help your teachers, spend it on something that will show you care and will be of practical use to them. Order them some books on managing stress. Purchase a few subscriptions to the 40-Hour Workweek Club for those teachers who seem overwhelmed, or go all in and get a school license so all of your teachers can benefit.

Good principals take care of their teachers. They know that teachers impact student achievement more than any other in-school factor. Smart principals focus more on their teachers’ well-being than they do on student discipline, instructional practices, or meeting agendas. Take some simple steps to show your teachers that you care, and they will return year after year, contribute to a more positive environment, and be more effective in the classroom.

_____________________

Links to the 40-Hour Teacher Workweek Club are of the affiliate variety.

Teachers’ Extra Hours Are Different

hours

For something that should be relatively easy to calculate, there is a lot of debate about just how many hours teachers work. Read the comments on nearly any online article about teaching and you will be met with vigorous disagreement on the matter. Make the claim that teachers should be paid more, and you can be sure that someone will point out our seven-hour days, summer vacations, and breaks for the holidays. Argue that teachers are overpaid, and you will be besieged by outraged educators who will tell you just how many hours they spend on the job each week, how even their breaks are actually just more work, and how, when they’re dead and buried, they’ll still find a way to grade papers.

The data isn’t particularly helpful, either. Like most topics people enjoy arguing about, you can find a study to support damn near any conclusion you want:

The NEA reports that teachers work an average of 50 hours per week.

The NUT teachers’ union, in a survey of 3,000 of its members who were age 35 or younger, found that 74% worked 51 hours or more each week.

A 2012 report from Scholastic and the Gates Foundation put the average at 53 hours per week.

Teachers self-reported working a mean of 43.7 hours on the Census Bureau’s Current Population survey.

And the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employing time-use surveys, found that the average teacher works about 40 hours per week.

But whether teachers are working five hours beyond their contractual time or fifteen, what’s almost always left out of this debate is the fact that teachers’ extra hours are different.

When a police officer works extra hours, she gets paid extra money. Same for nurses and nearly every hourly employee in the country. You’ll never see headlines like these about teachers:

Detroit police overtime pay up 136% over 5 years

Overtime allowed several East St. Louis police officers to earn more than $100K in 2017

5 Lansing bus drivers made more than $100K in 2016

Outcry over firefighters making up to $400,000

 

There is no overtime pay in education.

Hard-working teachers also have no hope of being promoted. To what job would they be promoted? There’s no going to the principal, explaining how many hours you dedicate to the job and how your efforts have resulted in greater student achievement, and then asking for a raise. Teachers who work extra hours do so with the full knowledge that it will not lead to a better, higher-paying job.

No matter how great a teacher you are, how much you improve test scores, how loved you are by parents and students, how respected you are by your boss and colleagues, and how much your contributions improve the performance of your school, you will not receive a year-end bonus check. There are no bonuses for hitting targets in education. Teachers who work extra hours to be successful with students will get nothing but satisfaction for their efforts.

Unlike small business owners, who are well-known for their long hours, teachers have no hope that their sacrifices today will lead to a brighter tomorrow. There’s no slaving away for ten years as you build your classroom practice with the hope that, eventually, it will all pay off in the end. Teachers start over every year. No one cares how effective you were if you no longer are. Extra hours early in your career don’t lead to riches later in your career.

This is how teachers’ extra hours are different: In literally every other field, the person who puts in extra work expects to benefit financially. Only in education do we expect people to work more hours solely for the benefit of others. And that’s why whenever I read something that questions how many hours teachers actually work I want to scream.

Even teachers who donate a single hour of their time can claim the moral high ground over every other professional because teachers’ extra hours are altruistic.

Every time you see a teacher leave work thirty minutes after her paid day has ended, or take work home on the weekend, or check papers at her kid’s soccer game, you are seeing a person who is acting selflessly.

No one will pay her for her time.
No one will promote her.
No one will slip her a bonus check at Christmastime.
Most of the time, no one will even thank her.

Instead, they’ll hop on the Internet and explain how selfish and greedy teachers are for those pensions they’ll earn after working countless hours at no taxpayer expense over their 30-year career.

And if the ignorant carping weren’t bad enough, teachers who go the extra mile are often punished by their employers. In every other field, going above and beyond is rewarded. In education, doing more leads to more work. If you work hard to become an expert classroom manager, you can expect to get the toughest students. If you’re competent and conscientious, you get asked to lead school initiatives (usually with little extra pay). If you’re dedicated and hard-working, you’ll be expected to attend after-school events (again, without pay).

With the exception of positions like coaching or department chair (which tend to pay peanuts), every hour — no, every minute — of time that teachers work beyond their contracts is given with absolutely zero expectation of it personally benefiting them.*

Teaching is the only line of work where this is true, and that’s why teachers extra hours are different.

————————–

*Except in that warm fuzzy feeling kind of way we always expect should be enough for teachers, since they’re working with kids and the job is so meaningful and all that hoo-hah. Odd that we don’t feel like that’s enough for pediatricians.

Related Articles:

How Teachers Can Give Themselves a Raise

American Teachers Should Work Less

Dear Teachers, Please Go Home

 

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God is Great, Beer is Good, and Students Are Lazy

lazy

There is a country music song with the lyric, “God is great, beer is good, and people are crazy,” but the truth is, not that many people are crazy. Most seem pretty rational to me. What people are is lazy.

We are masters of the shortcut. We’ll spend five minutes hunting for a parking space if it means we save ourselves 50 steps. We’ll consistently choose the awkward proximity and uncomfortable silence among strangers in an elevator over lugging ourselves up (or even down) three (and sometimes fewer) flights of stairs. We’ll rent a cart at a par-3 golf course. We’ll read the headline but not the article. Some people can’t even be bothered to open a new tab and Google their easily-answerable question. They post the damn thing on Facebook.

We dream of spending our days lying on a beach with a good book in one hand and one of those umbrella-adorned drinks in the other. Plenty of people’s ideal weekend includes sleeping in, overeating, and Netflix bingeing. I’ll wager you know people who dream of retirement, not because they’ll be able to travel the world, or finally write that novel, or spend more time with their grandkids, but because being retired is a really good way to spend as much time as you want doing absolutely nothing productive.

Want to get rich? Find something that is already really easy to do, then figure out a way people could do it in an even lazier way. Remote controls, escalators, prepackaged apple slices, garage door openers, the Clapper, Alexa, Smuckers Uncrustables, Dash buttons — all of them exist because our quest for laziness is unrelenting.

One classic example of human laziness is Johnston and Goldstein’s study on organ donor rates. It found that those countries where organ donation is the default and you must opt out in order to keep your own organs have much higher donation rates than nations with opt-in systems. In both cases, humans displayed a tendency toward inaction. The same thing has been found when studying retirement savings. Those who have money automatically invested save much more than those who have to take proactive steps to save.

We like doing nothing, even when doing nothing harms us in the long run. It’s why more people own couches than treadmills. 

Such laziness seems to come naturally. Daniel Lieberman, a Harvard professor who is an expert in human evolutionary biology blames our ancestors. “Our instincts are always to save energy. For most of human evolution that didn’t matter because if you wanted to put dinner on the table you had to work really hard. It’s only recently we have machines and technology to make our lives easier. . . . We’ve inherited these ancient instincts, but we’ve created this dream world and the result is inactivity.” Source

One study, cited in a Time article called, “Here’s Proof That People Are Wired to Be Lazy,” found that even on those rare occasions when we actually leave the couch to walk somewhere our bodies do it as efficiently as possible by choosing a speed and stride length that limits the calories we expend.

Laziness, it seems, is part of the human condition.

Students are humans, too. And they’re just as lazy as the older and bigger versions.

They cut corners. They copy and paste and pass it off as their own. They sneak on to game sites when they should be working. They write illegibly. They pretend to read instead of actually reading. They don’t work out the problem. They walk right past the crayon on the ground instead of picking it up. They cheat. They skip past parts of instructional videos so they can get to the end faster. They don’t reread. They go to the questions without reading the directions. They don’t put their names on their papers. They don’t walk to the trashcan, choosing instead to stash even more junk in their desks. They don’t copy your notes. They’ll sit there without a pencil instead of getting a new one.

Given our own lazy habits, none of this should surprise or upset us.

And yet it does. We proclaim to our colleagues how lazy kids are today. We bemoan the influence of our gotta-have-it-now society. We worry about the future of our nation.

And some of us blame ourselves. We’re good at that. We’ve bought into the narrative put forth by education’s most vociferous critics that how a child does in school is a reflection of his or her teachers.

But student laziness is not your fault. It isn’t a sign that you have low expectations, or that you didn’t model what you wanted clearly enough. It has nothing to do with how engaging you attempted to make your lesson. It’s not the fault of grades, or contrived tasks, or the way education is delivered. So stop beating yourself up over it.

Of course, student laziness isn’t really your students’ fault either. It’s human nature, and you’re likely as guilty of it as they are. You don’t exercise enough. You let the dirty dishes pile up in the sink even though the dishwasher is mere feet away. You haven’t registered as an organ donor.

One of the great challenges that teachers face is the same one that parents, employers, doctors, preachers, personal trainers, financial advisors, and literally everyone else who has to deal with other people face:

People don’t want to work very hard. They would prefer to not work at all.

So stop expecting more from your students than you expect from yourself. Cut them some slack. And quit worrying about the future of the planet. People have always been lazy. They will, in fact, search out even more inventive ways to be even lazier. And that might not be the worst thing.

Because it’s no longer necessity that’s the mother of invention. It’s laziness.

So that layabout in your class might just be a budding entrepreneur. After all, it takes some next level laziness to conceive of this thing:

You know you want one.

And here are some other gift ideas for the laziest humans you know:

The baby mop. It’s exactly what you think it is.

An automatic spaghetti twirler.

This is a stand to hold your blow dryer. Because holding things with your hands is so last decade.


And you shouldn’t need to spin things anymore either. Besides, you always knew Ashley spun the bottle in such a way that she was guaranteed a make-out session with Dylan.

Snowball maker. Because snow is cold and not everybody has gloves.

 

Lift the toilet seat without actually lifting the toilet seat!

Now if only you could buy a Bluetooth-enabled toilet and flush it with your phone…

What Non-Teachers Can’t Get Through Their Thick Heads

Squeezed among the hundreds of comments on my article, Why Teachers Are So Tired, you will find the following gem, which is representative of the views of many non-teachers:

“For the most part teachers only have to work 6-7 hours a day 8 months out of the year, off all holidays and presidents days Christmas and Thanksgiving breaks paid normally 2 wks each advent and whenever they decide to shut down due to weather etc. Everybody makes decisions in their jobs in life and have to work all year with maybe a couple days off for thanksgiving and Christmas and thats about it! Geez we all should be teachers! The other 3 months you can have another career while getting paid as a teacher too! What a deal then you bitch about not getting paid enough! Where the hell do you pinheads get off!”

The typical teacher rebuttals include rants about working well beyond our contractual hours and pointing out that those three months off aren’t actually paid. They’ll also take a few potshots at the commenter’s grammar. You are undoubtedly familiar with the give and take.

But what strikes me every time I read something like the above is the faulty logic. Because if the commenter is right and teaching is a cake job that requires relatively few hours of annual work with comparatively favorable pay, then his revelation that, “Geez, we all should be teachers,” ought to be enough to make him (and like-minded others) wonder:

Well, just why in the hell aren’t more people teachers?

Why don’t colleges of education have to beat away candidates with sticks?

Why can’t they be super selective since the demand is so high?

And perhaps most obviously, Why didn’t I myself become a teacher? What was I thinking!

It’s not as if there’s a high barrier to entry. Damn near anyone who gets accepted into a university will be accepted into its college’s teacher education program. The commenter himself (and yes, it’s a guy. Seems like it almost always is) almost certainly could have become a teacher had he wanted to.

But he didn’t, and he’s hardly alone. Fewer college freshmen today want to be teachers than at any point in the last 45 years. [1]

Which, if the commenter is even a little bit correct, is a little odd, isn’t it?

Why wouldn’t college kids want a job that gave them more free time to text emojis, eat avocado toast, and pretend to be offended on social media (or whatever it is kids do these days)?

The lack of logic doesn’t stop there. Because if teaching is such a fantastic deal, then why would any teacher, having landed such a cushy job and having virtually no chance of ever losing it (another one of their favorite talking points), ever want to give it up? They of all people ought to recognize the gravy train when they’re the ones riding it!

But 8% leave every year, and most of them make less money when they do.

Which is weird behavior for pinheads who have awesome jobs.

The commenter forgot to mention the lavish pension plans teachers get (he must have been having an off day). Not only do these ungrateful teachers work seven-hour days, eight months a year and get paid pretty well, they retire to the life of Riley thanks to those taxpayer-funded pensions that private sector employees would kill for.

But even that enticement doesn’t do much to keep teachers from fleeing. On average, more than half of teachers do not receive any employer pension benefits because they don’t teach enough years to become eligible. Just one in five stays on the job long enough to receive full benefits at retirement. [2]

It almost seems like teachers — 80% of them, anyway — know something about the job that critics don’t.

There is only one argument left, and it’s not a very good one. To believe as the commenter does, you would have to stare reality in the face and come to this conclusion:

Teachers must be different than other people. They must be a particularly whiny bunch. They have it better than everybody else, and not only do they not realize it, they think they have it worse!  They’re so delusional, they quit their wonderful jobs to work longer hours for lower pay and they give up their state-funded retirement plans in the process.

That’s not a very compelling argument.

Commenters like the one quoted above prove three things with their ignorance and illogical arguments:

  1. They never taught. You will literally never hear a former teacher talk about how easy it was and how much they were paid.
  2. They’re not interested in listening to what teachers are telling them, despite the fact that no one can understand what it’s like to teach unless they’ve done it.
  3. They’re not interested in logical thought and would rather vent their frustration at professionals who have the audacity to fight for more respect, better working conditions, and fairer pay.

Here is what non-teachers cannot seem to get through their thick heads:

If college kids don’t want to be teachers, and 8% of teachers leave every year, and only half stick around long enough to take advantage of those so-called extravagant pensions, then maybe, just maybe, they should actually believe teachers when they tell them that the job is challenging and they aren’t being paid enough to do it.

And if those who think teachers have it easy can’t do that and continue to insist that it’s the teachers who don’t understand how tough it is out there in “real world,” then they should go back to school and become a teacher.

They can practice by substitute teaching for a while. I hear there’s a shortage.

That’s where the hell this pinhead gets off. Geez.

 

[1] Survey: Number of Future Teachers Reaches All-Time Low 

[2] Why Most Teachers Get a Bad Deal on Pensions

 

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Want to read longer stuff? I write books, too. My latest, Leave School At School, is all about how you can chop hours off your teacher workweek without sacrificing effectiveness.

 

Are Work Emails Adding to Your Exhaustion?

One of the more interesting things I read in the past year was in the book, The Happiness Equation, by Neil Pasricha. Neil tells a story about working for a powerful and well-respected CEO who never replied to his emails. When Pasricha finally worked up the courage to ask the CEO why, he was told:

“Neil, there’s a problem with email. After you send one, the responsibility of it goes away from you and becomes the responsibility of the other person. It’s a hot potato. An email is work given to you by somebody else.”

I remember that last line every time I check my email at work:

An email is work given to you by somebody else.

Take a look at your last ten work emails and see if it’s true. Here are my five most recent:

1. A parent wanting more information about a playground incident her son reported.
2. An office request that I send a Remind message to parents about the upcoming school carnival.
3. An email informing teachers that the office has two fundraiser packets without names on them and requesting that we try to identify the students based on the names on the order forms.
4. A parent asking how her son did in class today.
5. A reminder about schedule changes due to the third graders’ concert rehearsal.

Four of the five require something of me, and that can lead to exhaustion.

How?

As I write about in my book, Exhausted, each day we wake up with a full tank of willpower. As we exercise self-control and make decisions, that willpower is depleted, and along with it, our glucose levels. Additionally, high-intensity emotions like anger and negative thoughts like worry also drain us of energy. Each time you check your email, you risk the very strong likelihood that one of the following will happen:

1. You read something that requires action, and you know you already have too much to do and not enough time to do it. This stresses you out. Stress fatigues the body.

2. You read something that upsets or annoys you, and must then use willpower to not swear or slam your fist down or fire off a strongly-worded rebuttal. Using this kind of self-regulation burns glucose, one of our major sources of energy.

3. You read something that requires you to make a decision, and making decisions depletes your willpower.

Each of the above uses up some of the limited energy you have in a day. Combined with all the other times teachers use willpower, make decisions, regulate their emotions, and experience anxiety, emails can contribute to your exhaustion.

So what do you do?

Check your email less often. I used to carry my phone around in my pocket and check it 20 times a day in the classroom. If I saw the notification light blinking, I’d check to see what it was and I’d read every email that arrived within minutes. I took pride in always knowing what was going on, of being on top of things.

But now I only check it three times a day. Knowing that each email is likely to lead to stress, the need to self-regulate, or require a decision from me, I seek to minimize the damage to my energy levels while I still have to get through most of my teaching day.

I check email once before school, once during lunch, and once before students leave (in case a parent is relaying an end-of-day message about where their kid needs to go after school). Then, when school is over, I go through and read those emails I delayed action on and delete any I don’t need to keep.

Checking your email at designated times is just one way to be more intentional with technology so you can be more productive and reserve your limited stores of energy. Angela Watson has many others and she’s sharing them right now. Angela is currently offering a 21-Day Intentional Connectivity Challenge that can help you establish new habits around your devices.

Read more and sign up here:

Angela Watson’s 21-Day Intentional Connectivity Challenge