The Easiest Way For Principals to Respect Teachers

Teachers are the Rodney Dangerfields of the work world, constantly complaining that we get no respect. We have to take second jobs to make ends meet. We work extra hours for no extra pay. The teacher wage penalty is at an all-time high. We have less autonomy than we used to in our classrooms. We must endure teacher evaluation schemes that measure our worth using the outcomes of standardized tests and the opinions of people who watch us do our thing for less than 1% of the year. And when we complain, nobody listens. Michigan State researchers studied resignation letters that teachers posted online and found that every one “attested to the lack of voice and agency that teachers felt in policymaking and implementation.”

Many teachers’ biggest complaints are out of a principal’s control (and principals are often just as victimized by stupid policies as teachers). But there is one thing every principal can do that sends an unmistakable message that they understand the demands of their teachers’ jobs and want nothing more than to make that job easier:

Value their time.

If principals want teachers to do their best work, they must protect their teachers’ time like a mother polar bear protects her cubs.

Time is every teacher’s scarcest resource. Teachers always, always need more of it. American teachers, because they spend more time in front of their students than any other developed nation, need it even more. Time is valuable to everyone. For teachers, and American teachers in particular, it is precious.

When principals protect teachers’ time they make it clear that they value their work, and they give teachers the opportunity to focus their attention where it will have the greatest impact: on the students in their classrooms. Here are six ways principals can protect their teachers’ time:

Cancel Staff Meetings

No employee in the history of employeedom has ever been upset over a cancelled staff meeting. Not one. Everyone feels like my favorite professor of education policy, Morgan Polikoff.

If I were a principal, I’d be tempted to overschedule staff meetings just so I could give my teachers the gift of cancelling the majority of them. There’s nothing better than found time; it’s why we all love snow days so much.

And let’s be real here: How many staff meetings have you walked out of where you felt the time was better spent than however you would have spent it had you not been required to attend? The content of most staff meetings (and I’ve attended 20 years’ worth of them) usually breaks down like this:

  1. Housekeeping stuff that could be shared in an email.
  2. Teachers bitching about things, most of which don’t apply to the majority of the people in the room.
  3. A timid attempt at professional development (book studies, jigsawed articles, a slick instructional video produced by some company selling something in which a teacher instructs a small group of perfectly behaved students using a technique that is obviously better than anything you do but that might not work quite as well in your classroom) that might apply to a small number of people in the room.
  4. The sharing of grand plans that have little chance of being implemented or pursued for longer than six months.

Principals, if you must conduct a meeting, then have a tight, relevant agenda, stick to it, and dismiss everyone as soon as the meeting is over or stops being productive. Your teachers, all of them, have better things to do.

You Don’t Need a Committee

Teachers should almost never join unpaid committees, and principals should not ask them to. This should be easy because most of the time a committee isn’t needed at all.

Then, ask these questions:

Whose decision is it to make? If it’s yours and you’d like some input, then run it by a few staff members. You don’t need a committee to do that.

Are you really going to listen to dissenting views? I’ve heard so many stories from teachers who’ve served on committees that made recommendations only to see them ignored by decision makers. That’s the leaders’ prerogative, but it’s also a waste of everyone’s time.

Have you already made up your mind? If yes, then skip the dog and pony show. Teachers can see through the pretense. We can tell, usually very early on, when a committee has only been formed to give the appearance of consensus-building and hearing all sides. Skip the committee and make the decision.

If you decide that, yes, you do need a committee, then the next questions you should ask are:

What is the minimum number of teachers needed for this committee?

What is the minimum amount of time you need to meet to come to a decision or get the work done?

Rethink Professional Development

Don’t make teachers attend things that don’t apply to them. Yes, I know. There are state laws requiring x amount of PD hours. So what? Do you really think states that don’t want to fund public education are going to perform a thorough audit of teachers’ PD time? Do what’s best for your students and give teachers as much time as you possibly can to do their jobs as well as they can.

If you’re worried about compliance, then schedule your PD day and allow your teachers to develop themselves in the manner they see fit. Set some parameters, provide some resources, and allow teachers to decide how creative they’d like to be when they log their PD hours. Damn near anything can be considered professional development, and your teachers are already experts at justifying everything they do.

Lighten Their Load

Can someone other than teachers do the small things? That’s a question principals should regularly ask themselves. I changed districts this year and one of the first differences I experienced was in how many fewer small tasks I was asked to complete at my new school.

At my previous school, I had to print off and sign my own attendance reports every week. Everything related to a field trip, from scheduling the buses to creating, sending, and collecting permission slips and money was my responsibility. If I needed a sub for any reason, it was my job to put in for one.

At my new school, office staff deals with the attendance reports, every permission slip is made for me, copied, and put in my mailbox, buses are scheduled by the office, as are substitutes for anything that’s district-related. I’m going to a conference this week and the office signed me up and booked the hotel for me. All I have to do is show up.

Removing small tasks from teachers’ plates does two things. First, every minute that a teacher spends on administrative tasks is a minute not spent on things that have the potential to directly affect students, which is what teachers are there for. Second, it shows teachers how valued their time is.

Here are just five small things principals who want to give their teachers more time might consider. With some thought, you can probably come up with many more.

1. Office staff should find substitute teachers, sign teachers up for conferences, and submit extra duty hours to accounting. These administrative tasks are just better handled by people who do administrative work all day. Fewer balls will be dropped when one or two people are responsible for these tasks instead of expecting teachers to take care of them.

2. Data entry should be done by someone other than your most highly-trained professionals. Don’t ask teachers to scan tests or input numbers into a data warehouse. That’s a huge waste of time and literally anyone in a school can do it.

3. Expedite the process teachers use to request help with technology or maintenance needs. Make the online form easy to find and easy to complete and submit.

4. Consider the location of copy machines. The farther your teachers have to walk to pick up copies, the more time they’re spending doing nothing.

5. Assign recess, bus, lunch, and hall duties to non-teaching staff. It makes zero sense to have teachers stand around watching kids when they could be planning to better educate them.  

These may seem like small things. It feels petty listing them. Surely, teachers can take a few minutes to print off attendance reports, sign them, and put them in a tray in the office. But all of the above adds up, and teachers already don’t have enough time.

Make Planning Time Untouchable

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again:

Teachers cannot prepare effective lessons and provide useful feedback to students without prep time. If your district doesn’t provide it, or if they regularly take it away, then they are telling you one of two things:

We don’t care how effective you are.

Or, more likely:

We expect you to be effective, but we don’t want to provide you with the time you need. Therefore, we expect you to use your personal, unpaid time to ensure effectiveness.

If you work for a district that has taken away your planning time, you either work for people who have no clue what it takes to do your job well, or who do and don’t care what it does to your well-being.

This includes scheduling meetings during planning time. It includes forcing teachers to do PLCs during planning time. If those things are important, then schedule them outside of teachers’ planning time.

One of the more inequitable practices in schools occur in those that schedule IEPs and other parent meetings during teachers’ planning time. I worked for a district that did this and you did not want to be a teacher with more than a couple of identified students because it meant hours of additional work without pay.

Pediatricians don’t work around parents’ schedules, and no one accuses them of being insensitive to the needs of their patients. If it’s important, and most meetings with parents are, then expect parents to find the time to attend, just like they do to get their kids to the doctor and themselves to the bank. 

Provide planning time. Treat it as sacred. Move mountains to ensure that teachers never lose it so they may use it for its intended purpose.

Stop Requiring Time Wasters

Every minute a teacher devotes to work that doesn’t improve students’ chances of success is a minute wasted. And schools love to waste teachers’ minutes with nonsense. Here are four examples:

Lesson Plans

As I wrote here, principals don’t need lesson plans if their teachers are required to teach a board-approved program with strict fidelity. The lesson plans are done for them. If principals want to know if those scripted lessons are being followed, then they need only visit teachers’ classrooms. The only time principals should ask for lesson plans is if they have a teacher who is struggling and the principal believes part of that struggle might be her inability to effectively plan. Even then, principals should only require plans for lessons they will observe, because plans don’t actually mean anything unless they’re followed.

Requiring lesson plans does two things: It sends a message of distrust, and it wastes teachers’ time. Why any principal would want to do those two things is beyond me.

Parent Communications

Good teachers communicate with parents; bad principals force them to. I’ve worked for a principal who required weekly newsletters that she wanted to see before they were sent home, a principal who strongly encouraged having a class website for parents to access, and a principal who expected teachers to make five positive parent phone calls per week. None of those things are bad (except asking to see the newsletters ahead of time), but there are good reasons teachers balk at being told to do them. The main reason is time.

Principals, everything single thing you require of teachers takes time that they do not have. Asking them to make five positive phone calls home is stealing 15-30 minutes from them. Either something doesn’t get done, it gets done poorly, or it gets done when your teachers should be detaching from work. Avoid mandates. Let teachers decide how to best use their time.

Posted Learning Goals

I’ve written about this here, here, and here, so I won’t belabor the point.

Homework

Principals should allow teachers to design their own homework policies and establish their own expectations. Since homework and grading has the potential to eat up hours of a teacher’s time, it should be up to the teacher to manage it.

 

Too many principals pretend as though trade-offs do not exist for their teachers. They see little problem with adding one more thing to teachers’ responsibilities. But principals who want to help their teachers do their best work don’t just avoid giving their teachers more to do. They look at the way things are done in their buildings and find ways to free up more time for their staffs. Teachers know they’ll pay for squandered time later. Principals who want the best from their teachers should recognize it, too.

 

 

 

 

 

5 Things Teachers Should No Longer Have to Do

Of all the nonsense today’s educators must endure, perhaps the most galling is the mixed messages we regularly receive about how to perform our jobs. Teachers, once upon a time, were essentially independent practitioners, trusted to choose their own topics of study, craft their own lessons, design their own tests (or not give any at all), enforce their own grading policies, and shepherd their students through whatever year they happened to have them in the manner they best saw fit.

In such a system, it made sense for teachers to always be learning. They needed lesson plans. They had to know why they were teaching what they were teaching. They were always on the lookout for more interesting ways to reach students. The success or failure of their lessons rested on their shoulders.

The legacy of such a model of teaching still exists, even though the reality is far different. Many school leaders act as though teachers are making decisions because teachers used to make decisions. As a result, these leaders still expect teachers to behave as though they are working in a system that simply no longer exists in many places.

When we started striving for “guaranteed and viable curriculums,” we began the process of standardizing classrooms. The adoption of common standards across many states accelerated this movement because it allowed publishing companies to sell to most of the nation. That resulted in the same programs being taught in thousands of schools. Finally, district leaders’ demands that such programs be implemented with “fidelity” drove the final nail in the coffin of autonomous teaching.

In many schools today, teachers are no longer expected to make curricular decisions. They’re told what to teach and often how to teach it. They merely deliver the content someone else created. It’s a bad model that’s led to disillusionment and ineffective instruction, but what makes it worse is that reformers and school leaders want to have it both ways: They want to treat teachers as if they’re still the chefs they used to be instead of the delivery drivers they more often are.

Reformers and school leaders want to have it both ways: They want to treat teachers as if they're still the chefs they used to be instead of the delivery drivers they more often are. Click To Tweet

As I wrote in At What Point Do We Stop Blaming Teachers?, reformers occupy an enviable position where they get to greatly influence how teachers do their jobs but accept no responsibility for the failure of their ideas. In spite of disappearing autonomy, it is often the teacher who is blamed when other people’s ideas, programs, or “research-based” practices fall short in the real world.

Outdated Assumptions

 

My school is doing a book study on this:

It took nine pages to realize the authors were operating under the assumption that teachers have a level of autonomy they simply no longer have. I was ready to throw the book across the room when I read this sentence:

“The most effective teaching and most meaningful student learning happen when teachers design the right learning target for today’s lesson and use it along with their students to aim for and assess understanding.”

First, duh. Second, such a sentence, and indeed the entire first chapter (and the remaining eight chapters that follow) rests on the authors’ beliefs that it is the teachers who are still designing learning targets and lessons. How quaint.

Of course, this is just one of many examples. If you work in a district that expects you to be little more than a loyal soldier who does as she’s told, then it’s contradictory for those same district leaders to also expect you to take on the responsibilities of a general. The education world has moved on, and the generals are no longer in the classroom. That reality means there are things that teachers who labor in low-autonomy environments should no longer be expected to do. Here are five:

Determine Learning Goals

All of the hubbub about knowing (and posting) student learning goals for each lesson assumes that teachers have the authority to make decisions about what their students should learn. If you work in a state that has adopted standards (that’s all of them), and if you work for a district that has adopted programs that are supposed to address those standards (a lot of them), and if district leaders have told you that you should be teaching said programs with fidelity (way too many of them), then your learning goals for every lesson are already decided. They’re probably printed at the top of each student workbook lesson. You don’t need to know them.

And if district leaders tell you, “Well, no program is perfect. You still need to look at the lessons and determine what’s most important,” then it’s reasonable to ask them why in the hell they’ve put all their eggs in the program’s basket and point out that monkeying with imperfect lessons is the opposite of “fidelity.” They might have saved a lot of hassle by empowering you to make curricular decisions in the first place.

Write Detailed Lesson Plans

If you’re being handed a curriculum and told to teach it, then your lesson plans need to consist of nothing more than “Pages 131 – 135,” or “Lesson 4.1.” Everything else can be seen in your teacher’s guide or online portal. If you have a principal who demands you teach a program as it’s written but is still requiring lesson plans, then he’s just giving you busywork. Teachers in compliance-driven schools should never have to write down lesson plans; at most, they should simply be asked to photocopy the pages out of their district-mandated curriculum. But of course, if the principal is such a believer in whatever curriculum he’s mandating, he should already know the thing like the back of his hand and shouldn’t require any lesson plans at all.

Know the Standards

The state adopts a set of standards for each subject. The district chooses a curriculum for teachers to use to teach those standards. If it’s chosen well, then the teacher needs only to teach the lessons in the program and students will have been taught the standards. That is, theoretically, how it’s supposed to work. That is, in fact, the very reason districts adopt programs. Why, then, do teachers need to know the standards at all? If the expectation is that the board-adopted curriculum is better than anything teachers will decide to do on their own, then teachers need only to follow directions and students will learn what they’re supposed to.

Supplement the Curriculum

You have your standards. You have your curriculum. You’re teaching it the way it’s designed. But it’s not working for some kids. It’s at this point that leaders, coaches, colleagues, and your own brain might tell you that it’s time to try something else. So you ask other teachers what works for them. You Google. You head over to TeachersPayTeachers. If you’re lucky, you bail out the program you weren’t supposed to deviate from, the kids learn something, and nobody finds out. If not, get ready for a slap on the wrist, you incorrigible rebel.

If district leaders trust the programs they adopt so much more than they trust the decision-making of their teachers, then they should have to live with the consequences. One of those consequences is that the program won’t always work. When that happens, it shouldn’t be teachers who are on the hook, but those who chose the programs.

Grow Professionally

Consider a pizza joint. If it’s my pizza joint, it’s in my business’s best interest that I continually educate myself about toppings, cooking techniques, ovens, and whatever else people who own pizza joints must concern themselves. I want to serve the best pizza possible so that my business succeeds.

But if I’m a delivery driver who has nothing to do with the product being served, I don’t need to know about any of the stuff the owner does. I just have to know how to drive my car and follow my GPS.

This is the problem with asking teachers to do little more than deliver other people’s products. Where’s the motivation to learn and grow? If all I’m going to do for the next 20 years is open up a teacher’s guide and read scripted lessons, why do I need to know how to engage students, or identify learning targets, or design rigorous assignments?

Why do I need to behave like a professional when no one expects me to do the work of a professional?

 

All of the above, of course, is a terrible way to teach. Much of the disillusionment teachers feel doesn’t come from where many assume it comes. While pay could be improved, especially in some areas and especially for younger teachers, pay raises alone won’t restore meaning to teachers’ work. Better discipline and more supportive administrators would help. Mentoring is proven to help keep young teachers in the classroom.

But when districts strip away the agency of teachers, they destroy teachers’ motivation to do their jobs well. This is what teachers are talking about when they say they’re not listened to, not respected, and not trusted. If teachers can’t be trusted to decide what, or at least how, to teach, then what can they be trusted with?

Teachers who create lessons are more invested in those lessons. They will, therefore, be more invested in their students’ learning. Teachers who are asked to be nothing more than deliverers of others’ work will rightly question why they need to be any good at all. Schools that take away every reason for teachers to be motivated should not be surprised when they have unmotivated teachers. 

Let’s allow teachers to pursue the meaning that their jobs inherently have. We can start by allowing them to make more decisions about what goes on in their classrooms.


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I write books for overworked teachers. My latest, The Teacher’s Guide to Saying NO, is now available on Amazon.

Teachers Don’t Need To Find Their WHY

find their why

Every couple of years or so, a Big New Idea sweeps across the business world and ends up being adopted by (or forced on) education leaders. Fish! Philosophy, SMART goals, strategic planning, data-driven decision-making, and choosing your One Word have all found their ways into central offices and welcome back PD days. One of the latest of these fads is finding your WHY. This one is brought to us by Simon Sinek, who you probably know from this video:

Finding your WHY (he’s the one who capitalizes it) is about identifying the reason you do what you do. It’s your passion, your reason for existing. Sinek describes it as, “why you get out of bed in the morning and why anyone should care.”

Because we revere business in this country, schools love hopping on the bandwagon when these fads emerge from the ether. When a business management expert sells a few million copies of his new book and racks up a few million views on YouTube, you can bet there will be plenty of school administrators champing at the bit to shoehorn their ideas into their organizations. “How can this apply to teaching?” they’ll ask.

The truth is, sometimes it doesn’t. Unfortunately, that rarely dampens people’s enthusiasm for it.  I’m willing to bet there are thousands of teachers across the country who have been asked to find their WHY in the last few years. Administrators who push this question have good intentions, but they’re focused on the wrong problem.

Teaching is pregnant with meaning. Teachers do not need to find their WHY. I know very few teachers who don’t recognize their purpose. All of us know our work is meaningful. That’s why most of us chose it instead of fields that paid more but offered less meaningful work. Teaching is a mission-driven profession entered into by largely selfless people for noble reasons. Most teachers are idealists at heart. You have to be, considering the challenges of the job and the modest tangible rewards for doing it.  No teacher enters the profession confused about its importance. In fact, one survey of 30,000 teachers found that 100% of them (that’s all 30,000!) were enthusiastic about the profession when they started. That’s because they were 100% sure of their WHY. Even veteran teachers haven’t forgotten why they’re there. Since finding meaning in one’s work is a major contributor to personal happiness, it’s not surprising that teachers rate their lives better than all other occupation groups except doctors. 

But teachers are far less happy when they’re actually at work. 61% say their jobs are always or often stressful, and they rank their work environment lower than farmers, construction workers, and miners do. How can this be? If teaching is so meaningful — if teachers know their WHY — how can they be so unhappy at school?

Simple. Teachers don’t burn out and quit because they lose their sense of purpose; they burn out and quit because they can’t pursue that purpose. 

Teachers don’t burn out and quit because they lose their sense of purpose; they burn out and quit because they can’t pursue that purpose. Click To Tweet

The unanimous enthusiasm young teachers feel when they start quickly wilts under the crushing reality found inside today’s schools. While every teacher starts off believing in the promise of their jobs, just 53% said they were still enthusiastic about teaching at the point they took the above-mentioned survey. Those who “strongly agreed” had dropped from 89% to 15%. The most dangerous year for a teacher is her first. More teachers quit after year one than any other year. The job didn’t suddenly become devoid of meaning for these young idealists. They quit because of the disconnect between what they want to do (their WHY) and what they believe they can do.

Say I start a food pantry because my WHY is to eradicate hunger in my community. My job will certainly not lack meaning. I will be motivated to seek out donations. I’ll research neighborhoods and identify potential clients. I’ll use traditional and digital media to get the word out. I’ll work with schools and businesses to organize food drives. I’ll move heaven and earth to fulfill my mission.

Now say that upon starting my food pantry, the health department tells me I can’t accept certain types of foods. Then I discover that it’s hard to find and keep reliable volunteers. Then I run into capacity problems; I need more space! Then some of my clients start showing up too often and taking more than their fair share. I have to make new rules. Some clients hate my new rules. I regularly run out of popular items and have to purchase them with very limited funds. Some complain about the food I do provide. Then somebody gets sick and sues me. Now I’m paying a lawyer. At some point, I might decide that having a WHY isn’t enough. There are simply too many impediments.

That’s what too many teachers decide.

If a lack of purpose was a real problem for teachers, then we’d expect greater turnover in affluent schools than in high-poverty ones. Teachers might rightly question the meaning of their job if they’re teaching in a wealthy district where kids are going to go to college regardless of their teachers’ efforts. Teachers unquestionably have a better chance at improving the lives of those who come from less. Finding meaning in their work isn’t the issue. The fact that far more teachers leave high-needs schools than affluent ones suggests that it’s not the meaning of the job that makes the difference in whether teachers stick it out, but the likelihood that such meaning can be effectively pursued.

It’s the barriers that are the problem. The lack of resources needed to do the job. The outside factors that influence students’ motivation and abilities. The insufficient training. The absence of mentors. The lack of parent knowledge or support. These are the things that make it hard to remain passionate about a mission that grows increasingly unlikely to be realized.

Even worse is the bureaucratic buffoonery that tends to be especially egregious in high-poverty districts. It’s exhausting to fight for what should be basic needs and rational policies. Teachers are too often forced to do things that conflict with their sense of purpose. No teacher went into the job to focus on test scores and compliance. They shouldn’t have to give a weekly reading test to a kid they know can’t read the test. They shouldn’t be prohibited from reading a math test to a student who’s excellent at math but can’t decode the words in the problem. They shouldn’t be forced to use this grading scale and enter this many grades by such-and-such a date. The decision to assign homework or not shouldn’t be made for them. They shouldn’t be precluded from taking lethargic students outside for a break or discouraged from providing students time to read whatever they want because they have to teach from a canned program that the kids despise and that doesn’t even work.

Those teachers find their WHY, but the why they find is, “WHY did I become a teacher again?”

Teachers already have a WHY. They don’t need soul-searching and deep introspection. Those who are burned out haven’t mailed it in because they believe teaching lacks meaning. They’re demoralized because the meaning inherent in the job has been stripped away in service to some other less meaningful goals.

Teachers do not need to find their WHY. They simply need to be allowed to pursue it.

Teachers don't need to find their WHY. They need to be allowed to pursue it. Click To Tweet

 

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Short-Term Gain for Long-Term Pain

Suppose you were offered the following choice:  $50 right now or $60 in six days. Which would you choose?

Now suppose you are offered $50 today or $60 in six months. Which would you take?

Your answer will likely depend on a number of factors, such as:

How hard up for cash you are.

Whether or not you’ve been given less than six months to live.

How much you trust the person offering you the money to return with it when he promises to.

And whether or not you believe you can invest the money and make more than the delayed option in the given timeframe.

Your choice will also depend on the fact that you’re human, and being human you likely prefer immediate gratification over delayed rewards. Although an extra ten bucks is an extra ten bucks no matter when it’s collected, robust research shows that most people take the smaller amount if they can have it now. Economists call this tendency to over-value immediate rewards at the expense of long-term intentions present bias.

Present bias explains why you’ve already broken your New Year’s resolutions. It’s why you blow up your monthly budget to buy that amazing purse during an Amazon Lightning deal. It explains why you destroy your diet when there’s a delicious pizza pie in front of you and also why you find yourself in a long line at the supermarket before dinner time with all the other procrastinators. It’s why one-third of Americans have nothing saved for retirement and why the average household owes about $7,000 in credit card debt.

Present bias also explains why good teachers get fed up and quit.

Short-Term Gain for Long-Term Pain

Suppose you are a principal who is offered the following choice: Help one child now or help many children over the course of 10 years? Which would you choose?

It seems obvious to help the many instead of the one and yet each year, thanks to present bias, principals do the opposite. They satisfy immediate needs at the expense of long-term benefits.

Beth Houf, principal of Fulton Middle School in Missouri and the coauthor of the book Lead Like a Pirate, once wrote that the reason great teachers are asked to do more is that’s what’s best for kids. She’s hardly the only administrator who believes this. And it’s hard to argue with such logic. When a needy student is right there in front of you, you’d have to be a monster to not want to help.

So principals move a struggling child from one teacher’s class into a more effective teacher’s room. They place more challenging students in the classroom of teachers who’ve mastered classroom management. They give the most competent educators the toughest intervention groups because those are the students who need the best instruction. They ask the most dedicated teachers to present at parent nights because they know those teachers will accept and that the presentation will go well.

They solve the problem in front of them without considering the long-term costs. They succumb to present bias. In doing so,  they make it more likely that their school and the future students who will attend it will suffer.

The Paradox of Success

In his book, Essentialism, Greg McKeown describes something he calls the “paradox of success.” For teachers, it works like this:

1. We start out focused on being the best teacher we can for our students. As young, overwhelmed teachers, we limit our efforts to what will make the biggest impact and we’re open to learning from others.

2. Because we are focused and always learning, we improve. Our success is noticed by our principals, who offer us additional opportunities. If successful with these, we become a go-to person who is offered even more opportunities.

3. The more we are asked to do, the less we’re able to focus on what led to our initial success. Our efforts are diffused as we are spread thinner and thinner.

4. We become distracted from our highest contribution, which is effectively teaching the students in front of us. We’ve undermined our own success by doing too much.

Some of this is on the teacher. Teachers need to get better at telling people no, which, not coincidentally, is the subject of my book, The Teacher’s Guide to Saying NOBut principals must also be aware of the dangers of the success paradox and present bias. Yes, your best teachers can help you solve your most pressing problems. Many of them will see your frequent dependence on them as a compliment and they won’t refuse your requests. But asking the same teachers to solve multiple problems will wear them out. It will make them less effective at their primary job. And it can, over time, drive them from your building.

I know a woman who was an amazing educator. She’d worked her way from teacher to principal of a Catholic elementary school in Wisconsin. Because she was so effective, she was asked to take on more responsibilities. Parents loved her, so she became the face of the organization. It wasn’t long before she was working 14-hour days while spending less and less time on her principal duties. She was relied on and she knew it. Her effectiveness became part of her identity, so much so that instead of admitting that she was overwhelmed and asking her boss for fewer responsibilities, she quit. Today, this talented educator works in a bank.

Combatting Present Bias

People have limits. That includes the most effective teachers. To keep them around for many years so they can help many students, principals should remember to fight present bias. They should hold off for the greater reward.

There are three ways they can do so. One study in Chile found that it wasn’t interest rates that worked best to compel people to save but peer groups and reminders. Those who announced their savings targets to others and set up text message reminders deposited money in their savings accounts 3.5 more often than those who were simply offered a higher interest rate. Principals who want to avoid overworking their best teachers can do likewise. Talk with other principals about what you’re intentionally doing to preserve your best teachers’ energy and set up frequent reminders or schedules so that you don’t return to the same people every time you have a problem that needs solving.

Forced commitments also work. One way to avoid giving in to present bias is to deny yourself the ability to act in the present. This is the concept behind automatic deposits and Christmas clubs. When the money isn’t there, you can’t spend it. By making it hard to access, you force yourself to delay gratification. Principals can force themselves to focus on the long-term wellness of their teachers instead of the short-term problems they want to solve by establishing rules for asking their teachers to do more. Keep a list of teachers who are already doing extra and forbid yourself from asking them to do more.

A third method is to imagine the future. In one experiment,  the faces of the participants were digitally scanned and altered to create a realistically aged version. Researches presented subjects with a hypothetical choice about their preferred retirement allocation. Those who saw the aged images of themselves chose to save more for their golden years. When tempted to approach your go-to teacher with a new problem for her to solve, stop and imagine your school without that teacher in five years. Picture yourself older. Envision a new batch of students.  Consider the problems that you’ll have to face and the very real possibility that there will be different people to solve them if you keep asking your best teachers to do more today.

 

Image source: Pixabay

 

Till the Heels Fall Off

The following is a guest article by Anthony Meals, an 8-12 grade agricultural educator from Kansas. He’s in his fifth year of teaching and blogs at ProfilesinLearning.org.  You can also find him on Twitter here: @Mr_Meals. This article was originally published on Anthony’s site. It’s republished here with permission. 

Personal fashion isn’t a strong suit of mine. Typically, I don’t buy my next pair of black dress shoes till I’ve gotten as much mileage out of them as possible. I vividly remember walking with students at a National FFA Convention a few years back beneath the bridge between Lucas Oil Stadium and the Convention Center in Indianapolis. Suddenly, on my next step and without warning, my foot dropped hard. I looked back and saw that my right shoe heel had ripped off completely. The timing couldn’t have been better, though! We were walking to the charter bus and it was our last evening in Indy…so I didn’t have to try thinking of how I’d need to patch my heel for a few more days of walking! 😉

Then there was my students’ favorite shoe incident my first year teaching. We got to work on landscaping projects around our community and I was shoveling up old landscapes in my dress shoes, competing with a group of boys to clear a section out the fastest, when my right heel got stuck on the shovel. We got some great laughs and figured out an epic story for the Payless ShoeSource salesman.

Though these shoe incidents bring back great memories and joys, the metaphor speaks to a lie…a lie that was destroying my passion for working with young people, a lie that almost destroyed my marriage, a lie being widely peddled by society.

This lie: It is a badge of honor to work yourself till the heels of life fall off. 

It earns no badges to be burned out. It earns no badges to neglect the most precious relationships of your life. Yet, what do societal pressures say? MORE. MORE. We don’t remove spinning plates. Instead, we try to find ways to balance them all and then maybe add a few more.

I won’t mislead you. I’ve been a very slow learner of this and there are times even now that I am struggling. This year has been a hard reality check; I cannot be it all for all people. Though I thrive off my current schedule, it is by no means healthy for me or my young family, notwithstanding that it is in no way sustainable. I’m wearing out the heels of my life much too fast and I’m only 27.

All of us need to be strong, healthy models for those newly entering our teaching profession. We need to be teaching them how to be strategic in saying ‘Yes.’ We need to provide opportunities for personal reflection and growth.

I’m blessed that my school administration has allowed me to come down to San Antonio this whole week for the National Association of Agricultural Educators Conference. It has recharged my battery and equipped me with tools to enhance my teaching, but above all, it’s expanded my support network in the profession. This week is shaping up to be a game-changer, but the goals I’m developing for myself look different than ever before.

I’m looking at strategically scaling back in different facets of my work life, starting this spring semester. Putting First Things First at home, so Annelle stops getting the leftover pieces of me…

The following observation will come off as harsh…please be aware it is for me not my readers…

What did I do with the shoes I wore out? Did I idolize them? Hang them on a plaque?

NO, THEY GOT THROWN IN THE DUMP…IN TATTERED PIECES! They served only a fleeting purpose…

ouch…this cannot be my life!

We must start talking about teaching differently because it is unlike any vocation. Our goal should not be to seek balancing competing silos. This compartmentalizing is wrong. We need a holistic view of an educator. Many of us find our life’s mission in this field, so how do we harmonize that with our desires and need for family and personal development?

I don’t have the answers. I’m a young pup, but I know that I need to be better. I know that I can be better! It starts with the first step in harmonizing my schedule to reflect the values of my life.

I’ll finish with a final anecdote:

My wife loves her pairs of boots. One pair in particular she has taken great care of and has taken to be resoled over the past ten years close to three times. They are still functioning like new and show little wear. Yet, she uses them constantly!

I’m not disposable. It’s not a badge to view my life as disposable, even if my time seems to be filled with worthy work…I need to be resoled. Lord give me the resolve, strength, and courage to do so!

 

Original Article: Till the Heels Fall Off