“Nothing frustrates a good teacher more than the district hanging on to a bad one,” an educator commented to me recently. While true, this is a problem that is not going away anytime soon. Since the pandemic, teaching has suffered as a profession. Too much negativity from one or more teachers can quickly spread to others if not addressed. However, with the nationwide teacher shortage, a certified teacher, even a poor one, seems preferable to a long-term substitute, even though the culture of the building or potentially, the entire school district may suffer. Content area or grade level teams and professional learning communities (PLCs) can also become less effective the minute a teacher who is uninterested in improving dampens the team's effectiveness and cohesion. Depending on local policies or union protections, firing or not renewing contracts is not easy, plus finding qualified applicants is getting harder and harder. So, what is the solution? Unfortunately, there is not a one-size-fits-all for this, but there are a few general things that can be tried or implemented by school and district leaders.
- Find Out The Why Behind The Behavior
- It is always good to start with the “why,” and in this case, finding out the “why” behind the staff member’s attitude or behavior is crucial. A candid, but supportive conversation is likely the best place to start. Having that conversation as soon as the negative attitude or behavior is noticed will help mitigate the negativity on the building’s culture.
- Most districts have mental health days or support for teachers, so make sure all staff are aware of those benefits.
- Check-in on them face-to-face regularly. When staff members know that their administrators truly care about them as people, they are more likely to feel more positive about interactions with administrators.
At every level, communication can make or break school culture. Bad news needs to be delivered in person. Email just does not convey the appropriate tone of the message, whatever it is. When administrators send an email that is brief and direct, without context or acknowledging how staff will feel, it can sap the joy right out of the staff. Nobody likes change, and as Psychology Today states, “...positive change can create stress just like not-so-positive change,” (Sarkis). Want teachers to remove their mini-fridges and/or microwaves? Here are some basic tips to help limit the negative impact on school culture:
- Try different modes of communication to keep staff up to date. Newsletters that can include video messages are one way to accomplish this. Get creative!
- Lean into the knowledge that this will have a negative impact, so empathize as you deliver the message face to face or in a video message.
- Remember that this will cause stress.
- Explain thoroughly why the change is necessary.
- If the message is about negative behavior concerning a handful of staff members, lead with the fact that you have addressed the behavior with some but want to remind everyone of the expectations.
- Nothing sends staff members into huddles of negativity faster than a blanket email that makes all staff members feel like they have just had their hands slapped, even though they were doing the right thing.
Celebrate Your Staff!
This is one area that every school building and district can improve in immediately, and one that has a huge impact on school culture. Taking time to celebrate the good things helps your staff feel seen and appreciated. Everyone has a different preference for celebrations, so survey them and then switch up how you celebrate the big and small milestones. As Kate Dixon notes in her article for Forbes, a celebration “...gives people a break to recognize and appreciate how far they’ve come and gives them energy for the next big push,” (Dixon). In education, there is always the “next big push,” so taking a moment or two to celebrate the staff is well worth the effort and expense. Don’t give in to the pressure to move on and skip celebrations; remember teacher self-care as you plan what to do or serve. A few ideas/tips for celebrations include:
- Teachers love free food, but healthy snacks added to the usual fare are a welcome change. In districts where jeans are not allowed on a typical school day, a “jeans day or week” is usually an easy way to celebrate.
- Add more fun by giving it a theme like school shirts, holiday shirts, team colors, or jerseys of professional teams, etc.
- Since there are staff members who prefer not to wear jeans, an alternate celebration that is non-clothing related should be provided.
- Themed spirit weeks are always fun for a lot of teachers. Take a week to celebrate teachers by brainstorming dress-up days alternated with treats. This can uplift the staff in February as well as during the holiday season.
- Make staff meetings start off with celebrations and establish a celebratory atmosphere. Fun team-building activities embedded in mandatory meetings can help the staff feel noticed and valued.
These three areas are not new or unique, but they are often overlooked in the busy day-to-day of school. Whatever you decide to start with, just start. If you need to choose just one, begin with taking care of your staff in the ways mentioned above. Celebrations are an easy way to weave in a positive culture, so if you haven’t surveyed your staff on the ways they want to be shown appreciation, start there. Changing communication practices may cost a bit more time than the blanket or “just the facts” email, but it is also an easy way to begin restoring the culture you want in the building.
We know that retaining teachers really helps to build a positive and supportive work environment, which can improve morale and job satisfaction for all staff members. This can lead to lower staff turnover, increased job satisfaction, and improved staff retention in the future, which can save money and resources in the long run. In turn, lower teacher turnover also can help schools build a stable and consistent learning environment for students, which can improve student engagement and reduce behavior problems. This stability can lead to more efficient use of resources, as schools do not have to constantly invest time and resources in finding and training new teachers. Ultimately, no matter what problems school districts may be facing, retaining teachers can solve a lot of problems, and a positive school culture helps us do just that.
Dixon, K. (2019, October 19). Management By Celebration: Getting Great Results The Fun Way. Forbes. Retrieved January 30, 2023, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2019/10/21/management-by-celebration-getting-great-results-the-fun-way/?sh=43c7a2104148
Sarkis, S. A. (2017, January 19). 10 Ways to Cope With Big Changes. Psychology Today. Retrieved January 30, 2023, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/here-there-and-everywhere/201701/10-ways-cope-big-changes
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