Principal’s Corner: Caring for Teachers and Staff in This Time

Caring for teachers and staff is more important than ever.  In the weeks leading up to spring break, teachers are historically reaching “burnout” mode. They need and always appreciate the week of fun, relaxation, and self-care. For most teachers, this spring break did not give normal rejuvenation and restoration. With COVID-19 safety measures, teachers were likely more stressed.  They had a week of stress instead of peace and calm 

This is the time to step back and support your teachers and staff. According to the PWC Global Crisis Survey, 78% of top leaders who experienced a crisis said they emerged from it the same or stronger as an organization. Caring for teachers and staff in the right ways during this time will undoubtedly make your school community stronger at the end of this time of crisis. 

In a time where we are all feeling anxiety, fear, and stress, here are some things you can do for your staff to bring positivity and hope to your community:

1 – GIVE THEM A PURPOSE AND PLAN WITH REASONABLE EXPECTATIONS

We’ll go in more detail below – but as a leader caring for teachers and staff, you now you need to hold two things in your hand at once. 1.  Teachers and your staff want and need a plan. 2. Teachers and staff are navigating trauma, complexity, and an upside-down world so they need grace, flexibility, and practical planning.

In times of chaos, plans are comforting.  Many of your team members are experiencing chaos.  They, like all of us, feel out of control. And while teachers are used to handling a lot coming at them, they are also accustomed to a bit more agency in responding to it.

Give them a structure through which they can have purpose and agency.  See some of our tips on remote teaching for thinking through how to come up with a plan and strategy.  https://possip.com/keeping-students-engaged-during-remote-teaching/

Give them clarity on what they should be aiming for.  If their goal is to stay connected to students during this time, you can give them some expectations and tips about what they can do every day to connect with students.

If the goal is for them to provide academic instruction for students, again, give them expectations and a reasonable way in which they can do that.

2 – CREATE AN EXAMPLE SCHEDULE

Teachers are some of the most organized, planned, and consistent people. Their schedules are followed to the minute and usually are blocked into odd time periods like having off from “8:38-9:49” due to the class period or schedules. This comfortability with a rigid schedule for most teachers has been thrown for a complete loop. Now they work from home, unsure of what day or time of the week it is sometimes. 

One tip is to give teachers an example of a realistic and reasonable schedule. Teachers don’t need to be doing 8 hour days, especially if they are having to balance childcare or other new commitments due to their ever-changing needs. Be clear to your staff regarding expectations, flexibility, and understanding.

Consider providing them a schedule where they may need to be “on” for 2-hours a day, and then can find another 2-4 hours to work on planning, connecting, and supporting students.

This will go a long way in caring for your staff during this unclear time and allow them to build a new, low-stress routine. 

3 – UNDERSTAND PERSONAL NEEDS

First, teachers are people. They are fathers, mothers, grandparents, caretakers…the list goes on of additional responsibilities teachers hold. Find out what they need personally and how they can help.

Keep posted on their health, and their family’s health. A global pandemic means teachers and staff will be personally affected.

If they’re comfortable sharing, find out what their home living situation is and responsibilities are during this time. Having context for what your staff is going through increases empathy and allows you to lead in a way that meets the needs of those you are leading.

While this is the time to provide clear direction to staff in terms of what your plans are and how they should be engaging, this is not the time to tell them how.  This is not the time to put unreasonable expectations onto teachers. That doesn’t mean don’t put any expectations. Teachers want to contribute and to make sure their students are still learning and growing as people.  They also have a personal context they are operating within. So we have to keep both contexts in mind.

4 – LEAN INTO A GROWTH MINDSET

This is true for yourself and for teachers. You and teachers are all learning a set of new skills during this time. Your teachers who may be AWESOME at classroom management or lesson planning for 90-minute blocks won’t be able to rely on that strength. There will be feelings of defeat and negativity. As a leader, model and use a growth mindset with your teachers. Remind them of their strengths and remind them that they are now in the role of a learner. Show them what you are learning and how you are growing and changing at this time.

Give them praise frequently and development opportunities in the areas they need during this time.

5 – MODEL SELF CARE AND BOUNDARIES

Teachers look to principals as a role model for actions and emotions. I always thought of this as emotional contagion. If a principal is doing or feeling something, staff and teachers will do and feel the same. During this time especially, practice self-care.  Caring for yourself is caring for teachers and staff. Share with your teachers what your schedule looks like and include personal time items in that agenda. As your school is changing and starting new teaching practices, it can be more time consuming and stressful than the in-person teaching your staff is used to. Make sure to care for yourself and model that for your staff. 

Here are a few links we’ve shared on our Twitter account:

7 – HAVE FUN TO SHOW YOUR CARING FOR TEACHERS AND STAFF

Even though social distancing rules make it hard to get together socially, find ways to still build community and have fun together. Examples of ways to get together include virtual happy hours, game/trivia nights, yoga classes, book clubs, slack channels to share photos, etc.

You can also make your virtual meetings fun!  https://possip.com/facilitating-virtual-meetings-principals-corner/

Teachers are also probably missing and craving interaction with their students. Encourage them to send personalized emails, postcards, make funny videos for students, create fun assignments or projects that make teachers feel connected to students and vice versa. 

You want both students and teachers to feel strong relationships present in the classroom, including remote classrooms.

We’ll be discussing caring for teachers and staff in an upcoming webinar. Check out our events here: Possip Events and Webinars