Supporting Teachers to Weather The Storm
I have three kids at home and am struggling to help them with their schoolwork while also being available for my students all day.
I am trying to learn the various technology tools quickly, so I can maximize each to best support my students.
I never leave work! It’s like my work life and home life are all blurred together, and I never get a break.
Technology access is a barrier to my students being able to engage fully in virtual learning.
I feel emotionally exhausted and am struggling to feel connected to my students through the screen; I worry about how they are doing.
I worry that my students aren’t getting the play and socialization they are craving.
All of those concerns are completely valid and they lack clear answers. These circumstances are really hard! If I know one thing about teachers, it’s that they want each question to have at least one solution. As school leaders, how can we support teachers to emotionally and mentally navigate these challenges, when we, as education leaders, don’t have the answers and are facing many of the same challenges? Consider committing to these actions:
Listen - Relationships among your staff are more important than ever before. During check-ins with teachers, create a space for the teacher to share how they and their family are doing. Communicate your care through active listening and presence. You don’t need to have answers or solve all of their challenges, but you do need to ensure they feel heard. Some questions or suggestions for going beyond “How are you?” to form deeper connections through a screen are below:
Ask teachers to share a high and low / rose and thorn from their week.
What are you doing to take care of yourself this week?
What’s the most energizing moment you had this week?
What has been most emotionally or mentally draining for you this week?
What’s the most inspiring act you’ve seen recently?
Can you rate your stress level on a scale of 0 to 10? What about your engagement in teaching and learning virtually?
How have you connected with others this week? Provide an example of a time when you felt supported.
Affirm - Ensure that at the end of each interaction with you, teachers know what they are doing well and see the direct impact their actions are having on teaching, learning, and community. As we know, teachers are hard on themselves and don’t often see how amazing they are in the art of building the plane as they fly it! Some questions to consider to help you identify specific areas to praise are below:
What is a risk that the teacher has taken recently to step outside of their comfort zone?
Can you describe a specific student or family that has been positively impacted by the teacher’s actions?
Is there a specific content area or skill that the teacher has been particularly focused on in recent lessons?
Has the teacher tried a new technology platform or resource to deliver lessons or to monitor student progress?
How has the teacher been reflective about how to continually improve?
Communicate - Clearly communicate expectations, changes, and information as they arise - both now and throughout the summer - that will support teachers to remain focused on their craft and feel as calm as possible as we weather the storm together. Think about the below structures to support aligned communication with your staff:
Have frequent communication - note that shorter communication cycles are incredibly effective at keeping teams engaged and connected.
Be as transparent as possible about what you know, what is unclear, and what information you are gaining from which sources.
Seek input where appropriate and needed from various stakeholders.
Establish a consistent time and format to inform teachers and staff of larger updates - for example, 1:1 support and weekly check-ins for teachers and newsletters to staff.
There is so much uncertainty (dare I say cloudy skies?) in the future, and our role is not to eliminate the ambiguity but to help teachers focus on the end goal, which is still teaching and learning. We do not know what school will look like in the fall, but teachers DO know how to plan and deliver lessons and monitor student progress. You are the control tower voice in their ear that helps them navigate through unprecedented skies.