Month: January 2021

How School Principals Can Empower Teachers

Principals empowering teachers
“We sink, we swim, we rise, we fall- We meet our fate together.” These words from the 1989 Morgan Freeman starrer Lean on Me aptly sum up the relationship that school principals need to have with their teachers.  

School leadership and support is one of the key factors that decide whether a teacher keeps going or leaves. Teachers feel confident to work under school principals who support them, respect them, and give them autonomy. The odds of becoming an even better and successful teacher are really high with a great leadership.  

Here are Tomorrowsmith Foundation’s tips for school principals and administrators that would help create a supportive environment for their teachers and promote teacher motivation.

Adopt an Open-Door Policy

Great school leaders do not function as unreachable ‘bosses’ but as principal teachers who are just instructing side by side with the teachers. Under an effective school principal, leadership passes through the whole teaching structure instead of staying concentrated in one place. What follows is the creation of a collaborative environment. 

This is an immense support to the teachers because it is an encouragement to them. It is like telling them, “We value your teaching strategies. You are free to bring your successful strategies, ideas to the table, and even share your problems.” This way, teachers do not feel alone and overburdened with work. 

Find Innovative Ways to Amplify Teachers’ Voices

Thanks to social media, people who might not have reached out to a large audience before have done so. Teachers are the people who we can listen to, and theirs is the voice that should be amplified.

As a school leader, creating Facebook groups will help the teachers to form a close-knit community where they can share their experiences, success stories, strategies, and ideas.

Having a school Twitter hashtag is a great way to augment teachers’ voices. Twitter lets teachers have a global reach, and they can connect and collaborate with similar professionals from around the world.

This figure from Kathy Schröck’s Guide to Everything shows some ways in which teachers could use Twitter in their classrooms and for their professional growth

Principals guide to Twitter for teachers
Photo Credit: Kathy Schrock’s Guide to Everything

Encourage Teachers to Share their Passions and Interests

Principals support teacher hobbies
Giving teachers an opportunity to explore and follow their passions and talents allows them to share their personality and interests, of which school leaders might not be aware. For example, administrators can support a science teacher who is interested in reading books to share their interests with others by starting a book club with interested colleagues and students as members. Likewise, recognizing the artistic talent of an economics teacher and encouraging them to start a theatre club would improve motivation and engagement of both the teachers and students.

Recognition and Appreciation Go A Long Way

Rewards and recognitions are great ways to empower teachers. School leaders should start by cultivating a culture of feedback. Regular feedbacks help teachers to move ahead confidently. Plus, if they extend the feedback to include others outside the school, including parents and education bodies, that is a bonus.  

When school principals commend teachers for their teaching practices, they feel accepted. A great way to know about the work that the teachers are doing can be by encouraging other teachers, for example, HODs, to inform about teachers’ work that needs appreciation. 

Principals appreciating teacher

Maintaining a feedback journal is again a great way to make the process easier. It will help school leaders to jot down feedbacks they cannot give the moment it occurs to them, but it will allow them to pass it on later (“10th January- Miss XYZ-While I was giving a round, I heard how well you were explaining the lesson. Good job!”). This is a great way to strengthen the relationship because teachers will see that the school administration is making efforts to note their efforts.

Regular Wellness Checks

The power of a simple “How are you doing today?” is huge, but overlooked. By regularly welcoming and checking up the school teachers with questions like “How was your day?” or “How is everything at home?” or “Do you need my help in anything?” school leaders build an easy-going atmosphere of trust and support. The teacher gets the assurance that there will always be a person to rely on in the workplace.

Plan Social Outings

School is a workplace for teachers. No matter how many times they say that they have fun with children, sometimes they get worn down too. Putting up the feet becomes necessary from time to time. Think of picnics, sport events, or local events. It is a great way for teachers to get together and spend some time with each other too.

What are some things you have done to keep teachers motivated in your school? Do share with us at info@tomorrowsmith.org.in

#schoolprincipals #supportivecommunity #teachermotivation #empower

Connections Teachers need – Now More Than Ever

Teacher Connections Graphic
An open secret behind the success of great teachers is their authentic connection with five forces- the students, the curriculum, the colleagues, the school leadership, and the parents. These connections help the teachers to flourish, not only professionally but also emotionally. They forge these connections to gauge their teaching ability, purpose, and satisfaction.  However, in recent times, the shift of teaching-learning to a virtual setting has given rise to a heightened level of anxiety among teachers. Tomorrowsmith Foundation highlights the five connections of a teacher that have endured significant changes during the pandemic.

Connection with Students

Authentic student-teacher connections are immensely helpful for both students and teachers. Teachers build this connection by listening to, observing, and holding deeper conversations with their students.

In schools, teachers meet students within and outside the classroom—in playgrounds, hallways, and the school bus. They use these opportunities to catch up with students about what they did over the weekend, or what movie they watched, or how things are going with their family members.

Talking-to-the-screen

In an online setting, the informal conversations are challenging and awkward too, both for the teacher and the students with family members at an earshot. Teachers report that on digital screens, total classroom participation is a bit too much to ask for. 

The unreliability of internet connection also poses significant obstacle to the teacher- student connection. Because of this, often, students cannot switch on their cameras, making it harder for the teacher to catch on to the non-verbal cues. 

These, compounded with the pressures of completing the syllabus, have severely impacted the teacher-pupil connection.

Meinster-Van der Duin is a schoolteacher in Haarlem, Netherlands. When her school shut its doors because of the pandemic, it suddenly dawned on her that this closure might be a long haul and there is no certainty about getting to meet her students soon.

“It was all up and running, then the school closed. It all hit me like this,” she says. “The children were no longer in school. And I miss them so much.”

To overcome this loneliness and to feel more connected to her adored students, she began knitting tiny dolls for her students. She crafted each doll to look like her students. Her students were so delighted by these incredibly crafted dolls that they coaxed their teacher to knit one that looks like herself as well!

Dolls made by a school teacher

Companionship with Colleagues

Successful teachers have each other’s back. They rely on the authentic connection made with fellow teachers for their emotional well-being. Face-to-face interactions with fellow teachers are rewarding for a teacher. They can collaborate with their colleagues and sometimes share the workload with them. Online education has made them companionless. 

Every teacher is fighting their own battle. The staff room interactions were a great way for teachers to unwind. Because of the absence of these interactions, they have limited opportunities to share their thoughts, feelings, and achievements.

Interaction with Curriculum

For teaching to be effective, a teacher needs to form an authentic relationship with the curriculum. This requires the teacher to reflect upon their teaching practices, and how those practices influence student learning. The teacher tries to ensure a fit between student understanding and curriculum. 

At the beginning of each academic session, teachers plan out the strategies for instruction. They study the course content and expect which learning strategies would best match the curriculum requirements. Overnight, the pandemic disrupted their plans. Teachers faced unexpected new demands-learning new technology, functioning from home with other distractions, and erratic internet connectivity. These leave limited time for the teachers to reflect upon whether their teaching strategy appropriately met curriculum objectives and student needs. 

Since learning has shifted online, it has hugely impacted students’ learning pace. Planning out lesson plans and goals, keeping in mind the student’s individual attainability, is a monumental challenge now.

Relationship with Parents

With a shared goal of fostering and nurturing a student’s learning and greater well-being, teachers and parents work together harmoniously. Both these adult groups are important for a child to develop as an individual.

The pandemic has strained the teacher-parent connection too. Most teachers had no training to teach remotely, but online teaching brought them under the direct scrutiny of parents who could watch and hear them. The stress levels for both parents and the teachers are at an all-time high, as most are working from home or are unsure of the future. 

This stress and isolation are impacting the relationship between parents and teachers and resulting in frequent rifts, each assuming that the other is not doing their job well.

Connection with School Leaders and Administrators

The relationship a teacher has with the school leadership is one of the key factors that determine whether the teacher continues or leaves the job. Day-to-day school learning is a collaborative effort of the school leader and the teachers. 

The school leaders hold faculty meetings that are really helpful to understand the teaching strategies. These meetings and discussions are helpful for the teachers because they allow them to raise issues, take guidance, and bring ideas to the table. The informal chats during breaks are an opportunity for teachers to take quick tips and suggestions from school administrators. 

In an online environment, such is not the scenario anymore. Online schooling has curtailed the number of teacher-principal meetings. There is little scope for long discussions anymore. Teachers, as a result, are feeling isolated.

The changes in teaching have been sudden and colossal for the teachers. Stories of teachers like Meinster-Van der Duin warm our hearts because of their endurance, their ability to treasure their connections, and their good cheer towards each other during this period. 

We do not understand most of what they are experiencing and we, most definitely, cannot relate to them.  However, this should not stop us from supporting the teaching community. We can help them by lending an understanding ear to their experiences. 

Hear them talk. Because when they talk, they feel more included and less isolated.

#teacherconnection #isolation #teacherstories #pandemicteaching