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Administrator Best Practices for Improving Teacher Motivation
There are two statements that every teacher hears on constant replay, “Oh wow, you’re a teacher, I could never do what you do. You guys are so amazing!” and “Teachers should be paid more.”.
A truly “dedicated” teacher will have an automatic response somewhere along the lines of “I do it for the kids!” or “I’m not in it for the money.” It’s an odd social agreement we find ourselves in that teaching is really hard, you don’t get paid for your efforts, and apparently teachers are cool with that? Think again.
Educators are making a swift exit from the classroom! The NEA used data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to find that there were roughly 375,000 teacher job openings in 2022 but only 200,000 of them were filled. Further, enrollment and completion of teacher prep programs are lower now than they were a decade ago (NEA, 2022).
So, no one wants to be a teacher anymore and it certainly isn’t hard to write a whole list of reasons why, but what do we do? Because you know who the real victims are here?
Increasing student engagement is a huge topic in the education world right now and after seeing the NEA data, no wonder kids are struggling to connect with lessons. If a class full of students is led by a teacher that doesn’t want to be there, what makes you think the students should either?
Teacher motivation is student motivation.
And it’s no surprise to anyone that workplace happiness directly affects productivity. The core of the issue is, however, that educators have little to no control over their workplace. Curriculum fidelity, class sizes, materials… that is all in the administrator realm, so listen up admins. It’s your turn now.
The number one reason that teachers leave education is because of the pay. Now, that’s a big ol’ issue that I don’t know how to fix other than continuing to convince the United States Legislators that quality education is indeed in the best interest of our nation.
Alternatively, here are four relatively simple but hugely impactful things you can control and should be doing to promote motivation, satisfaction, and a POSITIVE WORK ENVIRONMENT for your teachers.
#1: Be generous with your time
Administrators are busy. Teachers are busy. We’re all busy. One of the greatest gifts you can give to your staff and their students is your time.
My favorite principal had an open door policy every day starting at 4:00pm. If no one else was already there, you were expected to walk right in, take a seat, and discuss anything and everything on your mind. To my knowledge, he didn’t miss a day. Did he have other things that he probably needed to be doing at that time? Yes. Was he enthusiastically available anyways? Yes. Additionally, this principal could typically be found out on the basketball court with the kids during lunch. A seemingly small gesture, massively effective result.
Also, respond to emails. For heaven’s sake.
#2: Make meaningful recognition a priority
Teachers are always doing cool stuff and making great gains in their classrooms. Dedicate some of that time we talked about to either look into it yourself or simply ask what people are proud of in their classrooms lately. Ask teams to write about the successes they see from each other and put it up in the hallway. Encourage students to write thank you notes to their teachers. Find a way to make all of these celebrations public.
Post it on the school website. Hang it on a billboard. Share it on a school social media page. Anything is better than the nothing that typically occurs.
Imagine what would happen to our students if we never once praised them for their accomplishments. Would they have any motivation to be there? Why are administrators assuming that adults are not in need of the same sense of achievement and recognition from time to time?
#3: Actively support your teachers
I’m not talking about the usual “You’re doing great!”, “Hang in there!”, “It’s almost Friday!” kind of support. I mean real, measurable support.
There’s a reason that teachers panic when they have been wrongly accused of something by a parent or student. Time and time again, administrators across the country have shown that they are more interested in a good customer service outcome than they are with protecting and retaining good teachers. Be on their side. Be in the classrooms!
A fellow teacher-friend of mine yells about the need for administrators to teach at least one class period a month all by themselves – with no teacher support. How could you really know what it’s like to teach in the classroom if you’re not the one regularly doing it?
#4: Stop. Punishing. Strong. Teachers.
One of the most irritating and exhausting things you can do to your strong teachers is stack their classrooms year after year. We know you do it. No one is fooled by how coincidentally that “one kid” from each grade always makes it into so-and-so’s classroom.
You know what’s going to happen? That teacher is going to LOVE that student or students and they are going to do an excellent job supporting them. But every year, that teacher’s motivation and stamina is going to decrease bit by bit. Eventually, they might even leave the career they used to love.
Effective classroom management is a learned skill. Spread the opportunity for growth to all teachers equally and stop rewarding poor management with smaller caseloads.
All in all, none of these things are hard to do. All that is needed is the motivation to do so. Recently it feels like there is an Us VS Them mentality between teachers and administrators when really, we should be a united front dedicated to doing and being what is best for our kids.
I want to note that we know administrators’ hands are also somewhat tied too. We know, or we’d like to hope, that administrators would increase teacher salaries, reduce class sizes, and lessen the load if they could. Unfortunately, that’s a bigger and more complicated issue out of both teacher and administrator direct control. However, protecting and promoting a positive work environment for teachers is a “no-brainer” and something that every administrator can and should be doing.
Data doesn’t lie and, at this rate, we are headed toward a full-on crisis.
Teachers deserve better. Students deserve better. And when it comes down to it, isn’t all of this for them?
NEA (2022, September 30). 6 Charts That Explain the Educator Shortage. National Education Association. Retrieved September 28, 2023, from https://www.nea.org/advocating-for-change/new-from-nea/6-charts-explain-educator-shortage