Teaching is an intellectual, cognitively challenging job. It's an emotional one, too. The myriad emotions that come with being a teacher is a real part of the profession. According to this article by the New Teacher Center, first year teachers have an even more intensified emotional experience and this chart from the article outlines the roller coaster of emotions that come up during a teacher’s first year like this:
When I first saw the chart, I found it enlightening and used it as a tool to help me understand where my teachers were coming from. And I recognized that even with years of experience under my belt, I sometimes experienced the same rollercoaster of feelings. I've come to discover that offering emotional support is as important as offering instructional support.
In Eric Jensen's book, Teaching With Poverty in Mind, he says, "Do not dismiss the so-called 'soft side' of students' lives, the social side. It runs their brains, their feelings, and their behaviors — and those three run cognition! There is a complex interplay between cognition and emotions. When students feel socialized and accepted, they perform better academically." Adult teachers are no different.
Building relationships and supporting teachers on an emotional level is an important part of the job of a mentor or coach, and is necessary if you want to connect with teachers and help them grow on an intellectual level. When I was teaching, I learned pretty quickly that if a student comes to class with something on his mind, the day's learning will not be his top priority. If a teacher is feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, insecure, vulnerable, or stressed, it can be hard to engage a classroom.
The key to effective coaching is to slow down and pay attention to where your teacher is at. Meet them at whatever head space they're in. If you show up for a meeting with a teacher and he or she just needs to talk about how they are feeling, take some time to listen to what they’re going through. Tap into your empathy and compassion, remembering what it felt like to be in their shoes.
In James B. Rowley's article, "The Good Mentor," he says, "Good mentor teachers capitalize on opportunities to affirm the human potential of their mentees… Good mentors share their own struggles and frustrations and how they overcame them." Acknowledging that the job is challenging and offering a little validation to help them know they're on the right track, can help inspire teachers to stick with it and keep going.
Strategies to Encourage and Support Teachers
Note upcoming events on the calendar (observations with an evaluator, birthdays, etc.) and send an email message to let the teacher know you're thinking about them.
Highlight what's working and help teachers capitalize on their strengths.
Start a teacher inspiration folder. Mine is a plastic envelope filled with inspirational goodies, like greeting cards, a collection of fun supplies to share, like post-its, colored pens and stickers, and a notepad with an inspirational quote on the top that I use to leave notes of encouragement. When I get the feeling that one of my teachers could use a little extra moral support, I pull a greeting card out of my bag and leave it in the teacher's mailbox or on their desk.
How do you encourage and support the teachers you work with?