Educators are the key to a successful school year, and as we navigate the uncharted waters of COVID-19, teachers will need even more support and encouragement than before. Whether your school is returning traditionally, remotely, or hybrid, these three key ideas will help you focus on supporting our educators, so that they may best support our students!
- We’re all in this together
The absolute first necessity for educators to feel supported is for them to feel safe. As school districts determine policies and procedures for health and safety, it is imperative for school leaders to model the practices and reinforce the reasoning – – protecting the health and well-being of ourselves, each other, and the communities we serve. My school has made this a priority by providing all employees with masks, options for additional PPE, offering both in-person and virtual faculty meetings, and ensuring each person on campus abides by the health and safety policies laid out by our district.
We all have a need to feel understood, so developing practices that allow all voices to be heard will lead the way to consensus and shared understandings during an ever-evolving educational landscape. Gathering input from task forces, surveys, focus groups, or even through simple discussions allows teachers to advocate for their students while also communicating their own needs. Remember to check-in frequently to ensure teachers’ needs are still being met or to discover if shifts need to be made as teachers dive deeper into this school year.
Engaging and supporting teachers in professional learning communities is one way we strive to enhance our teachers’ professional practices. With time embedded into the school day, collaboration allows teachers to work together daily and take collective responsibility for student success. With the potential for extended absences, new instructional platforms, or just general uncertainty, having a colleague to work closely with can ease some anxiety and lighten the mental load while also helping educators stay focused on the right work. Additionally, collaborative culture goes beyond the content area or grade level. Counselors, instructional coaches, social workers, child nutrition specialists, and local community supports are all imperative to ensuring all students are successful, not just those with the most resources. With collaboration expected and supported in the structure of the school, it becomes integral for teachers to expertly deliver the high-quality instruction necessary for all students to thrive.
- Promote self-care
The Oxford-English dictionary defines self-care as the practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s own well-being and happiness, in particular during periods of stress. As educators, our goal is to provide our very best to our students. In order to do so, we must also take care of ourselves. Self-care prevents burnout and improves teacher retention, while also improving student-teacher relationships (Pate & Case, 2020).
The need for self-care has always been present for teachers, as our purpose is in serving others. However, dramatic changes in our world, home lives, and professional lives have been so swift that they may leave us feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, or sad. Self-care may seem overly simplified, but can too often be overlooked during a busy school day. Simple strategies can include scheduling breaks in the day to stand up, take a walk, and look beyond your computer screen. Beyond the workday, teachers can engage in self-care by spending time outdoors and exercising, both of which are shown to reduce stress (Davis, 2018). Schools can promote self-care through intentional planning and collaboration. Take inventory of teachers’ interests. Encourage groups to form book clubs, engage in online forums, or participate in team building activities. Where possible, designate outdoor spaces for physical activities such as walking, jogging, or yoga, or simply supply tables and chairs for eating lunch or moving work outdoors. Lastly, schools should encourage teachers to protect their mental health by encouraging and reminding teachers to set personal limits for checking email, scrolling social media, and news intake. Teachers provide stability, comfort, and wisdom to students, but must also remember to take care of their own needs so that they may thrive as well.
- Celebrate and have fun!
While the COVID-19 crisis has disrupted many facets of education, it has also provided opportunities to reimagine our standard operations. From virtual open houses, orientations, and creative introductions to drive-through “meet the teacher” parades, there have been numerous new ways to integrate students and parents into the school environment for the new year while allowing teachers and school staff to branch out and share their creative sides. Creativity, organization, and engagement abound with Bitmoji classrooms, virtual field trips, digital badges, video discussion boards, and virtual breakout rooms. However, with a seemingly endless supply of new technologies, platforms, and ideas, encourage teachers to select just a few that appeal to them and their students’ needs and interests and develop those into well-executed instructional tasks.
Additionally, remote learning may provide some opportunities that are not feasible during a traditional schedule, and capitalizing on these occasions can take the edge off of an otherwise foreign and uncomfortable start to school. For example, teachers at my middle school will all have the same scheduled time for lunch during remote learning. Between a standard lunch time and more restaurants offering delivery options, we will be able to bring a little spice to lunch with a variety of catered meal options each week. On “Monday Fundays,” teachers can spread out across tables in the gymnasium to enjoy their lunches while listening to a curated playlist from one of our assistant principals.
Supporting teachers during such a trying time has and will certainly continue to be challenging, but well worth the effort. Providing teachers with a solid foundation of support and the tools to deliver high-quality instruction have always been necessary, but with a global pandemic amplifying anxieties and concerns, educators deserve every bit of support and encouragement coaches and leadership can provide. Investing in teachers is an investment in our students. Students of today are the leaders, teachers, parents, and community members of tomorrow. Providing teachers with adequate support and encouragement is a worthy investment into our future.
Educators, how are you planning to support your teachers going into the new school year?
Feel free to share in our comments section.