October and February – those are historically the two most difficult months of the school year. By October, the honeymoon phase is over and everyone is counting down until the Thanksgiving and holiday breaks. February, though the shortest calendar month, feels like an eternity as the sheen of a new semester has worn off and spring break feels lightyears away. During these months – and all the ones in between – keeping up teacher morale is critical for the climate and culture of a school building.
While most people would consider teacher morale an administrative or district issue, instructional coaches are in a unique position to provide some extra boosts to the morale of the teachers they see every day. Here are four things you can do as an instructional coach to boost the teacher morale on your school campus.
Tip 1: Cheer for the Unsung Hero
School buildings are micro-communities that feature a variety of people working in a variety of roles. Some have roles that are more prominent and visible – like the campus administrators and front office staff – but others tend to work more behind the scenes – like your campus diagnostician, or Special Education aides. Some teachers are on every committee or team, while others feel more confident within the four walls of their classrooms. Regardless of their role, all campus staff are equally important in supporting the school culture and without them, schools would cease to exist. Unfortunately, schools can often feel like a popularity contest for the adults as much as it does for the kids. Teachers who are on the most committees or who are the most visible often appear to receive more accolades and kudos than those whose classrooms are so far from the teacher’s lounge that they don’t even bother to venture out for lunch.
As an instructional coach, it is important that we cheer not only for the go-getters and the high flyers, but for the unsung heroes as well. As a former teacher, it always seemed like no one ever noticed when I did what I was supposed to do, but as soon as I forgot to submit attendance on time or I had a lesson that was a bit of a flop, others noticed these shortcomings. As instructional coaches, we are in a unique situation in which they get to see the ins and outs of a typical day in ways that most others would not. Just because that teacher isn’t posting their own lessons on social media doesn’t mean the lessons aren’t worthy of sharing. As an instructional coach, it is our job to provide the praises that may otherwise go unsaid.
Tip 2: Be Thoughtful
One of my favorite things about being an instructional coach is the opportunity to do something thoughtful for my teachers. No matter how small, a thoughtful gesture has always gotten a positive reaction. Whether you leave a handwritten sticky note on the teacher’s desk, send an encouraging email, or put a small treat in their mailbox, a little reminder that someone is thinking of you and cheering you on can make most bad days a little brighter.
These thoughtful gestures become more impactful when you have built a relationship with the teachers you are coaching and can tailor your gesture to what means most to them. I’ve previously coached a teacher whose love language was Dr. Pepper – as a Michigander that didn’t make much sense to me, but I knew that if she was having a bad day bringing her a Dr. Pepper would really cheer her up. Another teacher I worked with kept a digital “Happy Folder.” Every time she received a positive or encouraging email, she would save it to this particular folder so she could go back to it when she felt discouraged. I knew to always put my kudos to this teacher in an email so she could save it to her Happy Folder.
Some coaches like to bring treats to their teachers. I, personally, believe that chocolate solves all the world’s problems, but not everyone else would agree. Many coaches keep a stash of chocolate and ‘not-chocolate’ on hand for their teachers. Though it’s the thought that counts, I prefer to treat my teachers to something they would enjoy, so I always try to jot down these details when I can. Teachers, though always grateful, will be infinitely more grateful that you remembered they didn’t like chocolate or that you remembered Dr. Pepper was their favorite and that you went out of your way to accommodate their likes.
Tip 3: Share the load
Teaching is hard. Teaching during a pandemic is hard. Teaching and keeping up with all the “other duties as assigned” is hard. As an instructional coach, we often see – first hand – the load the teachers are trying to carry. We hear about it in our coaching meetings, we see it during our classroom visits. As a coach, we are in a position to help teachers carry the load. This can be a simple gesture like covering their class for 5 minutes so they can run to the restroom, as well as something more substantial like co-teaching a class. Oftentimes when a teacher wants to try a new technology tool or instructional strategy, I will research and create resources for the teacher to use during their first implementation so they don’t have to waste time making something that ends up not working.
One of the greatest complaints teachers have always had is a lack of time. By sharing the load, we are giving teachers back a small portion of that time, which is a precious gift to many. By sharing the load and taking on some of those things that are burdening teachers, we give them the opportunity to feel lighter, less stressed, and more able to tackle the challenges in front of them.
Tip 4: Treat everyone as individuals
One of the easiest, and arguably simplest, ways to boost teacher morale is to treat each teacher as an individual. While this may sound silly, I’ve worked on campuses where the administration did not even know my name. I’ve worked on campuses where the teachers didn’t know me and assumed I was a rogue student. I’ve had instructional coaches ask me to integrate tools and resources that didn’t fit with my skill set. Too often, people search for high-impact strategies that are going to be a one-size-fits-all solution to teachers’ problems. While that is great for efficiency sake, it does not bode well for your ability to build trusting relationships with teachers.
As previously mentioned, it is important to get to know your teachers as individuals and to accommodate their needs in the way that works best for them. Knowing a teacher’s name, knowing details about their life and interests, and celebrating all their steps forward – no matter how small – can significantly boost teacher morale. At the end of the day, all teachers crave is appreciation. As instructional coaches we appreciate the work they do, we appreciate their willingness to work with us and take some risks, and we appreciate the opportunity to learn from them as well.
While these four tips may help provide some ideas for ways that you can show your appreciation to teachers, remember that the simplest, most effective way to boost morale is to just show your appreciation in some way. Whether a note, a favorite soda, or a quick 5-minute restroom break, appreciating who teachers are and what they do every single day for students is the most effective way to boost teacher morale on your campus.