I’ve worked at many different schools—from long-term substitute teaching to serving as an assistant principal. So I’ve been fortunate to witness many different leadership styles over two decades. This also means that I’ve been privy to lots of examples, readings, and discussions of and around administrators who nurtured teachers. Here are four commonalities that I’ve noticed among school leaders who ensure that faculty members feel supported.
1. High visibility and recognition
Be seen by all, and know everyone’s names. Supportive administrators are visible throughout the school day. They casually swing by classrooms to check in on students and teachers, walk the hallways, and engage with students during breaks before school, during recess and lunch, and after school. When they see staff and faculty, they greet them by name. When there’s an issue, teachers have a good sense of the administrator and often presume positive intentions. Being visible also goes a long way in building a sense of belonging.
Welcome everyone. When I was a long-term substitute for a few months, on the first day the principal brought me a lei to welcome me, and on my last day he brought me a lei to thank me for my hard work. These were small gestures, but they made me feel like a part of the school community.
2. Focus on and Stick with High-Impact Strategies
Be selective about what will bring the biggest gains. Usually, these strategies are set by accreditation feedback, state and district mandates, or data compiled by the school’s leadership team, so there are often many to choose from. Supportive administrators know how to distill high-impact strategies into a handful of manageable priorities. Once the strategies are set, teachers are given specific time within the school day or week to focus solely on them.
Stick to strategies that work instead of jumping on the latest trend. Supportive administrators also continue to use the same high-impact strategies over an extended period of time (if the strategies are working). If a strategy is known to be high-impact but the majority of teachers aren’t implementing it, and administrators don’t plan to abandon it, it’s important to address the issue of why it’s not being implemented. On other hand, if new mandates come from higher up, school-level administrators can set priorities and maintain the proven strategies.
As these strategies are used over time, faculty are able to name them, show evidence of them, and explain how they work. This further builds a sense of belonging and community among faculty because they’re all working on the same goals.
3. Give Purpose to Data Collection
Connect high-impact strategies to training and accreditation. Most learning institutions are subject to an accreditation process, which is usually a committee that checks the level of quality of that institution through a report, a campus visit, and various interviews with administrators, faculty, and students. For teachers, data collection can feel endless and cumbersome. One way to make the process more streamlined is to relate data collection to accreditation.
For example, after a professional development (PD) session or series, have teachers within a department or team compile student work along with captions and reflections in a shared document (my school uses Google Slides). Then, use this material for accreditation evidence as well as a sharing out of high-impact strategies that have a positive impact on student learning. This digital data collection can be replicated for every PD session or series and used as a digital gallery walk for further professional learning.
When administrators connect the dots from accreditation to PD to data collection, it honors teachers’ time and further gives the impression that administrators understand and support them.
4. Honor Time, Share agendas, Communicate Efficiently
Send an email if feedback is not required. Supportive administrators know that a teacher’s time is valuable and that administrative meetings compete with individualized education programs, data teams, professional learning committees, cross-curricular planning meetings, and much more. So if a meeting is only for sharing straightforward information, it can be an email instead. It’s not necessary to have a meeting simply because the schedule says that faculty meetings are in the cafeteria on Mondays.
Submit agendas at least 24 hours in advance. Furthermore, sharing the agenda of a meeting is crucial for administrators to show that they truly want teachers’ input. If an agenda item isn’t given to the faculty at least 24 hours in advance, how would teachers be prepared to share their thoughts or look up relevant information on that item? It’s a practical way to show teachers you care about what they have to say.
Create a weekly schedule doc with hyperlinks. No one wants more email than necessary. Having a running weekly document with links in it is one way to streamline your digital communications. It’s best to send this schedule early on Monday morning with the most important information and documents hyperlinked by day.
For example, the Monday listing has the faculty agenda with links to a staff memo. Tuesday contains links to department meeting reminders and a document to add student evidence. Wednesday includes the link to a faculty survey. Thursday shares a simple reminder about a school event, and Friday provides the testing schedule along with an online meeting link for teachers to join a specific session with a testing coordinator. For efficiency, place the current week at the top of the document. To make it fun, faculty birthdays could be added at the bottom of each day.
Once this method is established, teachers know to first check the weekly agenda doc before sending an email.