5 Strategies for Supporting Teachers To Do Their Best Work
Is Great Teaching The Most Important Factor In Student Achievement?
An interesting perspective from the schools of Gwinnett County, Georgia: "…there are two types of employees - teachers and those that support teachers." If, as it is often reported, high-quality teaching is the most important factor in student achievement, then this district could be on to something. If nothing else, the district is talking about a shared vision that prioritizes and protects excellence in teaching.
The attitude inspired above is reminiscent of the almost surely apocryphal story of President John F. Kennedy meeting a janitor cleaning the floors at a NASA facility, asking him what he does there, and hearing "I'm helping to put a man on the moon" in reply. Although this scenario probably never happened, the story resonates with us because it reinforces the power of people working together for a cause greater than themselves. You have the ability to accomplish this at school by aligning institutional resources with supporting teachers and good teaching. Here are five ways to accomplish this.
5 Strategies for Supporting Teachers
1. Listen and Respond to Teachers' Concerns
So simple, yet so neglected, is the act of listening, empathizing, and taking action to address the concerns of your professional educators. Proceed from the assumption that your teachers want the chance to do their best work every day, then work relentlessly to remove barriers to their success.
Barriers can be seemingly simple - classroom supplies and furniture needs, the frenetic schedule at the beginning of the year, and/or technology and maintenance work orders, for example - but can feel totally overwhelming to teachers who just want to get down to teaching. Barriers can also be very serious and demoralizing. Think of all the talk you may be hearing about "compassion fatigue" lately. You can take proactive steps to listen to your teachers, understand their stressors and needs, and respond accordingly.
2. Provide Opportunities for Teachers to Share Strategies with Each Other
In education, as in life, time is an extremely precious commodity. The "close the door and teach" mentality is a recipe for professional failure, but we encourage it every time we structure the day in such a way that teachers end up working in isolation.
Get creative: Bake collaborative time into the work day. When building next year's master schedule, if you can't construct common planning time for departments or teams, can you survey the staff and try to meet their needs? Ensure common collaborative time for co-teachers? Turn the monthly faculty meeting into a small-group instructional strategy share-out. Ask your teachers what they need and provide it. Then, build in time to debrief with them as to what they are sharing and learning.
3. Offer Quality Professional Development
Anyone who has ever found themselves sitting in a large-group, one-shot, "sit and get" style professional development (PD) session knows that they hold little promise for the true transformation of instructional practice, let alone increases in student learning. In the worst-case scenario, your teachers might leave such a session demoralized, frustrated because they haven't learned anything relevant to their classrooms.
Support your teachers by following best practices for professional development: Focus on specific content, allow for active learning, and embed PD in the work itself (peer observation and feedback, co-teaching opportunities, teacher-based data teams, etc.). Provide the PD over time, not just once, and build in time for meaningful reflection on the work. Find ways to model best practices, coach, and support teachers as they learn new instructional strategies. You can transform professional development into something invigorating that will pay off in classrooms, not something resembling a professional death march.
4. Encourage Participation in Professional Learning Communities (PLCs)
According to Rick DuFour, Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) embody three key "big ideas":
- Ensure that students learn
- Construct, develop, and live a culture of collaboration
- Stay relentlessly focused on results
You can use DuFour's "top-down, bottom-up" approach to require collaboration (top-down) while at the same time empowering teachers to determine what that collaboration looks like and how to measure student success (bottom-up). For example, a high school principal could say to her department chairs: "We must collaborate. Using an established 5-step teacher-based team process, let's talk about what that would look like in your departments." Teacher teams can then develop their protocols for professional conversation, data review, and how to develop their all-important instructional responses when students don't learn.
5. Don't Assume Everyone is on the Same Page
Does every teacher understand what a Professional Learning Community really is? If you are using a learning management system (LMS) to teach, collaborate, and engage in asynchronous professional development opportunities, do all teachers know how to access and use it? Don't assume that everyone is working toward the same goals, or even using the same basic vocabulary.
It can take a large investment of time and energy to get everyone on the same page, but it is well worth the effort. It doesn't matter whether you are a Marzano's Nine school, a Seven Habits building, or a PLC devotee. Whatever the "label," all teachers need to know what it means, what related professional behaviors are expected, and how to implement the system with fidelity. Only then will teachers feel supported and benefits can be realized.
Great Teachers Need Great Support
Teachers are working under a crush of more mandates, more high-stakes assessment, and more personal and professional stressors than ever before. To do their best work every day; to educate and inspire students, they desperately need the support of competent, compassionate leaders. Find ways to support great teaching every day and you will unleash forces that will propel your district to new heights.
Which of these 5 strategies for supporting teachers are you going to use? Tell us on Twitter @Schoology