Dear School Leaders: Advice from Teachers
Do you ever wonder what your teachers are really thinking? We asked teachers across the nation, who are students and alums of Concordia’s College of Education, to share honest advice with hardworking school leaders like you.
“Listen more than you speak and do not be afraid to think outside of the box.” – Pat
“Leadership is about being a change agent, and the only way you can do so, in my opinion, is being an active listener so you can hear and address the needs of your learning community and coach your learning community on things that will make them more productive and effective.” – Jamal
“Be visible and genuine with your staff and students – they will never care how much you know until they know how much you care.” – Jamie
“Listen to us. We are in the trenches; we know what we are talking about. Then, check on us. See if we can use the help or if our idea is working.” – Christa
“Remember that everyone has something they can teach YOU.” – Maria
“Ask for teacher input. We want to feel valued and heard.” – Amanda
“Never start a meeting with your personal agenda or demands – start the meetings with the question ‘What can I do to help you or the team?’” – Josh
Create a strong, connected school culture
“Actually get to know your staff. Jeans days don’t make up for poor relationships and bad morale.” – Jenny
“Transparency is vital when building relationships with your staff.” – Auz’annette
“Be clear about your expectations, be timely with your feedback, and show your appreciation with small gestures of thanks. A little note or a simple thank you goes a long way in creating a positive culture.” – Jenna
Lead with positivity and purpose
“Everyone from students, families, and staff are watching you. Whether you are standing in the gap for those without voices or demonstrating positive leadership behaviors, you are being watched. Lead with the reminder that your legacy will remain after you are no longer serving in that space. What impact will you leave for the world to say who you are?” – Zakiya
“As teachers, we do not want you to solve our problems, but we want to talk them out sometimes. Look for the things that your teachers do well and compliment them on it. Help them reach their full potential.” – Sherry
“Don’t expect your staff to act a certain way or implement certain strategies if you are not going to do the same.” – Towana
“Be humble and know that it is okay to ask for help.” – Liz
“Figure out how to effectively serve others. That is true leadership.” – Joy
“Use a student-first focus to decipher presenting issues that may actually be more about adult adjustment problems than they are about students. Continually re-evaluate your system through consist data analysis, frequent requests for feedback across your various stakeholder groups, and community-needs assessments. Wake up every day ready to be a change agent and move forward fiercely in the pursuit of advocacy for your students!” – Emily
“Always do what’s right, even when that means making the tough calls. Stay true to why we are there – to do what’s best for kids! Never compromise your values or your ethics just to stay in a position. Lately, I’ve seen too many leaders being asked to do this (myself included).” – Melissa
“Be consistent, especially with discipline.” – Brandi
“Remember that at the end of the day, we are all here to support students. That’s the mantra we should be holding in our minds every day.” – Brad
Learn from different approaches
“Take time to understand the process teachers are using. They may be doing things differently from how you would; take a moment to understand why. You may learn something new from them.” – Deanna
“Respect the professionals you have hired to know what is appropriate at each grade level. Be available to support them in their quest for knowledge.” – Tina
“Take a genuine interest in your teacher’s recommendations and concerns. Embrace different and new styles to problem solve. That encourages creativity within education!” – Melissa
“Surround yourself with people whose strengths are your weaknesses.” – Kristen
“An open-door policy means an open-mind policy.” – Brita
Keep the teacher perspective top of mind
“Take a walk in your staff’s shoes, be aware of the challenges they face, and support them by being part of the solution.” – Jennifer
“Be evenly yoked with your teaching staff…balance necessity with the progressive urge to drop more programs on teachers!” – Andy
“Don’t be afraid to visit the classrooms and observe so you can really get a sense of how classrooms are being run as that will help you help the teachers.” – Brittany
“If you have not been in the classroom in more than four-five years, stop saying ‘When I was a teacher….’ Learn what’s new, how it works, and walk the walk with your teachers.” – Martha
“Don’t forget the struggle. So often leadership seems to forget the mountain of responsibilities hoisted on teachers. They forget that beyond the bureaucracy still lies the true intent behind education…to harness a love of education in our future generations and help them take over where we’ve left off.” – Marsha
Be a clear communicator
“Make sure that you explain expectations clearly.” – Katie
“Create a clear and concise manner of communication. Many issues that create barriers in the learning environment are a result of some flaw in communication — whether it be that something was not communicated at all, communicated incorrectly, or it was not communicated well enough for everyone.” – Andre-MarQuis
“People need to know that you are a helpful person, not a wall that must be broken down.” – John
Get feedback from your staff
If you want more input from your own staff but don’t want to ask a question and then hear crickets or a few responses from the same people, here are some different methods to test out.
- Try conducting an anonymous, live poll during your next staff meeting. It’s best to stick to one or two pointed questions so that everyone stays focused on one specific program or challenge. Use the feedback to create a plan of action together or in a small committee.
- Put an idea box outside of your office to collect responses about ways to improve school culture or how to best implement a new district-wide initiative. Review responses at the end of each week and discuss these ideas with the staff to acknowledge each voice and factor them in when decisions are made.
- Send out the staff meeting’s agenda in advance so that staff members have the option to come prepared with responses. This is especially helpful for those who may be more introverted and prefer to have time to prepare a response in advance.
- Be aware of who you hear from often and who you don’t. Each week, try to connect with at least a few teachers who may not speak up or contact you often, but who obviously still have ideas worth sharing and challenges they’re facing. A quick chat, a note of appreciation, or an email checking in (followed by a prompt response from you) can go a long way.