A teacher who has served in positions ranging from long-term substitute to assistant principal has observed four common strategies employed by supportive school leaders.
I’ve worked in a variety of settings, ranging from long-term substitute teaching to serving as an assistant principal. So, over the last two decades, I’ve had the opportunity to observe a wide range of leadership styles. This also means that I’ve been exposed to numerous examples, readings, and discussions about administrators who supported teachers. Here are four characteristics I’ve noticed among school leaders who make faculty members feel supported.
1. HIGH VISIBILITY AND RECOGNITION
Be visible to everyone and know everyone’s name. Throughout the school day, supportive administrators are visible. They casually swing by classrooms to check on students and teachers, walk the halls, and interact with students during breaks before school, during recess, lunch, and after school. When they see faculty and staff, they greet them by name. When there is a problem, teachers have a good sense of the administrator and frequently assume good intentions. Being visible also helps to foster a sense of belonging.
Everyone is invited. When I was a long-term substitute for a few months, the principal brought me a lei to greet me on the first day and a lei to thank me for my hard work on the last day. These were small gestures, but they helped me feel included in the school community.
2. FOCUS ON AND STICK WITH HIGH-IMPACT STRATEGIES
Choose what will bring you the most profit. Typically, these strategies are determined by accreditation feedback, state and district mandates, or data compiled by the school’s leadership team, so there are numerous options. Supportive administrators understand how to condense high-impact strategies into a small number of manageable priorities. Once the strategies are determined, teachers are assigned specific times during the school day or week to concentrate solely on them.
Rather than following the latest trend, stick to tried-and-true strategies. Supportive administrators also continue to employ the same high-impact strategies over time (if the strategies are working). If a strategy is known to have a high impact but the majority of teachers aren’t implementing it and administrators don’t intend to abandon it, it’s critical to address why it’s not being implemented. If, on the other hand, new mandates come from above, school-level administrators can set priorities while sticking to tried-and-true strategies.
As these strategies are implemented over time, faculty are able to identify them, provide evidence of their use, and explain how they work. Because they are all working together, this fosters a sense of belonging and community among faculty.
3. GIVE PURPOSE TO DATA COLLECTION
Connect high-impact strategies to education and certification. Most educational institutions are subject to an accreditation process, which typically consists of a committee reviewing the institution’s level of quality through a report, a campus visit, and various interviews with administrators, faculty, and students. Data collection can feel endless and burdensome for teachers. One way to streamline the process is to link data collection to accreditation.
After a professional development (PD) session or series, for example, have teachers within a department or team compile student work, captions, and reflections in a shared document (my school uses Google Slides). Then, use this material as evidence for accreditation as well as the dissemination of high-impact strategies that have a positive impact on student learning. This digital data collection process can be repeated for each PD session or series and used as a digital gallery walk for additional professional learning.
When administrators connect the dots from accreditation to professional development to data collection, they respect teachers’ time and give the impression that administrators understand and support them.
4. HONOR TIME, SHARE AGENDAS, AND COMMUNICATE EFFICIENTLY
If feedback is not required, send an email. Administrative meetings compete with individualized education programs, data teams, professional learning committees, cross-curricular planning meetings, and much more, according to supportive administrators. If a meeting is only needed to share basic information, an email can suffice. It is not necessary to hold a meeting simply because the schedule states that faculty meetings are held on Mondays in the cafeteria.
Agendas must be submitted at least 24 hours in advance. Furthermore, sharing a meeting agenda is critical for administrators to demonstrate that they truly value teachers’ input. How can teachers be prepared to share their thoughts or look up relevant information on an agenda item if it isn’t given to them at least 24 hours in advance? It’s a practical way to demonstrate to teachers that you value what they have to say.
Make a weekly schedule spreadsheet with hyperlinks. Nobody wants to receive more emails than is absolutely necessary. One way to streamline your digital communications is to keep a running weekly document with links in it. This schedule should be sent early on Monday morning, with the most important information and documents hyperlinked by day.
The faculty agenda, for example, is included in the Monday listing, along with links to a staff memo. Tuesday includes links to department meeting reminders and a document where students can submit evidence. On Wednesday, there is a link to a faculty survey. Thursday sends out a simple reminder about a school event, and Friday sends out the testing schedule as well as a link to an online meeting where teachers can join a specific session with a testing coordinator. Put the current week at the top of the document for maximum efficiency. Faculty birthdays could be added at the bottom of each day to make it more interesting.
Teachers will know to check the weekly agenda doc before sending an email once this method is established.