It’s National Teacher Appreciation Week—time to celebrate the work of America’s K-12 educators and their vital importance to our society.
But, as K-12 school leaders and communities look for creative ways to honor teachers in the the age of COVID-19, they face an uphill battle.
Twenty-four percent of teachers responding to a recent Education Week Research Center survey said their morale was lower than before the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s up from 16 percent who felt the same way in mid-March.
Effectively engaging teachers is a perpetual challenge for K-12 leaders — the teacher attrition rate sits around eight percent. But, the unique obstacles presented by COVID-19 — including issues with technology, increased student truancy or disengagement, the potential for education budget cuts, and the isolation of working from home—make it more difficult for school leaders to promote teacher enthusiasm. According to the Ed Week survey, 80 percent of responding teachers say teaching is more stressful now than before the pandemic.
While we honor America’s teachers this week, effectively engaging and supporting our teachers should be a continuous endeavor, especially now.
Here are three key strategies your school district should implement to ensure teachers feel engaged, appreciated, and empowered in the age of COVID-19, and always.
1. Communicate better
School leaders must learn to communicate effectively with their teachers about everything, from how long schools will be closed, to where students can get meals, to navigating the challenges surrounding remote and distance learning. But effective communication isn’t just about getting your message out.
To help streamline communication and listen to other members of their school communities, including teachers and staff, several of our school district partners recently launched their own virtual COVID-19 Response Centers, reliable online destinations to ask questions and raise concerns and seek up-to-date information about schools during the pandemic.
It’s important to give teachers a way to openly share their experiences and concerns—and to provide honest, helpful feedback. A commitment to listening and responding limits fear and anxiety and keeps your team focused on the challenges in front of them.
2. Rethink PD and training
According to EdWeek, 80 percent of teachers say they spend more time responding to technology-related questions and concerns. Hardly a surprise, given the recent emphasis on distance learning in schools. Does your district provide teachers with training and coaching to help them either directly respond to or skillfully process any technology-related questions?
In the same EdWeek survey, 75 percent of the teachers reported spending more time overall communicating with parents since COVID closed school buildings. This uptick in communication between teachers and families creates its share of challenges, but it’s also an opportunity to strengthen a critical and sometimes underserved aspect of the traditional school-home relationship.
Virtual trainings (like our Leading by Reassuring webinar series) give front-line staff the confidence they need to bring people together and lead in times of change and uncertainty. Is your school or district working to provide access to new forms of training and professional learning for teachers? If learning doesn’t happen the same way in our school, teaching doesn’t either.
3. Make teacher appreciation a community effort
It’s easy to talk about teacher appreciation one week of the year. But the truly forward-thinking districts view teacher appreciation as ongoing and continuous.
Take The School District of Osceola County in Florida. The district’s Share Your Great initiative encourages community members to share inspirational people, powerful movements, heartwarming stories and the hard work of district educators. District staff review each submission and post them to the website and on social media.
“One of the challenges we all face in education,” says superintendent Dr. Debra Pace, “is the negative perceptions of public education and public educators. One of our strategic plan initiatives —community engagement —was not just about getting more people involved in our schools, but about really working to change the perception of education in Osceola County.”
All this week, Chesapeake Public Schools in Virginia is collecting online messages of appreciation and encouragement for teachers from community members that they will share on social media throughout the week. They’re also encouraging students and parents to hang paper apples in their window as a symbol of their support. Chesapeake schools has also set up their own virtual COVID-19 Response Center.
What are you doing this year to promote teacher appreciation?
Looking to develop a remote teacher appreciation program in your district this year? Our COVID-19 Response Center can help you build employee morale while gearing up for a return to school? Sign up here and get started today.