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Teacher Appreciation Week

Empowerment Steps: Teacher Appreciation Week

This National Teacher Appreciation Week, your social media feed is probably blowing up with words of encouragement and support for America’s teachers.

It’s well-deserved. Anyone who has worked in a school knows just how hard K-12 teachers work every day–and yes, even during the summer.

But kind words only go so far.

Last week’s teacher demonstrations in North Carolina and South Carolina, along with other actions earlier this year in cities like Los Angeles and Denver, illustrate a growing frustration among K-12 educators, both in terms of pay and overall engagement.

Half of K-12 teachers feel ignored by their school-level leaders, according to a national survey by the Center on Education Policy. Worse still, more than 75 percent feel ignored on the district level. Unsurprisingly, teacher attrition is at an all-time high—costing K-12 schools $2.2 billion annually, according to an estimate by the Alliance for Excellent Education.    

This Teacher Appreciation Week offers a prime opportunity for school leaders to recommit to engaging and empowering their faculties to ensure they are being heard.

Here are four key steps–beyond kind words and social media posts–that school district leaders can take to fuel teacher and staff engagement.

1. Hire passionate teachers

In the midst of a massive teacher shortage, it may be tempting to hire anyone and everyone who is interested in open positions at your district. That’s a mistake.

Because of the many challenges facing the teaching profession, hiring teachers who may not be all-in on the mission of your schools will inevitably lead to a less engaged faculty.

“They’re not coming into this because it’s a job, but because they really do like kids—and they want to make a difference in the lives of kids by teaching them and nurturing them,” says Dan Domenech, executive director of AASA, the School Superintendents Association, describing the type of candidate that K-12 school leaders and hiring managers should strive for. “I never hired a teacher—or a principal, for that matter,” says Domenech, a former superintendent, “unless I had the sense that this was an individual who truly cared about kids, and this wasn’t just a job for them.”

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2. Make teacher training a priority

While teacher passion is essential, it needs to be supported by an understanding of how best to help students succeed in and out of the classroom.

Strong training goes beyond classroom tools and empowers teachers to understand students’ social and emotional needs.

“Professional learning must be embedded in the everyday work school leaders and teachers do to improve learning outcomes for students and the adults who work with them,” writes former AASA superintendent of the year, Dr. Philip Lanoue. “Professional development is a joint responsibility where school leaders serve as lead learners in a school culture that allows for risk-taking, which fuels innovation.”

3. Involve teachers in decision making

For teachers to truly be empowered, they need to know their voices are being heard.

To ensure teachers feel heard and valued, a growing number of school districts are embracing customer experience as a function of their HR departments.

Fort Bend ISD in Texas, for instance, launched Talent Connection. Powered by K12 Insight’s Let’s Talk! customer experience solution, the online portal allows employees and prospective employees to engage the district’s HR department in conversations about important topics, such as onboarding, employee records, or benefits.

Gwyn Touchet, Fort Bend ISD’s executive director of human resources, says the portal is fueling better engagement among teachers and staff.

“The frustration on our customers’ part, from long response times or misinformation has subsided,” she says. “We’re able to provide an exceptional experience, and our customers view our department more positively now.”

4. Make teachers feel appreciated

When it comes to teacher satisfaction, a little acknowledgement can go a long way.

“Acknowledge the great work that teachers do,” says AASA’s Domenech, “and thank them for their work. Recognize them at staff meetings and in front of the community. Consider how you can reward them for a job well done, such as with bonuses and incentives.”

To learn more about how to engage and empower teachers and staff in your school or district, check out K12 Insight’s white paper, “All together now: 4 keys to better teacher engagement.