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Update: Teachers Seek More Than a Paycheck

It’s National Teacher Appreciation Week.

This is a time for students and parents across the country to express their appreciation for the teachers in their lives.

As one student says about her teacher in a new video from Edutopia, teachers do far more than just teach lessons. They’re also a source of support and encouragement for students who vitally need both. “He kind of believes in me unconditionally, so that it’s way easier to believe in yourself.” Check out the full video:

School leaders, too, are using this week to voice their gratitude to the teachers who make their schools successful every day. Through social media messages, letters, and special celebrations, administrators are making it clear how indebted they are to their faculties.

But, as we wrote back in February, in the face of a serious teacher shortage and significant teacher attrition rate, school leaders can—and must—do more to make teachers feel appreciated, supported, and empowered to do their best work:

The 8-percent national teacher attrition rate is proof that schools need to do more to boost teacher morale. While compensation and benefits are important, school district leaders know they can’t pay for teacher satisfaction, says Bradley Busch, a British psychologist and director at the mental skills training company Inner Drive.

Teachers and their employers both have a role to play when it comes to workforce satisfaction, Busch writes in The Guardian. He outlines several ways that teachers can keep a positive mindset, and he suggests ways that school and district leaders can contribute to the positive workplace vibes by focusing on personal satisfaction, professional fulfillment, and health and well-being.

As we thank our public school teachers, let’s take another look at some of the ways school leaders can support teacher and staff satisfaction and boost morale.

1. Help teachers connect

“Spending time with others and forming meaningful relationships makes people happier,” writes Busch.

While teaching can sometimes feel like a solitary endeavor, no teacher is ultimately successful without the support and inspiration of colleagues and leaders.

Young teachers, especially millennials, say they desire a strong team ethic and school environments where leaders double as coaches.

Team building expert and former teacher Sean Glaze says the worst thing schools can do is make educators feel as if they are teaching on an island.

“The greatest resource that teachers have is other teachers,” Glaze writes in Edutopia. But we know they often don’t reach out to other teachers because they don’t have enough time or feel it won’t help.

That’s why the onus is on school leaders to encourage collaboration. Glaze suggests weekly or monthly show-and-tells where teachers can learn from the work of others. Team building exercises offer another good collaboration opportunity.

If nothing else, Glaze says school leaders should set the tone for teamwork by interacting regularly with faculty and encouraging open conversations among staff.

2. Remember, work-life balance matters

Nothing is more valuable than someone’s time, writes Busch. Not even money.

To many outsiders, teachers have it made: seven-hour days, 180 days of teaching a year, summers off. What’s there to complain about?

But we all know what a teacher’s real schedule looks like: 10-16 hour days, and summers dedicated to training and prep work.

That’s one reason why teacher burnout is such a threat to school success.

Do you encourage teachers to take time for themselves, inside and outside of school? Do you offer time management and stress relief training as part of your professional development?

Helping teachers manage their time while they’re in school could help reduce the stress caused by early starts and long days.

3. Give teachers a cause

Few motivations are more powerful than an altruistic sense of mission or purpose.

Busch writes that experiences and memories can have a much greater impact on employees in the long run than material gains.

Teachers become teachers because they want to make a difference in the lives of young people. When they feel stressed or overwhelmed, they need to be reminded of the reasons they entered the profession in the first place.

When you set goals, make sure they connect back to their passion for educating students. Make sure your teachers understand how those goals contribute to student success. And make sure teachers and other staff have input into what those goals are and how they are achieved.

How are you showing appreciation for teachers in your district? What other steps do you think districts can take to boost teacher morale? Tell us in the comments.