The pandemic has really put a strain on educators, yet they continue to rise to the occasion on behalf of kids. This has come at a cost both mentally, socially, and physically. Something has to give. There has been a great deal of conversation lately about what can be taken off the plates of teachers. I have to commend those administrators who are working to find ways to put their staff more at ease in these challenging times. While removing specific responsibilities to reduce stress and anxiety is a great start, we must also consider what can be given to them to provide multifaceted support. Giving can be just as, if not more, powerful than taking away, which is typically the more straightforward option.
Below are some ideas that I have. Some are more doable than others, but all are realistic.
If there is one thing that teachers consistently ask for, it is time to plan, create videos, grade, conference with remote students, update the LMS, etc. I don't want to belabor this point as I recently wrote about the topic. You can view the post HERE. The main takeaway with time though is to develop ways to give it unconditionally to teachers and not schedule or mandate anything else in its place, such as meetings or PLC's.
Let's be honest for a minute. No one truly likes meetings, and the value of them is open to interpretation. I, for one, did not find value in them when I was a principal and eliminated most while reducing the time of the ones that were kept. Now I am not saying that all meetings don't have value, but while the pandemic rages on minutes and essential information can be emailed to staff or made part of a collaborative Google Doc.
Coaching and Feedback
There is a difference between wanting to be left alone and a desire to grow. The majority of educators fall into the latter. Even in the midst of challenging times, growth is necessary to meet the needs of diverse learners. Now is not the time to revert back to traditional observation and evaluation protocols because, quite frankly, they will not result in improved outcomes. Taking this away and replacing with non-evaluative strategies consisting of coaching and feedback will go a long way towards creating an empathetic environment.
It is unrealistic to try to cover the entire curriculum as educators are implementing hybrid models for the first time, and increasing COVID cases is forcing some schools back to remote learning. An emphasis on priority standards can significantly reduce teachers' burden while streamlining other pedagogy aspects, such as assessment. Other elements to consider are aligning formative tasks and checks for understanding to those prioritized standards so teachers can monitor the learning of students. In the end, more manageable conditions are created for teachers.
Grading grace periods
There is inequity when it comes to grading, as some subject areas require a great deal more time because of the nature of the content. Additionally, many teachers are still getting used to tasks and assessments in a hybrid environment. Even though deadlines are needed showing a little grace will always be appreciated.
Some districts and schools are hiring substitutes. Others are seeing their administrators offer their time and that of other non-teaching staff members. No matter the route taken, this strategy is sure to build up morale. There should be no catch when a class is covered, and it should be up to the teacher as to how he or she will use this opportunity to either grade, prepare lessons, attend professional learning, observe peers, or just put up their feet and relax.
Eliminate non-instructional duties
Many contracts have teachers assume a duty either during the school day or after. These can include cafeteria, hall, in-school suspension, extracurricular, or athletics, where there is no compensation. If possible, try to eliminate all of these. If you can't, consider developing a schedule where administrators and other support staff can fill them in lieu of teachers.
Choice in professional learning
Forcing educators to engage in one-size-fits-all professional development at this time will tend to be hit or miss depending on the person. Mostly miss as there is a definite need for practical strategies in the areas of remote, hybrid, and blended learning facilitated in practical ways. Growth and improvement are of vital importance, but it needs to be something that educators want to engage in at a time when there are so many challenges. Consider providing different choices such as face-to-face, virtual, blended, or asynchronous options. It is also wise to gather input from staff to determine what they feel is needed.
Communicate norms to families
One of the most common frustrations I hear from teachers when I am coaching is that they can't keep up with all parent emails that come in after school hours, mostly from remote learners and parents. I have gone as far as to recommend that teachers state they're out of office on their email each evening from 5:00 PM until 7:00 AM. Establishment of, and then clear communication of, norms can go a long way towards taking away some emails and messages, especially late at night and early in the morning. In Digital Leadership, I lay out the importance of using a multifaceted approach to meet stakeholders where they are while reinforcing the vital message at hand. Develop the norms with teachers and then "pound the pavement" with digital communications.
Mental health days
With a substitute shortage, this could be a bit dicey, but the overall impact far outweighs the short-lived frustration of covering classes in a pinch. Based on the size of a district or school, a determination can be made as to how many of these days can be realistically given to each teacher.
Empathetic leadership is critical to helping staff get through challenging times. Using a give and take strategy and lessening the burden will create a culture of empowerment. As people have different needs, it is crucial to consider various options as there is no one right way to help people at any point in time. Work to take things off educators' plates, but also consider what you can personally give. In the end, powerful relationships will be formed, and that benefits everyone.