Unprecedented. This is the word that has been buzzing around our nation for months as we battle the COVID-19 pandemic. Many businesses, services, and entities have had to rethink how to operate, even reinventing themselves. Some have had to make the gut-wrenching decision to close or end their services permanently.
While schools do not have the option of closing permanently or to not offer services, they do have the task of rethinking how they operate. Many school leaders are posing such questions as: Do we offer online learning only? Should we have the option of face-to-face learning? How do we keep our students and staff safe on campus? Will parents be satisfied with our reopening plan? All great questions to ponder, but I have another question to add that may not have made the school leader list: How do we effectively support our teachers as they teach during this unprecedented time?
Teachers are returning to the classroom with more than just the usual back-to-school worries on their minds. Some have lost loved ones to COVID-19; some have overcome the virus themselves; some have children of their own who they are deciding learning options for; and some have households who have been affected financially due to the pandemic, all while trying to figure out how to be the best teacher they can for their students. Now, more than ever, teachers need to feel supported and appreciated.
As school leaders make decisions about what is expected of their teachers this school year, here are some considerations to keep in mind:
- Listen. Have an open ear to listen to how teachers are really feeling and what they are facing. What are the fears, concerns, and obstacles in their way? Great teachers have a desire to do what’s best for their students, so find out what teachers need to continue to “be great” this year. Create a forum where teachers can express themselves without the fear of reprimand. Let teachers know that you genuinely care, and that we are all in this together!
- Be flexible. Usually, it is school leaders asking teachers to be flexible—but in this case, it’s the other way around. Consider giving teachers the option of teaching from home if possible. If all students in a building are learning from home, teachers could also teach from home. Be flexible, but not lax, with the teacher dress code. If wearing jeans daily helps them to feel more comfortable and protected while teaching, go for it! Be considerate of deadlines and requirements. Teachers have different levels of comfort with technology and with how they are dealing with COVID-19. Some teachers may want to do everything virtually and not come in contact with anyone, while others may want to turn in some things on paper just to see a friendly face in person.
While schools do not have the option of closing permanently or to not offer services, they do have the task of rethinking how they operate.
Teacher, Legends Academy Charter
- Implement a teacher mentorship program. Many schools already have a system in place where veteran teachers serve as mentors to beginning teachers. They meet and check in with each other often to sharpen instructional skills and build camaraderie. With the demands of remote teaching and other COVID-19 worries, having a “teacher buddy” can be really helpful—someone they can bounce ideas off of, but also someone with whom to express anxieties. This can help teachers stay connected and help ease stress as they tackle teaching during this pandemic. Build a unified community of colleagues!
- Show appreciation. Don’t wait until May to show appreciation to teachers! A little appreciation can go a long way in keeping morale high and burnout low. Showing appreciation can be in the form of tangible gifts, or it can be shown in others ways, like getting to leave work early, scheduling a meeting that is purely for celebrating each other, or giving “shout-outs” on the school’s website, newsletter, or social media page.
So, how do we effectively support our teachers as they teach during this unprecedented time? Ultimately, just be there for them. Let teachers know that you see their efforts, understand their frustrations, and value them.
To learn how schools can better support teachers of color, visit our Research Map topic page summarizing the latest research on recruiting and retaining teachers of color, written in collaboration with educator, instructional coach, and Teachers of Color Advisory Council member Monique Belin.