As a principal, I always say that spring is a season of opportunity: It’s a time to make our students feel proud of their growth and inspired to achieve even more. But we leaders know that this time of year can feel tiring for teachers. Spring break is behind us, our end-of-year goals are top of mind, and our teams are working so hard to support our students in meeting high expectations. That’s why right now, I’m focused on bringing energy and inspiration to my team, by finding ways to show them: “Because you do incredible work, your students can reach incredible heights.”
Even before this pandemic, 51% of the students in my district were eligible for free or reduced lunch, and homelessness in our area was almost double the national average. Many of our students carry generational trauma, and now they’re carrying pandemic trauma – and yet my team and I cannot give them a sense of lowered expectations. I’m committed to making every student feel capable of tremendous growth and to providing what they need to grow. I rely on John Hattie’s research here, which has shown that we leaders can promote significant, sustained growth for our students by making sure our teams believe that (1) they have the skills and support to make a difference for students, and (2) students have the ability to achieve success. That’s why this spring, as our teams push through fatigue to inspire student growth, I believe it’s vital for us to keep teachers connected with those two beliefs – and keep them feeling inspired and supported.
Here are two steps I take to show my team what a difference they’ve already made for our students – and build motivation for the work ahead:
1. Celebrating the educator effort behind student outcomes
Our students have grown so much, despite constantly shifting learning conditions – and life disruptions – and we’re all looking forward to celebrating their success at the end of the year. In the meantime, I can’t wait until the end of the year to show my team how much their work matters – I need to celebrate them now! That’s why I’m digging into our outcomes from the past year and showing teachers exactly how their efforts lead to student success. I take time in staff meetings to highlight a student’s progress and to shout out their teacher. I might say, “Here’s a kid who was missing a lot of class earlier in the year, and we can see those absences were taking a toll. But because you kept making phone calls and building a deeper connection with their family, now they’re here every day – and look at how they’re succeeding. You’re really making a difference to this student.”
2. Renewing teacher energy for end-of-year goals
I want educators to feel excited about supporting students to expand their knowledge and demonstrate their growth. That’s why I’m being very intentional about encouraging my team to take pride in leveraging their shared expertise for our students’ benefit. I’m connecting with the teachers in each grade to make them feel recognized for all they’re doing – and to renew their energies for the remaining weeks ahead. For example, this year we decided to make student conferencing a central part of our reading program, though it hasn’t been easy for teachers to sustain those conferences through instructional shifts and pandemic difficulties. I recently sat down with our fourth-grade team and told them, “I know this structure has been challenging, but there are only five kids here who haven’t attained the mastery goal we set. That’s an incredible achievement on your part – and that’s why I know we can create a plan to get these five students where they need to be.”
This hasn’t been an easy year and it’s natural for educators’ energies to dip – but seeing proof of students’ growth can restore morale and motivation. I’m focused on helping my team stay connected with the convictions that drive our shared work – and with the difference they make every day. These last weeks of learning offer us leaders and our teams a chance to look at what each student needs to meet milestones and find ways to provide it. The more we can sustain and support our teachers, the more we can empower our students to finish the year with a sense of accomplishment and joy.
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