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In an attempt to share some of the inspiration for leaders, teachers, students in schools I will try to blog some posts. They may not be mine however, they are reflective of my thoughts and beliefs about education.

The following post is from one of the talented principals in my school at AISJ: Andy Ferguson

“The best morale exists when you never hear the word mentioned.  When you hear a lot of talk about it, it’s usually lousy.”  Dwight Eisenhower

This seems like a good time of the school year to write the topic of morale.  I want to do this because as I was speaking with a colleague this week, the topic of morale came up.  Staff morale in our school is something I pay attention to and I am conscious of.   I am also aware of the role I play as a school leader in impacting morale, whether it be keeping it high or perhaps at times, contributing to morale being lower.  At present, whether it is the time of the school year…after a long haul and just prior to a break…or the busyness of our school in general, I am conscious people are probably feeling the need to “dig a bit deeper” to get into their work at present.  I hope that the levity of Spirit Week this week is well timed to lift morale a little higher.

I have to try to remain conscious of feelings related to morale in our school because it is incumbent upon leaders to work hard and to make decisions that keep people happy about coming to work.  Why?  Simply put, if you are not happy coming to work, there is no way that you are going to be your best for kids.  The research is pretty clear that teacher morale and student achievement are related.  Here is a good read that validates this thinking – “happy teachers = happy kids.”

School leaders must be invested in pursuing ways to keep morale high or improve it when it is low.   If morale is suffering so is student learning and no leader (or teacher for that matter) should be satisfied with that.  Something else about my own leadership as it relates to morale is how absolutely essential it is for me to show empathy and acknowledge the feelings of others.  I realize that I may not always fully understand or be able to relate to the circumstances that causes people’s morale and feelings about their work to be low, but I also know that I can’t be dismissive of those feelings either.  I read an article a few years back in Educational Leadership entitled, “What to Do When Your School’s in a Bad Mood?” by Megan Tschannen-Moran and Bob Tschannen-Moran.  The authors repeatedly remind those in leadership to be completely attuned to recognizing the needs of others.  As the authors state, “These needs may include the need for recognition and acknowledgment, respect, harmony, and self-efficacy, or the need for a sense of meaning and purpose.  Although different people have different strategies for meeting these needs, the needs themselves are what we hold in common and what we can create a basis for empathy.”

Finally, leaders charged with keeping spirits high and creating a workplace that feels positive must take care to manage their own emotions and show up each day with positive energy, spirit, and presence.  Is that asking a lot at times?  As has been pointed out to me in my annual faculty surveys, I know that I have not always managed stress and emotion in the way that I would have liked to.  That said, I hope that on most days, the energy and mood that I have conveyed has been one that is perceived as upbeat.  I know that I can’t ask you to continually put on a good face in trying times if I am not willing to do the same.  And let’s be honest, on most days it should be pretty easy to feel upbeat and positive about being here.

Which leads me to my last two points about morale.  The first is that boosting and/or maintaining morale is not just incumbent upon school leaders.  The morale of the school is the responsibility of all community members. It is not something one set of people (read: the Administration) does to another.  Rather, it is a feeling that is cultivated by the way each of us approaches our work each day, the moods we give off to one another, and ultimately how we choose to deal with setbacks, decisions, or events that upset us.  Another great article in that same issue of Educational Leadership is “Can’t Wait for Monday.”  In this one, the focus is on the role teachers have in keeping their own morale and the morale of colleagues high.  One strategy, teachers appreciating teachers, is a good one.  It’s not just the role of the administrator to show recognition and acknowledgement.  When teachers see other teachers doing good, they should make an effort to say something.  I know that there are good things happening in our school each and every day.   I ask that you seek these good things out and find ways to show appreciation for your colleagues as often as you can.

The second point from the Can’t Wait Until Monday” article is a simple message – when your morale starts to slip take a second look and remember why we all got into this profession to begin with.  Consider what many teachers in public or government schools across the globe face every day.    In these environments, teaching can be frustrating, discouraging, “bang your head against the wall,” kind of work.  Many public or government schools are environments where high poverty, high truancy, severe disciplinary problems, and overcrowded classrooms are the norm.  These are typically also work environments where teachers do not always have a voice in how things should be done.  Mandates comes down from on high – from the federal and state level – and are expected to be adhered to even if the good teachers know that these expectations are far removed from what they know is best for kids.

You want to talk about heroic work?  This is it.  So, how do the outstanding teachers who stay and work in school districts like these keep doing it?  The answer is simple – they do it for the kids because at the end of the day, it’s the kids that drew them to the profession to begin with.  Teachers with high morale have it because they know the work that they are doing is heroic and that each day is a day in which they have an opportunity to change lives for the better.  In spite of everything else, that is work that you have got to feel good about.  So, the next time your spirits are low and your work is something that perhaps you are not feeling good about, take a second look.  Frankly speaking, we’re not teaching in public school settings.  We have a “dream job” compared to what those teachers are up against.  It’s really important to recognize that.  It’s also important to recognize that we do share at least one thing in common with those teachers – the opportunity to cultivate hearts and minds on a daily basis.  Keep your eye on that prize.  It’s a worthy one.

Here is the link to the “Can’t Wait Until Monday” article.  It’s a good read.

Finally, I have left you with two more links to terrific articles about workplace satisfaction.  The first is entitled “An Open Letter on Teacher Morale.” The second link is to an article entitled, “Creating the Best Workplace on Earth.”  I encourage you to read that one if nothing else.

Have a great week ahead and thank you for all that you do to help make the Middle School a positive place to be.

Tara Barton

Tara brings passion and a deep understanding of service learning, rooted in years of experience, to her training. Her training builds bridges from theory to implementation while generously sharing her resources and knowledge to ensure our success. Tara works with the whole school (administration, teachers, students, and SL leaders) to build a sustainable program that is embedded in the curriculum and tied to the mission. She energized a faculty on a Friday afternoon, no easy feat, leaving them with a desire to learn more about SL and to become more involved. I cannot recommend Tara highly enough.

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