A friend, who works in education, recently told me that 50 principals, in a nearby school district of 209 schools, are planning to quit this year. That is almost 25% of the district’s leaders quitting in one year.
It is not breaking news that teachers are struggling. According to Education Week, “More than a quarter of teachers and principals reported experiencing symptoms of depression… Nearly three quarters of teachers and 85 percent of principals said they were experiencing frequent job-related stress, compared with only a third of working adults.” No wonder so many want to quit.
In President Biden’s 2023 State of the Union he called for more mental health resources in schools for both students and educators. A new bipartisan bill maps out improved mental health support for teachers, principals and administrators.
But what does this actually look like; what can we do to help these teachers and administrators who are almost three times as stressed and burnt out as the rest of us? Showing appreciation with homemade cookies and a crayon-drawn card, albeit lovely, is not going to move the needle with our educators and administrators in this climate. So we interviewed a handful of educators and administrators in our HB EDU network to find out what teachers want – what they really, really want – to feel better.
“Ask us what we need and really listen when we explain.”
This is advice we give the CEOs and senior-level executives we coach all the time. Even if you cannot give your employees everything they want, it is important to give them the chance to ask for it. We always encourage bosses to ask their employees what is working, what isn’t, what they like about their jobs, and what they don’t. Most bosses don’t want to hear the truth so they avoid asking, and most employees don’t feel safe telling that truth. But here is the thing, being heard is important. Giving your employees the time and space to be honest goes a long way. Even if you cannot change things immediately, you are conveying that you value their needs. Also, if you know what your team is concerned about, you will be much more likely to try to fix it than if you never knew.
“Take tasks off our plates rather than continuously adding.”
This year, we have been recommending our educational institutions have “ditch” meetings where everyone identifies items on their to-do list and in their job description that they can ditch. Responsibilities piled high during the pandemic; teachers and educators were constantly adding things to their job descriptions. Let’s peel back that onion and get them focused on the core priorities again.
“Give us support for our personal lives and well-being.”
When teachers feel supported and happy in their personal lives, they are better teachers. They will have more reserves to pull from as it is hard for them to nurture others when they are not ok themselves. Teachers often know they are struggling but may not be able to articulate what they need. This is where HB EDU comes in. As expert coaches for educational organizations, we know that it is transformative to ask educators to identify the areas of their life that are the most stressful, have them write out the dream for what those areas could instead look like, then help them break down all of the obstacles in the way. Doing this makes them feel so much more empowered. Research shows that teachers want professional development that is not attached to the classroom, they want help to decompress, connect, and enrich their own lives.
There is your lesson plan for Teacher Appreciation week: the three things teachers really want and need to ditch their struggle and dream again.