It’s no secret that teacher burnout has become a massive issue in the education industry today. At a time when education and childcare services have been hard hit by the pandemic, teachers have already endured a long struggle to cope with an increase in workload, understaffing, and shifting pandemic challenges that make it difficult to teach effectively.
With more than half of teachers contemplating quitting, it’s clear that what they need now more than ever is increased support. The 2020 Consensus Study Report on Changing Expectations for the K-12 Teacher Workforce by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine found that the most important factor relating to teacher job satisfaction and retention is the network of social relationships fostered in the workplace.
If cultivated thoughtfully, the relationships built among colleagues, between teachers and school leadership, and promoted by school culture can provide the support system that teachers need to navigate today’s unique challenges. By finding ways to encourage growth through collaboration, institutions can reduce turnover, improve teacher satisfaction, and help boost student achievement.
Here are 5 ways to foster those relationships:
Increase Support for new teachers
Supporting the career of new teachers is one of the most effective ways to promote long-term growth in schools. Here are a couple of ways schools can accomplish that:
Introduce mentorship programs
Burnout can be particularly problematic for new teachers who have not yet gained the experience or developed the robust set of relevant teaching skills that make them well-equipped to face new challenges in the classroom.
Some of the best resources available to them are more experienced colleagues. One way to ensure that new teachers can reap the benefits of this wealth of knowledge is to introduce a mentorship program that pairs new and experienced teachers.
There are several benefits to encouraging such collegial relationships:
- New teachers get personalized, one-on-one attention and feedback
- Experienced staff members are able to track the progress of new teachers over time
- Experienced teachers continue to learn and grow by evaluating new teaching methods
- The program structure and activities can be flexible and tailored to the needs of school staff
- Improvement in the quality of both teaching and mentorship in the school
Here are some ways for teachers to take part in mentorship:
- Work together to create an individualized set of growth goals
- Have regular teaching observations and feedback sessions (either where the mentee observes the mentor, vice versa, or both)
- Meet regularly to discuss teaching goals, challenges, and methods, where mentors provide feedback and coaching as well as emotional support and encouragement
Implement induction programs
While mentorship programs can be a very effective tool, they’re best implemented as part of a larger induction program for new teachers.
In addition to mentorship programs, induction programs for new teachers can include:
- Teaching orientation that instructs teachers in school policies, procedures, and educational goals
- Regularly arranged informal peer observations across a variety of levels, disciplines, and colleague experience
- Continued professional development support from leadership (which can entail workshops, colleague collaboration opportunities, mentoring, etc.)
- Opportunities to expand qualifications through a more formalized credentialing opportunity
- A built-in professional network of other new teachers
- Regular teaching evaluations
Run Teacher Trainings and Workshops
Holding regular teacher trainings and workshops is a great way to offer professional development, support teachers, and work towards solutions for specific issues that teachers and/or students are experiencing.
The challenge of running successful trainings or workshops is in making sure that they’re effective, engaging, and relevant to the teachers involved. When workshops or trainings fail to make an impact, it’s often because teachers don’t feel that their needs are being addressed.
To make sure these events are productive, it’s best to get teachers involved and to make the events as specific and tailored as possible. Here are some ways to ensure teachers get the most out of their professional development opportunities:
- Start by asking teachers what they would like to see addressed in a training or workshop
- Have a clear goal set as well as an evaluative process to measure the outcome
- If there are faculty with experience and expertise in these areas, ask them to be involved in hosting and teaching the event
- Plan smaller, more frequent, and more in-depth trainings/workshops for the faculty the material is relevant to (leaving attendance open to others), rather than mandating semi-regular events with a broad scope for all teachers
- Use varied teaching methods and activities to keep teachers engaged and involved
- Get feedback from teachers at the end of the event
- Host follow-up sessions that will:
- Provide an opportunity to measure outcomes and evaluate success in reaching the goal set
- Allow teachers to share their experiences in applying new methods or strategies in the classroom and discuss what is or what is not working
- Present the opportunity to collectively troubleshoot challenges that arise
Encourage Teacher Collaboration
Teacher collaboration is the most effective way for teachers to build a network of professional relationships that will support their growth and learning, individually as well as collectively. Effective teacher collaboration can, in turn, have a significant positive impact on student learning and attendance.
Collaboration among teachers can take many forms and structures to address student and teacher needs within various levels or disciplines. Some common collaborative structures include Professional Learning Communities (PLCs), teacher communities, critical friend groups, and common planning time.
Teachers rarely have additional time outside of work to devote to professional development, so it’s important for administrators to support teachers by providing time during the week and month for collaborative efforts to take place.
Topics for collaboration are equally open-ended. They can be:
- Discipline-focused: teachers discuss, assess, and coordinate strategies to teach the curriculum, collaborating to create common resources and materials
- Student-focused: teachers work together to find ways to address the needs of specific students, track student progress, and share effective classroom management strategies
- Results-oriented: teachers evaluate student ability and progress through reviewing student assessments and finding ways to adjust and improve teaching methods accordingly
An additional area of focus could revolve around how teaching methods and students' needs have changed as a result of the pandemic.
For example, this could include issues like: how to remain flexible and adaptable as schools undergo closures or changing restrictions, how to effectively implement new teaching methods, including online teaching, and how to identify and meet student needs.
The effectiveness of teacher collaboration can be heightened by discussing not only the adaptation of teaching methods but also the reasoning behind the adaptations. This framing and shift in focus encourage educators to engage and think critically in order to deeply understand their teaching practices, rather than to simply adopt someone else’s.
Diversify Professional Development Opportunities
Providing a diverse range of professional development opportunities will keep teachers engaged, interested, and actively participating. While training, workshops, mentorship programs, and collaboration efforts are all wonderful tools, they also require significant effort from the teachers to implement.
It’s also important to provide teachers with external stimulation by encouraging interaction with a broader range of professionals and developmental resources. This will give teachers a chance to expand their professional network, gain new experiences, and encounter fresh perspectives, all of which will help to invigorate their teaching.
Here are a few ways to incorporate more diverse professional development opportunities:
- Start regularly inviting guest speakers to present to teachers during lunch, encouraging active discussion
- Keep track of education conferences occurring and encourage teacher attendance (if multiple teachers realistically cannot attend, perhaps one or two attendees would be willing to share what they learned in a workshop or presentation)
- Start an account for an online learning platform that allows teachers to access new courses and pursue their own development at their own pace
- Collaborate with surrounding schools to organize events geared at teacher collaboration and exchange
Lastly, one of the most simple ways to support teachers is to provide encouragement through recognition. Doing so will give teachers greater confidence, will reassure new teachers who may be struggling and will make the faculty feel seen and appreciated.
Here are some suggestions for ways to recognize your teachers:
- Celebrate teacher of the month
- Designate a space to devote to one teacher at a time and encourage their students to leave notes of recognition, appreciation, or gratitude
- Present awards to teachers during assemblies using fun categories (“most creative teacher”, “funniest stories”) which can be awarded by student vote, faculty vote, or both
- Provide an appreciation lunch
- Tell them when they’re doing a good job; explaining what you think they’re doing well and what impact it has will go a long way towards making teachers feel like their efforts are valued and worthwhile
Making conscious efforts to show appreciation for all the work that teachers do will contribute to a school culture in which building strong relationships and supporting one another is central, which is key to promoting the kind of growth and teamwork that bring about positive change.
Corissa Joy Peterson is a Content Writer and Resume Expert at Resume Genius, where she loves equipping others with the tools they need to pursue their dreams. She graduated from the University of Colorado at Boulder with a degree in Philosophy and a certificate in Peace and Conflict Studies.