Whether you recognize it for a day or a week, it’s that time of year: teacher appreciation. If you’re an elementary teacher, I apologize; you’re probably thinking, “Don’t remind me. I’ve eaten so many baked goods, I feel a little queasy.” Secondary teachers, your eyes may have just bugged out of your head as you thought, “What!? You get baked goods!?”
I joke about teacher appreciation celebrations, but they’re important. And they’re well-timed. This is the stretch of the school year that can feel a bit like pushing a Buick uphill
…in the mud
…with four flat tires.
I’m incredibly thankful for everything our community does for teacher appreciation, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that we could do better. Don’t get me wrong; at this time of year, a lunch or a coffee cart can seem like a godsend. But, I’d argue that more than appreciation, we need support.
I imagine we could probably get together at one of these teacher appreciation celebrations and lament all day about how we need more support from our legislators and our community. But I don’t know how far we’d get beyond sharing the same concerns. At least not in one conversation around the coffee cart. There is, however, a lot that we can do within our own buildings to move beyond baked goods to support teachers all year long.
Administrators and Building Leaders
You’re the ones we look to for feedback and guidance. In many ways, it’s up to you to set the tone and direction for your building. For ELA teachers especially, there are a few steps you can take to make them feel supported all year:
Work to understand the risks we’re taking. Over the past few years, the shifts that many secondary ELA teachers have been making are simply seismic. Many started their careers using methods that they experienced when they were in high school and that their teacher prep programs trained them to do: teach literature and writing in a prescriptive, teacher-centered way. Now, between changing demographics, implementation of skill-based standards, and research on effective practices, ELA teachers are stepping way outside of their comfort zones to teach in a student-centered way that offers choice and a descriptive, analytical approach. They may not feel as confident as they did a few years ago, and it certainly isn’t because they’ve gotten worse as teachers. It’s because they’re taking research-based risks to improve their instruction.
Ask questions. This is tied to the first point of working to understand what we’re trying to do. Whether you’re giving us feedback in an evaluation or just popping in for a few minutes, ask us questions about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. This will help us deepen our understanding of the methods we’re using, and it shows us that you’re listening to us as professionals.
Aside from our students, we interact with each other more than anyone else in the district. We are our biggest support network – but that network can only work if we remember that teaching is not a competitive sport. It’s not about who can pull off the highest test scores or whose evaluation was the best. If we’re not sharing and working together, we’re missing out on the biggest professional gold mine there is. To support each other in this hard work, we need to:
Embrace our vulnerability. Earlier this year, I wrote about the value in opening yourself up to vulnerability in the classroom. Rather than seeing us as keepers of the knowledge, ready to dole it out to students who listen, if we shift some of the power in the room away from the teacher, students can learn from us about how to build their own understanding. Students aren’t the only ones we should open up to, though. We tend to perpetuate this strange myth of the perfect teacher with each other. I’m not quite sure where it comes from, but I do know that it’s not doing anyone any good.
Seek out opportunities for learning and collaboration. We tend to be pretty good at bouncing ideas around within our little circles: our hall neighbors, our lunch buddies, and our PLC’s. That’s great, but in order to push beyond what’s comfortable, we need to open ourselves up a bit more.
Within your building, try visiting each other’s classrooms. It’s so easy to get boxed into our own four walls that we forget that there
are a lot of other rooms with a lot of other experiences. #ObserveMe has been trending on Twitter lately, and I love the idea. Visiting someone else’s room and inviting others into ours is a great practice to encourage real reflection.
Speaking of Twitter, I can’t sing its praises enough. Sure, you could get sucked into the weird vortex of gifs and dinner pictures, but with some thoughtful follows and by joining some edu-chats, you can open yourself up to an enormous new community of educators who are eager to collaborate. I’ve learned so much and have formed so many incredible bonds through chatting, blogging, and tweeting. Whether I’m reading someone else’s ideas, asking a question of my own, or sharing my work, I feel like I’m a part of a larger team.
What do you think? What makes you feel supported as a teacher? How can we share in this work together? Comment below or find me on Twitter @megankortlandt