Teachers and staff need support now. Here’s how to help

Teaching is hard work even on the best days. And there weren’t many of those in 2020.

The pandemic — with its abrupt switches to online learning, then back to in-person classes and back again to online — has taken a huge toll on students, and on teachers. A May 7 Education Week poll found that 71 percent of teachers surveyed reported morale was worse than before the pandemic. And that was before the fall surge in COVID-19 cases drove many students and teachers out of the classroom again.

Falling morale can lead to resignations, retirements and high turnover, which can be disruptive in a school. Not surprisingly, we need creative ways to help keep school staff spirits up.

At Clayton Partnership School in the Mapleton Public Schools district north of Denver, School Director Janice M. Phelps has been finding ways to encourage and reward the dedication of the 50 teachers and staff in her K-8 building. During Teacher Appreciation Week, Phelps said she and her instruction guide made individual gift baskets for teachers and staff. “We delivered those baskets to celebrate them and the hard work they’re doing,” she said.

Despite the challenges this year, there has been much to celebrate, Phelps said. “A wonderful thing is that the new teachers, with greater tech knowledge, have been a resource for more experienced teachers this year, just as more experienced teachers are a resource for the new teachers.”

It’s always important to recognize teachers’ hard work. But right now, it’s vital, said Phelps, who is an affiliate instructor in the Division of Education at Regis University. “We’re making a point to acknowledge everybody’s hard work and the success in the building and to just really build up everybody in the building.”

Phelps and others have shared tips for maintaining morale in the time of COVID:

Don’t get tangled up in technology. Teaching remotely is difficult enough without the added stress of not grasping the technology. Make sure you know who to contact with questions and that you receive the tech answers you need.

Ask for the gift of time. “This year, more than most, giving teachers time is crucial,” Phelps said. “So, if I’m asking a teacher to do an extra task, I’m building that time in,” by eliminating other tasks or shortening meetings. Advocate for the time you need.

Recognize work/life boundaries. When you’re working from home, home becomes your workplace. This makes it essential to turn off the computer and stop answering texts and emails at the end of the workday.

Trim the fat. “This year has taught us there are things we thought are essential that really aren’t,” Phelps said. And right now, there is only time, and emotional bandwidth, for the essentials.

Recognize when you need emotional support. Don’t forget about counseling and other supports that are available through district health plans. Anu Ebbe, the principal at Shorewood Hills Elementary in Madison, Wis., told Education Week that she now opens staff meetings with mindfulness exercises. But, she said, no one thing will help everyone, so it’s important to deploy a variety of strategies, and do it consistently.

Don’t be afraid to laugh. “Humor is important,” Phelps said. “We take our work and student success very seriously, but we also know we have to laugh.”

And above all, continue to support one another: Share your lessons learned and the little victories. Listen carefully to your colleagues.

Are you ready to rise to the challenge of acting as an advocate, a resource and an inspiration for students and your colleagues alike? Explore opportunities to lead with a graduate degree in education from Regis University.