A Few Words of Wisdom for My School Administrator Friends

I know my teacher friends are still enjoying their summer vacations (unless they are working summer school or their summer job in order to make ends meet) and thoughts of school are at least temporarily on the back burner. Having said that, I think it is time to write a post that offers some advice for my administrator friends and colleagues who are gearing up getting ready for the return of their teachers in just a few weeks. I hope you will read and know that this advice is offered with good intentions and good will.

I offer a workshop on stress management for teachers, and when I am preparing to go into a specific area to offer this workshop, I do a little homework and contact some of the teachers from the area to see if there are any specific issues of which I need to be aware. While teachers everywhere are subject to high levels of stress these days while also dealing with historically low levels of morale, it is foolish to think that all teachers in all locations are dealing with the same stressors. So, I ask, and I learn. That might be one good piece of advice for administrators. Ask how things are going. You might learn some things that you hadn’t considered.

During my investigation this summer, I have talked to a number of teachers and inquired about what was going on in their school and their district. Three themes have emerged, and I thought it might be helpful to administrators to offer what I have learned in case you haven’t yet taken the time to ask these questions yourself.

In answer to what are the top two or three things that create the most stress for you, here are the things that emerged, and in this order:

1. Lack of time.

2. Too much paperwork.

3. Inconsistent administration of district policies from school to school.

I know that time is a problem for everyone. We never seem to have enough to do all of the things that need to be done. As a result, too many of us are depriving ourselves of sleep in an effort to get everything done, and in the end, we wind up exhausted and unable to do our best work because we are, well…seriously sleep deprived. This is truly a problem, and it is a growing problem that people need to stop and consider. I just wrote another article entitled, “Are You Sleep Deprived?” in which I point out that sleep is as essential to our health and wellness as food and water. Yet too many of us think that sleep can be delayed, put off, and minimized in our effort to accomplish all of the things on our to-do lists.

For teachers, time becomes an issue because, in addition to face-to-face time with their students, they need planning time. They need time to collaborate with their colleagues. They need time to sort through the mounds of data with which they are presented, and they need time to sort out how they are going to differentiate their instruction to meet the needs of the children who are coming to them every year with more needs and fewer resources with which to meet those needs.

As a Superintendent, you should consider how you can provide your teachers throughout the district with the time that they need in order to do the job they have been hired to do. This does not mean cramming in extra professional development programs that may or may not meet the needs of the teachers in your district. It also does not mean sending the message to your principals that they can impose meetings on their individual faculties that may wind up being a waste of the teachers’ time. Forget the idea that a cookie cutter approach to staff development works. It works no better for teachers than a cookie cutter approach to teaching students works for the students.

As a principal, you will be forever loved and appreciated if you can figure out a way to respect your teachers’ time and give them as much as you can for planning, for collaborating, and for keeping up with their mounds of paperwork. Indeed, the paperwork seems to increase exponentially every year because the people in charge “at the top” of the education pyramid have no idea what teaching in the classroom looks like anymore.

As for the complaint about too much paperwork, an effort to control that would be greatly appreciated, and it would help with the complaint about time. Teachers are feeling more and more overwhelmed with paperwork that feels like “busy work” rather than work that is truly helpful or meaningful either to them or to their students. Cut out some of the reports that no one ever checks. In fact, I heard from more than one teacher this summer while I was doing my background research that many teachers feel that they are being asked to keep up with reports that no one ever checks and the only rationale for the reports is that it helps justify a job of someone in the central office. If that is the case, it is time to take a serious look at the work that is being required by the central office administrators. Busy work isn’t recommended for students…it should not be required of teachers.

Finally, with regard to inconsistent administration of district policies from school to school, it is up to the Superintendent to provide training for school administrators so that this is minimized. It is not okay for some school principals to be sticklers for every letter of a policy while others let some policies slide. And when it comes to disciplinary policies for students, it is critically important that principals strive to be on the same page with other principals about how they handle certain incidents just as it is important for administrators within the same building to be consistent. Teachers, like students, are hyper-sensitive to anything that smacks of unfair, inconsistent, or arbitrary treatment. Be aware. Be consistent. Communicate with each other, so you know what you are all doing and be consistent.

In my general research about teacher burnout, I have read numerous articles that point to the fact that teachers who feel truly appreciated and who are recognized for their contributions are much happier in their jobs. Job satisfaction is key to those who want to avoid feeling the burnout that comes with feeling that no one cares about how hard they are working or the efforts that they are making. The current craze around testing and accountability has put the focus on arbitrary test scores instead of the authentic teaching and learning that is taking place in every classroom every day. Paying lip service to how much you appreciate everyone’s efforts to get the school’s test scores up is not what I mean when I talk about teacher appreciation. Giving awards is not what I am talking about either. A teacher knows when his/her administrator truly knows what they are doing and cares enough to check in to see how they are doing and what the administrator can do to help and support their efforts. A genuine “thank you” for everything you are doing and a “What can I do to help?” goes a long way toward ensuring the loyalty and appreciation that you as an administrator yearn to have.

These are definitely difficult times for educators everywhere regardless of whether they wear the hat of teacher or administrator. At the end of the day, however, regardless of which hat you wear, you are–or at least you should be–about making sure that children learn in a nurturing and safe environment. Period. That is what we are about. That is why we do this job.

Happy New School Year.

Why Teachers Don’t Like Arne Duncan

Both of the national teachers’ unions, NEA and AFT, have declared their official, collective frustration and disapproval of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. This article succinctly articulates the reasons for their frustration and outlines the false and misleading narrative that Mr.Duncan has been using ever since he stepped into the role of Secretary of Education. He routinely speaks of the “problem” of our public schools in terms of their “low expectations,” specifically as it pertains to the “fact” that we are “tolerating” poverty as an excuse for poor achievement. Poverty isn’t a reason for the disparity between the children who are achieving and those who are not, says Duncan and his cronies at the USDOE. It’s an excuse trumped up by teachers who are also not up to par, at least according to Mr. Duncan. If they were, the US would be at the top of the heap with regard to performance on international tests that compare one nation to another. There are many reasons why Mr. Duncan’s narrative doesn’t work. This summary points out the fallacies in the narrative. Please feel free to share.Fgrade

Practicing the “Art” of Self-Care

 

Self Care

Self Care

I have been talking about self-care a lot as I conduct my workshops on stress management. As far as I can see, stress management relies most heavily on our ability to practice self-care, so I ask you to consider:  How good are you at practicing self-care?

Women, I believe, are especially vulnerable to the notion that taking care of self first is “selfish,” but I don’t believe that women are the only ones who suffer from not taking care of themselves. We are taught as small children that we must always share and we must bite back the things we would like to say in an effort to be “polite” and to “get along” with one another. Men and women receive messages that seem to indicate that others always come first, and where does leave them?

As a result, I believe we have a lot of adults who have lost touch with themselves while they go about their days putting the needs and feelings of everyone around them first.

Now, I am not talking about moms of small children. In the early years, it is necessary, of course, for young mothers to be mindful of and responsive to the needs of their babies and toddlers. But as our children grow older, to continue to put their every need head and shoulders above your own is not only not healthy for you, it teaches your children wrong lessons about how they should conduct their own lives.

We have gotten too used to putting everyone else first, and I believe we are paying the price for it by being sick more than we should, feeling tired so much of the time, and suffering from a serious bout of “is this all there is-itis.”

The solution, of course, isn’t to declare that from this point forward, you are only taking care of your own needs and no one else’s. That won’t solve anything. But there does need to be a better balance, it seems to me, between taking care of others’ needs and taking care of your own.

Stress is caused by a sense of overwhelm that can be created by feeling that there isn’t enough time, there isn’t enough money, and you don’t have the energy to deal with all of the demands on you. You can take some active steps toward better managing and reducing your stress right away if you start to learn some important self-care strategies.

Arianna Huffington has recently written an entire book on the premise that we as a society have become exhausted and that we need to recognize that taking care of ourselves is not selfish, it is self-preserving.

One of the strategies that she is promoting is meditation. I did a workshop recently on stress management, and one of the participants asked me before I began if I was going to talk about meditation. I told her that given the amount of time we had, I wouldn’t be talking about it at length, but I would be mentioning it as one of the seven strategies that I recommend to those who are interested in reducing their stress levels. Meditation every day or a daily practice of prayer—or both—can go a long way toward helping you feel better about yourself and about life in general.

Meditation is recognized as an important practice on a wider and wider basis these days. It isn’t just some New Age “woo-woo” stuff. Indeed, meditation is becoming more and more mainstream, and Oprah Winfrey has teamed up with Deepak Chopra in an effort to take it to an even wider audience worldwide. Researchers are discovering that brain waves can be altered with meditation, and an individual’s sense of well being can be impacted by a daily meditation practice.

I am going to suggest that for this week, you try to incorporate meditation into your daily routine, even if it is only for five minutes a day. And if the idea of being still and doing nothing for five minutes makes you feel anxious, consider that you could take a walking meditation, or still your mind while you are doing the dishes or working in your garden. The point of meditation is to still your mind, to get rid of the chatter that is constantly telling you that you don’t have enough time, you don’t have enough money, and whatever else your mind frequently goes on about. Still your mind while you knit or crochet…but still your mind if only for a few moments in order to make space for the inner voice of wisdom that resides in each of you but is so often drowned out.

Self-care is not about being selfish—it is about nurturing yourself and your own soul so that you can be the person you were born to be. Consider for just a moment what you might do differently if you were acting in your own best interests for a change. What if self-care became a way of life for you starting today? It could change your life, couldn’t it? And, if it can change your life—and for the better—why not give it a try? What do you have to lose?

For more information, please feel free to contact me directly at kittyboitnott@boitnottcoaching.com.

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