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Teachers and Students Need Support. 5 Ways Administrators Can Help (Opinion)

Today’s post is the second in a series in which educators recommend the most effective action they think administrators can take to support teachers and students.

‘Building Efficacy’

Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey are professors of educational leadership at San Diego State University and teacher leaders at Health Sciences High:

Building efficacy. Our efficacy is the belief that we have the wherewithal to accomplish our goals. And people who have higher levels of self-efficacy experience more work satisfaction and less distress and anxiety about the tasks they must complete. If we take our definitional sentence apart, there are several things that leaders must do to build efficacy.

First, there has to be a goal. What does the teacher (or student) want to accomplish? Establishing shared goals is a critical aspect of building efficacy. People who do not have goals have significantly reduced efficacy, and actually accomplish less, in part because they do not devote the required effort needed to meet it. The solution is not simply telling other people what their goals should be. Ownership of the goal is as important as is understanding why the goal is worthy of attention. We’re not suggesting that any random goal is worth the time of the leader but rather that we discuss goals with educators and reach agreements about them, including what success looks like.

Second, efficacy requires the belief that the person has the wherewithal to accomplish the goal. In essence, we all ask ourselves, “Do I have the skills, resources, and will to accomplish this goal?” The answers to these questions guide the support that leaders should provide teachers (and teachers provide students). Skills are different from resources which is different from motivation. Providing an excellent professional learning experience to someone who already has the skills but lacks motivation is not likely to have an impact. Providing professional learning to someone who needs the skills can make a difference.

But having a lot of skills with no resources just adds to the frustration. And we’re not just talking about physical resources. Time is a resource that many of us find in short supply. When we can analyze what people need to accomplish the goals and then provide that, we’re likely to increase efficacy.

But efficacy is stifled in the absence of success. When people experience success, successfully accomplishing their goal, or steps toward that goal, their efficacy grows. Unfortunately, too many educators fail to recognize the many successes they have. And if their students experience success, they fail to take some credit for it. That’s where the leaders can really help. Make the connection between effort and impact clear and direct. Show people the ways in which their actions have resulted in success.

Yes, we can help others develop efficacy. It’s not a personality trait or an inherent characteristic that only some people have. It is situational. And that means it’s something that develops when it is nurtured. Be that nurturer for the staff (and students) in your school.

Student Voice

Principal Michael C. Brown has been a Maryland educator for 21 years. He is also the current president of the Maryland Association of Secondary School Principals (MASSP). He was the recipient of the ETM (Education That is Multicultural) principal of the year in 2019 and was nominated for the 2023 Maryland Principal of the Year:

Being the principal of a school, you have the important task of assuring that all students and staff are supported daily. One of the most important actions that I have done since I became principal was to allow my students to have a voice in their high school experiences.

Giving students an opportunity to share their experiences and ideas with me has only deepened the level of trust schoolwide, which in turn has assisted students at a higher level in totality. I found that giving students a voice could be beneficial to not only them but also the teachers and staff.

My most important action was to train students who were not happy about some of the experiences they received in the classroom to deliver professional learning to my entire staff in a faculty meeting. This had never been done before in the school’s history but turned out to be the impactful professional learning session I had ever been a part of. Students were able to have targeted discussions with the staff to share their thoughts and experiences, while the staff was able to have a safe place to ask questions and gain a deeper understanding of the student experience. I received feedback from the staff that they had never learned so much in one professional learning session as they did with that one.

The students felt that their voice was finally heard with a group of people they value and trust. To me, you can only talk about changing a school culture so much. The true work depends on bringing the individuals that matter together and building a safe space for true learning and growth to happen.

‘Being Present’

Ann H. Lê, Ed.D., was named a 2023 Sam Houston State University Distinguished Educator of the Year and its honored graduation commencement speaker. She is a former assistant director of special education and currently serves as a special education advocate and educational consultant:

As educational leaders, school administrators play a vital role in the educational process. They are responsible for the supervision of their teaching staff and for providing coaching support to positively impact student outcomes. Educational leaders are charged with a number of significant duties—managing personnel, finances, and facilities, in addition to making sure that all students receive a high-quality education. Through all the challenges administrators face today (e.g., budget cuts, standardized testing, facilities management, discipline, staff turnover), it is no secret that administrators have the power to make or break a school’s culture.

In recent years, there has been an exodus of experienced teachers from the profession, which has left schools rushing to find suitable replacements. Furthermore, novice teachers often lack the background knowledge and experience required for successful classroom management. As a result, school administrators must devote time and money to staff development and training initiatives.

As a district special education administrator, there were many ways to support teachers and students, but the single most effective action I took was by being present for all. The challenges we all face today in the field of education is no secret to anyone, from the paraprofessionals, front-office staff, teachers, campus leaders to district leaders. We lead with our heart for the success of the future through the children of today. And because we lead with our heart, it is pertinent that we foster and nurture the very part of our being that drives us to continue to do the good work in education.

The basic concept of “being present” requires more than being physically there. Being present with your teachers means intently listening to what the teacher is saying and not what the administrators think they are saying. It is crucial for teachers to feel comfortable and secure enough to approach and communicate openly with their administrators. To express concerns about the classroom and conflicts with other students and staff that affects their school day.

Being present with your teachers means being there in the classroom and visible in the schools when things are good and when they are tough. There is nothing worse for anyone than to have someone “at top” pointing out every little thing that is not “perfect” and constantly telling them what they should have done, especially when that person has never stepped foot in the classroom or has only observed the situation for a little amount of time. As administrators, we need to remember what it was like to be a teacher. Meeting the needs of 20-plus students is incredibly difficult, and teachers are doing the best that they can. Telling teachers you understand how they feel or responding to them with a “we are all feeling the pressure” will come across as insincere and diminishes the respect and integrity for them as a professional.

Being present for our students is the greatest gift we can give them. We have the capacity to affect lives in ways we might not always be entirely aware of in the moment. Our engagement with students can be a significant obligation that can be supported in many ways: a thoughtful word, a caring smile, a note of inspiration, or even undivided attention as they tell you that story. Being present with your students can help them form meaningful relationships, learn critical social skills, and feel more connected to their school community. By doing this, we considerably improve both the academic and socio-emotional outcomes for students.

So be present:

1. Respect the significance of self-care so that educators may be their best selves at work.

2. Help educators prioritize what is important by listening intently to others.

3. Bring humanity, openness, and a sincere desire to connect to your leadership.

4. Establish a mentally safe culture where they feel encouraged to take risks and speak their truths.

Being present allows administrators to lead with their heart. When you lead in this way, you encourage people to be their best selves, give each member of your team a better sense of purpose and meaning, and you motivate them to do far more for both their classrooms/schools and for themselves.

‘Being Available’

Vivian Micolta Simmons is an ESL and DI (dual immersion) lead teacher for the Iredell-Statesville schools in North Carolina. She is currently finishing her master’s in school administration with UNC Charlotte:

In sum, sending a few emails and being available to meet whenever needed.

Our beginner teachers have the support of the lead teachers in the district. We meet periodically and try for these meetings at least once a week for beginner teachers new to the profession or our district. We have a Google form with the possible list of topics to cover with teachers during these meetings. This is a great way for lead teachers to pace themselves in the information they give new teachers.

I meet with my teachers but make it clear that we do not need to meet in person for me to be available to answer any questions, and if we do not need to meet every week, that’s fine. I trust them and I know they care for our students. I usually quickly reply to instant messages or phone calls, so I am available for support when needed (even if more than once a week). We also support our beginner teachers during ACCESS testing (we come in and help).

In the case of dual immersion, I attend their schools’ PLCs once or twice a month. The school’s instructional facilitator and principal make me feel welcome to join their meetings. During the PLC meeting, I can talk to teachers and answer questions. After the PLC session, I have time to debrief and share information with the school administration.

Another way I support teachers is by sending only a few emails. I appreciate not getting bombarded with emails, so I do the same for the team. I send one PDF form every month with “dates to remember.” Hence, teachers recall approaching deadlines for paperwork and getting ready for the monthly meeting with all the teachers in our group (ESL and DI meetings are separate, except for the one at the beginning of the year). Other than that, I sent e-cards to teachers on their birthdays and the agenda for the upcoming meetings, and that’s about it! I send my teachers between 2-4 emails per month and no more.

Thanks to Doug, Nancy, Michael, Ann, and Vivian for contributing their thoughts!

Today’s guests answered this question:

If you are an administrator, what is the single most effective action you have taken to support teachers and students?

Glasher Robinson, Hieu Pham-Fraser, and PJ Caposey contributed responses in Part One.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at [email protected]. When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

Just a reminder; you can subscribe and receive updates from this blog via email. And if you missed any of the highlights from the first 12 years of this blog, you can see a categorized list here.

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