At the start of the school year, I knew that I wanted to get into teachers’ classrooms. I wanted to build relationships early. I brought donuts to a middle school staff meeting and gave high school teachers a little bag of Swedish fish that said, “I’m glad we’re in the same school.” I’ve been walking the hallways, visiting classrooms, and enjoying conversations with teachers.
I can remember seeing a teacher later in the day after those baggies of fish were delivered who said, “Thank you so much for the fish.” To which I replied, “My pleasure, did you get to enjoy them?”
She said, “No, actually, I gave them to my students. They were working really hard.”
Fast forward to a month or so later, I was offering a couple of teachers I saw in the hallway a snack from a basket I was carrying around.
One of the teachers encouraged me to go into the workroom and make sure that all of the teachers in there got something before he did. He also spotted some chocolate that he knew another teacher in his department would love and encouraged me to find her to make her day with that treat.
Teachers were really excited for a little bag of Cheez It’s that I bet contained no more than 10 pieces.
Think about that.
Big gratitude for a handful of Cheez It’s.
A theme is emerging my work with teachers. Just listen to how selfless and caring our teachers are – making sure that their students and colleagues get what they need before they do. Because this is what teachers do. They take good care of people. They feed hearts and minds every day.
Secondly, teachers are so thankful for so little. Contrary to popular belief, teachers want leaders to come into their classrooms every week to see all of the great things that are happening. Even if those visits are short. They want students to learn and grow. THEY want to learn and grow. They want to be encouraged in their hard work. They are grateful for so little – every little moment with them counts.
If we only spend time with teachers when we are evaluating them or only interact with them when we need something, psychological safety is not in place. That does not feel safe.
Proximity matters. Being deeply human together matters. Training our minds to see the good in others and reflecting that back to them – matters.
Too often our hard working educators are blamed for problems in our schools. Dr. Edward Deming once said, “A bad system will beat a good person every time.”
The problem is not our hard working educators.
The problem is the way we are doing school. In many ways, our systems are failing our educators and students.
And our staff is beyond tired.
I get very upset when I hear people blaming hard working educators. If we aren’t careful, our best and brightest will leave this profession that so deeply needs them. They’ve already started to leave. And there is a national shortage of educators.
Change won’t happen over night. But we must start to have this important conversation. We must talk with our students and staff about their school experience and work toward change.
And while we do the hard work on our systems, we must care for educators.
Rita Pierson once said, “Every child deserves a champion.” YES, more than one!
And you know what? Every educator deserves champions too.
Because this work is tough. But it matters. In a big way. Our future depends on it.
And it’s people. People change the world.
Let’s champion people every way we can. No move is too small. Just move. Be in their rooms every week, talk with people, celebrate the good. There is so much good if we train our minds to see it.
And let’s figure out how to make space for people. With sub shortages, there is so little time for our teachers to catch their breath, think deeply, and collaborate with colleagues. Administrators, we can take over classes so teachers can see each other teach and talk about student learning. We can model good instruction by making space for connection and honest dialogue at meetings. We can make content interactive and engaging instead of talking at people at staff meetings. We can leave notes in the classrooms we visit and thank people for all big and small ways we see them making a difference in our schools.
We can give people grace when they need it. We can give ourselves grace when we need it. Because our system needs a lot of work. It’s our systems that are broken. Not our people.
Let’s do what we can to change our systems. And while we do that important work, “How might we nourish the hearts and minds of our educators?”
I’m not getting it right every day. But it matters too much to not continue caring deeply and trying.
Our educators are our greatest hope right now.