I watch the ripples change their size
As 2022 draws to an end, many educators and people in general begin thinking about their #OneWord or New Year’s resolutions. Regardless of the year just experienced, everyone hopes for a better one as New Year’s Day approaches. That hope is essential in helping us put one foot forward each day, to innovate, create, and thrive. The field of education, particularly here in America, is going through a crisis that doesn’t seem to be near a solution any time soon. Both new and experienced educators are leaving the field. School districts are finding bandaids to stop the hemorrhaging instead of more effective treatments. Long term subs, some barely out of high school, and others without degrees or education training are now teaching students in order to fill positions. Horror stories about what a teacher has said or done to students in their care are becoming more and more publicized and prevalent. Okay, so I have identified the problem. Great. Now what can we do?
But never leave the stream
Since the pandemic began, school districts have been telling teachers to practice self-care. Administrators conduct meetings after school with teachers to remind them of the importance of self-care, while also letting them know what new programs, practices, or duties will be added to their plates, and costing teachers an hour or more in that work day. I heard an administrator mention once that now teachers are just given bigger plates, more like a platter, so that the work either doesn’t look so daunting or so that there is more room to add more. Either way, even I have contemplated what life would be like if my job stopped the minute I left it each day. If I didn’t have 166 assignments or essays to grade when I got home, what would that be like? How does it feel to put your feet up after a long hard day at work and not have lesson plans, emails, and data waiting to be dealt with prior to school the next morning? So how can we educators figure out ways to keep teachers and administrators from leaving the profession, not just their current districts, in droves?
Of warm impermanence
While listening to the Working Genius podcast’s last episode of 2022, I was intrigued with the discussion about how to help employees get more time working in ways that fill them up instead of giving them more tasks that drain them. Regardless of what job you have, there will always be tasks that drain us, sure, but those could be offset to an extent if we can find ways to help employees do more in the areas of what they love about their work. In education, we are a bit more limited in how we can put that into practice, but it is something to think about. What if we identify areas that could be changed or adjusted in some way so that educators do get to spend a bit more time doing things within the scope of their duties that energize them? Since that could be a variety of things and maybe an impossible task, we could look at a few areas that may be draining to the majority of educators in our building or district and reduce as many as we can.
So the days float through my eyes
Allowing educators to express the areas of the job that are most draining is the best place to start. It needs to be done with compassion, not with an emotional reaction by taking it personally. Perhaps administration feels like monthly meetings that last longer than an hour after the school day are necessary, but these likely also fall into the category of things that drain educators in general. Treats during the long meetings do help, but having shorter meetings or no meetings altogether would be one way to remove the draining activity from the education platter. I have worked in a district where staff meetings were replaced by weekly emails or newsletters from the administrator. Important information for the week was succinctly provided by bullet point, and staff were expected to read the weekly email and held responsible for doing so. While I am flooded with emails daily, even I could add reading that weekly email into my routine. If something did need to be communicated face to face, the administrators handled it during our weekly Professional Learning Community (PLC) time. Administrators who are concerned with how tone is interpreted in an email could send out a quick video of the information teachers need for the week, month, etc. There are many ways to do this, so think about what would work best for your educators.
But still the days seem the same
Other areas that might be draining for educators include those that have a feel of just checking a box, instead of truly impacting learning. If it is truly necessary for your building or district, then find ways during the work day to allow for teachers to check those boxes for you. One 50 minute plan period is not enough time to get much done. Grading can be a draining activity as well. Some districts have planned days where students are off but teachers come to school and grade work, create plans, or check boxes for administrators. Even a half day to work in classrooms on planning and grading is appreciated by most educators. Finding what drains our educators and then removing some of that from their plate or giving them sufficient time to complete it is a path we need to take in order to retain teachers, revitalize the profession, and continue to educate students at a high level.
As we look forward to a break before the start of the next year and new semester, survey the teachers to see what is draining and what energizes them. If you are struggling with this yourself as a teacher, just take stock of the tasks that you do in your daily work that drain you, and try to adjust some things so that you can build in time for those activities that energize you. That is the balance we need to seek. This is one path that we can take individually in order to remain in the profession, revitalize our practice, and continue to educate students at a high level.