Two Paths to Improving Teacher Morale

Two Paths to Improving Teacher MoraleTerry Heick’s latest blog at Edutopia – 6 Proposals for Improving Teacher Morale – resonated with me on several levels. To his point, teacher morale is certainly not a topic that teachers want to discuss openly; the education industry is on the proverbial ‘hot seat’ which puts teachers and their job performance front and center. That alone is one reason for many teachers to get frustrated, even leave the field, which is happening at alarming rates.

Most teachers (me included) got into the field because we want to inspire kids to learn new things. Unlike many other professions, teaching can really be rewarding at a deep level provided we find that success. When teachers fail to reach their students, morale certainly can suffer.

Terry’s ‘6 proposals’ are all strong steps to improving teacher morale, but for me points three and six hit home. His point three – Replace forced collaboration with reasons for collaboration – aligns with what I’ve blogged about here at length, Teacher Learning Communities (TLCs). TLCs are teacher-led collaborative gatherings where teachers drive the professional development. TLCs provide teachers the opportunities to learn, share, give and get feedback and reflect on what’s working and why, and support each other in making changes to their practice that increase student learning. There needs to be structure and the collaboration needs to be ongoing, however, but if built well it need not be forced. Remember the four critical elements we’ve touched on in the past:

1. Choice: Teachers are like students—they need and appreciate choice. Choice within a given framework or focus allows teachers to determine their personal priorities.

2. Flexibility: In addition to choice, teachers need to be allowed to make modifications to make the new learning work best in their own classrooms.

3. Incremental steps: Learning is incremental. It takes time to change practice and to be lasting it must become a part of the teacher’s routine. Professional learning for teachers that allows them to practice, in small steps, supports this idea.

4. Supportive accountability: Change in teaching practice is challenging and requires both support and accountability. TLCs provide teachers the opportunity to develop personal action plans, report back to the group what happened as a result of implementing those plans, reflect and receive feedback (support) from colleagues who are working on the same changes in practice.

Terry’s point number six – Replace ‘non-negotiables’ with evidence of success – also aligns with what we’ve blogged about here at NWEA; that embedded formative assessment in the classroom leads to better student outcomes. As Terry says…

Autonomy is one thing, but teachers doing whatever they want whenever they want is a pathway to failure. So what if we replaced the goals of said rules (academic success in most cases) with something else? 

I say that something else should be formative assessment. With so many different strategies and techniques, teachers have the autonomy and flexibility to find the right one for their classroom situation. Formative assessment is ideal for small or large classroom environments and can also work well in collaborative student environments. Finally, it gives teachers the feedback that allows them to see that they are reaching their students and helping them inspire to learn new things.

Fighting teacher morale is an issue, but with teacher-led collaborative professional development and using proven teaching methods such as embedded formative assessment, it can improve. If you’re a teacher I’d love to hear how you’ve dealt with improving your own or colleagues’ morale challenges, as we’ve all been there. Drop a comment below.

Photo credit to sacks08.