So instead of focusing on the negativity, I'm going to provide advice. Is this a step towards positivity? Not sure, but here we go.
I have to start with what I see at Skyview that is causing low morale and poor climate.
- At the end of the school day, we have an advisory period called REACH. These 30 minutes are meant to be used for interventions, catching up on school work, doing homework, or checking in with enrichment classes. This year, based on state requirements, we had to make a change. REACH time, on Monday and Wednesday, is now used for extra, pre-made lessons. The problem is that the students (and teachers) were not notified much before the school year beginning. This led to animosity from tired teachers and from students who rebelled at their lack of study hall.
- We have too many programs going on at the same time, so it is hard to focus on what is essential. How do we mix Capturing Kids Hearts, Path2Empathy, and Marzano at the same time without overwhelming teachers and taking up precious class time? How do we also implement high-reliability math and reading strategies, new technology, and design digital portfolios?
- We have a good administration team that is lacking in some critical areas: transparency, visibility, and perspective. Part of this is out of their control as our middle school is hovering near 1200 students and we are in a "choice state." I see administration spending more time in customer service than in servicing the building. They are often not transparent with the staff in WHY we are doing something, they are not usually visible in the hallways or classrooms, and they do not have the greatest perspective in what's necessary for teachers (which trickles down to students).
- MEETINGS. We have meetings four of the five days of the week and have staff meetings once a month. Most of the time, it feels like we're having a meeting because we're supposed to have a meeting. It feels like forced collaboration which just does not work.
That's a lot. As a "lowly" teacher, there is not much I can do to change the climate of the whole school. I am trying, however, to change the view of using technology. My goal is to move my role from reactionary technology support to proactive technology support. I am doing this by providing technology support through the tech tips newsletter and by making screencasts for colleagues instead of requiring face-to-face meetings. I hate when my time is wasted and feel it is crucial for me to also not misuse my colleagues' time.
What advice do I have to give about these four problems?
What advice do I have to give about these four problems?
- Problem #1 - new REACH lessons: I genuinely believe this problem with sort itself out over time. Teachers will know that this is a future expectation, and students will be less likely to rebel over time. It won't be helped that teachers are tired at the end of the day, but students won't push back. This will trickle up into the high school as well. This year is just an in-between, learning year. I do think that the administration needs to survey the staff at the end of the year about how it can be improved. It's not going away, so how can it be better?
- Problem #2 - too many programs: the unusual thing about all of these programs is that they work independently from each other. CKH is a way to build rapport with your students through greetings and dismissals and positive interactions. Path2Empathy are character building lessons that can be connected to content. I would encourage teams to split up the Path2Empathy activities so that each teacher only "loses" one day a year. And Marzano is a way to backward design your units and lessons. Is it a lot? Yes. Is it manageable? Yes. This may be another blog post for a different time, but I feel like teachers can spend time in their classrooms better and can actually prioritize their lessons differently to save time.
- Problem #3 - administration: This is a sore spot for a lot of the staff, and I know I need to tread carefully here as I could be written up. The administration just needs to listen to the teachers and prioritize solutions. I thought they started to do this earlier in the year when they had us do the post-it activity. Teachers were asked to write down what to start doing, keep doing, and stop doing in the school. Most teachers went all in, and of the post-its that I saw, there were some great ideas. Administration took the post-its to our leadership team, and from what I heard, the conversations were contentious, and some administrators took the discussions personally. I've heard nothing about the post-its since. When situations like this arise, teachers feel like they're not being listened to. Most teachers don't want to complain... they want solutions! I would love to see this post-it conversation continue to show that administration is listening to the staff is that the building is moving forward. I also want to see admin in the classroom more often. I read a blog post from a principal who says that she blocks an hour of time (or more) a week. She marks it on her calendar as a meeting, and for that hour, she's in classrooms. If a parent stops by, the secretary can say that the principal is in a meeting and when the principal will be back in their office. By doing this, administration could have a good pulse of what's happening in the building and in individuals' classrooms. This helps with giving feedback, helps with evaluations, and also makes their presence known to students and staff.
- Problem #4 - meetings: I'm not sure how to fix this issue. One thing that I've been asking for for years is a pre-made agenda. There has to be a way to replace forced collaboration with reasons for collaborating, but I don't know if I have answers for this.
My last bit of advice is for the teachers themselves. When teachers have low morale, it leads to burnout, which then leads to teachers switching schools or leaving education altogether. How can you take care of yourself to prevent this? How can you change your attitude? I gave this advice to a colleague and friend the other day. Make a list of what's important to you. Rank everything from most to least important. My guess is that your job isn't what's most important to you, so don't spend all of your time working. I call this my "midnight rule." Like nothing good happens after midnight? Nothing good happens when you're at school past four. It can wait until tomorrow.
Spend time doing what you love. I want to be healthy and I enjoy reading. For the past month I've been going to the gym and walking on a treadmill for an hour. It's not much, but I'm getting my 10,000 steps a day. I also take my Kindle and read while I walk. So far, I've read 16 books this year.
Spend time with your family. Have a drink with your friends. Take a bubble bath. Purchase a subscription box. Take your dog for a walk. Light a candle and listen to music. Cheer on the US at the Olympics! Just do something for your. Take care of yourself. Thanks for reading. I'll see you next week :)
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