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We need to give our teachers the professional trust they deserve

Woman with a torch leading a group of people
While structure and accountability are critical components in the education of children, teachers also need to feel respected as the highly educated, specially trained experts they are, most of whom would not remain in the field if not for their passion.
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This past year, more than ever, teachers across the nation have been struggling beneath the collective weight placed on their shoulders.

And yet, we’ve seen heroes emerge from our schools in the midst of pandemic learning.

I do not say this lightly or to increase the pressure placed on teachers. The Oxford Dictionary defines a “hero” as “a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.”

Our educators should be valued, recognized, and admired for the achievements and qualities they have demonstrated during this “unprecedented” time.

Despite their extraordinary efforts, many teachers have felt diminished by media outlets, by social media commentary, by parents and community members, and, though perhaps not intentionally, sometimes by their own school leaders.

There are countless stories from teachers expressing that they felt as though nothing they did was ever “enough.”

Some teachers have felt a lack of trust in their professional expertise, noting the requirements of strict daily schedules to ensure they were fulfilling their job duties.

While structure and accountability are critical components in the education of children, teachers also need to feel respected as the highly educated, specially trained experts they are, most of whom would not remain in the field if not for their passion.

While structure and accountability are critical components in the education of children, teachers also need to feel respected as the highly-educated, specifically trained individuals they are.

I do not intend to point fingers. This has been a difficult time for all of us. Instead, I wonder how we can reframe the conversation to look at how to help teachers feel better supported moving forward.

How can these feelings of failure or lack of support be relieved? What can educational leaders do to support their teachers?

At Michigan Virtual, we have worked for years to develop clear and consistent expectations and a culture of growth for our online teachers both full- and part-time. The vast majority of our teachers are entirely remote, but we’ve built a network of supports throughout our team to ensure our instructors know they are never alone.

We encourage asking questions, which often means repeating ourselves many, many times.

But it’s worth it for a culture of trust.

Our teachers are evaluated just like traditional brick-and-mortar teachers, which can be a little intimidating at first. But we do our best to ensure each meeting is truly a discussion. We provide coaching walkthroughs prior to the evaluation so teachers know areas in which they are excelling and areas in which they can still grow.

This evaluation process is designed to be feedback-centered and an opportunity for growth rather than penalty.

We are honored and proud to have some of the highest engagement scores for employees, in general, but specifically part-time, fully remote employees on the Gallup Q12 Employee Engagement survey.

During one of the most challenging years of their career, when we were asking more of them than ever, our teachers reported the highest satisfaction in our years of conducting the survey.

Why? We expected the stress of both their work and the world to result in a negative trend, but that wasn’t the case. Our teachers felt heard, respected, and cared for above all else. 

Our teachers felt heard, respected, and cared for above all else. 

We contribute this high satisfaction to a focus on relationship-building and open communication. We emphasized the value of our teachers, provided the cheerleading they needed, and gave real and honest feedback and guidance.

We extended trust in their capacity to meet our expectations as professional educators unless and until shown otherwise, at which point we provided intervention and support — not a “gotcha.”

Despite our remote status, we sought opportunities to connect, check-in, and show that we care about our teachers as human beings. There has been a lot of discussion about social emotional learning (SEL) for students, but our teachers need some of the same supports. 

Lastly, we stand up for our teachers.

We do not tolerate bullying, which has become all too common in the virtual world. That’s not at all to say the teacher is always right. We are all capable of mistakes. Whether coming from students, parents, or other stakeholders, we expect dialogue to be respectful.

As leaders, we do our research to understand the whole picture of a given situation and step in when words become combative, disrespectful, or downright dirty. (You’d be astounded at some of the things that have been said in emails to teachers this year.)

This, above all else, seems to make a difference to our teachers. The knowledge that they will be held accountable if a mistake was made, but will not become a sacrificial lamb in the process.

Now more than ever, our teachers deserve our professional trust. As we move into the second half of the year, consider: What changes, big or small, can be implemented to support your teacher heroes?

As we move into the second half of the year, consider: What changes, big or small, can be implemented to support your teacher heroes?

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Shannon Smith

Shannon Smith

Shannon Smith, Ph.D. is a dedicated educator who believes learning opportunities are found in every experience. As the director of Student Learning Services, she has the opportunity to utilize her knowledge and skills as a teacher, counselor and administrator. Shannon earned a doctorate in educational leadership at Eastern Michigan University and has over 15 years of experience in all levels of education. Aside from education, Shannon is an avid flower gardener, dystopia reader and loves spending time with her husband and dogs.

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