10 Ways to Support Teachers During COVID-19 as an Administrator

This post was originally published on Eric Sheninger's blog, A Principal's Reflections.

The pandemic has really put a strain on educators, yet they continue to rise to the occasion on behalf of kids. This has come at a cost mentally, socially, and physically.

Something has to give. There has been a great deal of conversation lately about what can be taken off the plates of teachers. I have to commend those administrators who are working to find ways to put their staff more at ease in these challenging times. While removing specific responsibilities to reduce stress and anxiety is a great start, we must also consider what we can give them to provide multifaceted support.

Give-and-Take Ideas to Support Teachers

Giving can be just as, if not more, powerful than taking away, which is typically the more straightforward option. Below are some ideas I have. Some are more doable than others, but all are realistic.

1. Understand the Value of Time

If there's one thing that teachers consistently ask for, it is time to plan, create videos, grade, conference with remote students, update their learning management system, and so on. I don't want to belabor this point, as I recently wrote about the topic. The main takeaway with time, though, is to develop ways to give it unconditionally to teachers and not schedule or mandate anything else in its place, such as meetings or professional learning communities.

2. Eliminate or Shorten Meetings

Let's be honest for a minute. No one truly likes meetings, and the value of them is open to interpretation. I, for one, didn't find value in them when I was a principal and eliminated most while shortening the ones I kept. Now, I'm not saying all meetings don't have value, but while the pandemic rages on, minutes and essential information can be emailed to staff or added to a collaborative Google Doc instead.

"Even in the midst of challenging times, growth is necessary to meet the needs of diverse learners."

3. Provide Coaching and Feedback

There’s a difference between wanting to be left alone and having a desire to grow. The majority of educators fall into the latter. Even in the midst of challenging times, growth is necessary to meet the needs of diverse learners. Now is not the time to revert back to traditional observation and evaluation protocols because, quite frankly, they won't result in improved outcomes. Taking this away and replacing with non-evaluative strategies consisting of coaching and feedback will go a long way toward creating an empathetic environment.

4. Prioritize Standards

It’s unrealistic to try covering the entire curriculum as educators implement hybrid models for the first time, and increasing COVID cases are forcing some schools back to remote learning. An emphasis on priority standards can significantly reduce teachers' burden while streamlining other pedagogy aspects such as assessment. Another element to consider is aligning formative tasks and checks for understanding to those prioritized standards so teachers can monitor the learning of students. In the end, more manageable conditions are created for teachers.

5. Establish Grading Grace Periods

There’s inequity when it comes to grading, as some subject areas require a great deal more time due to the nature of the content. Additionally, many teachers are still getting used to tasks and assessments in a hybrid environment. Even though deadlines are needed, showing a little grace will always be appreciated.

6. Cover Classes for Teachers

Some districts and schools are hiring substitutes. If that's not an option, administrators and non-teaching staff can step in when a teacher can’t make it to class. No matter the route taken, ensuring that synchronous classes are covered can build up morale. There should be no catch when a class is covered, and it should be up to the teacher as to how he or she will use this opportunity to either grade, prepare lessons, attend professional learning, observe peers, or just put up their feet and relax.

7. Eliminate Non-Instructional Duties

Many contracts have teachers assume an additional duty either during the school day or after. These can include cafeteria or hall monitoring, in-school suspension duties, and overseeing extracurricular activities or athletics, for which there may be no compensation. If possible, try to eliminate all of these. If you can't, consider developing a schedule where administrators and other support staff can fill in for teachers.

"No matter the route taken, ensuring that synchronous classes are covered can build up morale."

8. Offer Choice in Professional Learning

Forcing educators to engage in one-size-fits-all professional development at this time will likely be hit-or-miss depending on the teacher—mostly miss, as there’s a definite need for more practical strategies in the areas of remote, hybrid, and blended learning. Growth and improvement are of vital importance, but professional learning needs to be something that educators want to engage in at a time when there are so many challenges. Consider providing different choices such as face-to-face, virtual, blended, or asynchronous options. It’s also wise to gather input from staff to determine what they feel they need.

9. Communicate Norms to Families

A common frustration I hear from teachers when I'm coaching is that they can't keep up with all of the emails that come in after school hours, mostly from remote learners and parents. I've gone as far as recommending that teachers state they're out of office on their email each evening starting at 5 p.m. until 7 a.m. Establishment of—and then clear communication of—norms can go a long way toward reducing the number of emails and messages, especially late at night and early in the morning. In Digital Leadership, I lay out the importance of using a multifaceted approach to meeting stakeholders where they are while reinforcing the vital message at hand. Develop norms with teachers and then "pound the pavement" with digital communications.

10. Designate Mental Health Days

With a substitute shortage, this could be a bit dicey, but the overall impact far outweighs the short-lived frustration of covering classes in a pinch. Based on the size of a district or school, you can determine how many of these days you can realistically give to each teacher.

Empathetic leadership is critical to helping staff get through challenging times. Using a give-and-take strategy and lessening the burden will create a culture of empowerment. As educators have different needs, it’s crucial to consider various options; there’s no one right way to help them at any point in time. Work to take things off educators' plates, but also consider what you can personally give. In the end, you will form powerful relationships, and that benefits everyone.

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Educators, students, and families can teach and learn at school, at home, and anywhere in between when you think connected. Explore HMH's Connected Teaching and Learning for best-in-class instruction, along with reliable assessment, relevant practice, and a growing library of on-demand educational resources.

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