Look to the Teachers: Ideas to Strengthen and Support Your Teachers This School Year

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The U.S. Department of Education “Return to School Roadmap,” published in August 2021, lists three “Landmark” priorities for the 2021-22 school year: prioritizing the health and safety of students, staff, and educators; building school communities and supporting students’ social, emotional, and mental health; and accelerating academic achievement. 

For teachers, the responsibilities that accompany the latter two priorities are significant. K-12 teachers have carried a heavy load over the last 18 months. Whether teaching in a remote, hybrid, or in-person model—or any combination of the three—teachers stepped and adjusted their instruction, as needed, to not only teach their students but to be a consistent presence in an uncertain and uneasy time. 

The weight on teachers continues to be a heavy one, and as the new school year begins, what can school administrators do to support teachers’ well-being and help teachers successfully balance meeting students’ social-emotional and academic learning needs?

Addressing Teacher Well-Being

Many articles have highlighted the stress and strain felt by teachers during the last year and a half. These articles raise concerns about teachers’ mental health and provide some ideas for supporting teachers’ well-being so that they can, in turn, support their students. The two articles below offer practical suggestions for supporting teachers’ well-being at school:

4 Ways to Support Teacher Well-Being

Article from ASCD

This spring 2021 article published by ASCD highlights four ideas that schools are using that prioritize educator and staff well-being and capacity to support students:

  • Provide opportunities for staff and educators to reconnect, heal, and feel safe and supported.
  • Offer ways for educators to assess their well-being and cultivate self-care strategies.
  • Provide educators with professional development that supports student well-being and connection.
  • Recognize the science behind relationships as the foundation of a healthy and rigorous learning environment.

How to Support Teachers’ Emotional Needs Right Now

Article from Greater Good Magazine

This Greater Good article (originally published by EdSurge in 2020) provides ideas for how administrators can help minimize the anxiety felt by many teachers today. These include:

  • Understand the significance of educators’ emotions and how these emotions impact them personally and professionally.
  • Give teachers time to adjust to the new normal of online learning.
  • Build an “emotional intelligence charter” that reflects the agreed-upon feelings and behaviors of the members of a learning community.

Supporting Teachers During New Program Implementations

Much has also been discussed about accelerating student learning and achievement after more than a year of disrupted instruction. When thinking about what administrators can do to ensure teachers have the resources and tools they need to help accelerate the learning in their classrooms, here are a few key ideas to consider when providing new programs to teachers:

  • Ease of Use: A key finding of the RAND Corporation’s 2021 State of the U.S. Teacher Survey is this: “​​Nearly one in four teachers said that they were likely to leave their jobs by the end of the 2020–2021 school year, compared with one in six teachers who were likely to leave, on average, prior to the pandemic.” Teacher attrition has always been a challenge, but the RAND study results confirm that the pandemic has teachers burned out. Therefore, the resources and tools provided to teachers this school year should be easy to use, support, and integrate seamlessly into the existing curriculum, and provide data that can be readily accessed and understood, allowing teachers to differentiate instruction and provide the support students need to accelerate their learning.
  • Implementation Support & Professional Development Opportunities: Oftentimes, implementing a new program in the classroom can be daunting and a big lift for teachers. Ensuring that teachers have the support they need is essential to a successful implementation. Additionally, access to flexible, online professional development can offer teachers the much-needed support to make a classroom program or tool more effective.
  • Student Engagement: For teachers, keeping students engaged in their learning in a typical year can be hard. In the 2021-22 school year, teachers have the dual responsibility of re-engaging students who have not experienced in-school learning for months and accelerating their academic achievement. One way to support teachers in this is to provide resources and programs that are vetted for high student engagement. These tools offer students choice (such as in text selection), which in turn allows them to engage in topics that interest them. This, in turn, motivates them in their learning. With resources that help to engage students, teachers can focus on those most struggling students and move the class toward accelerated learning and achievement.

The weight on teachers has never been greater. In the new school year, schools and districts can make that weight a little lighter by providing educators with the resources to support their emotional well-being as well as the tools to meet their students’ social-emotional needs and accelerate their academic achievement.