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Keeping Good Teachers

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Last week, I wrote about recruiting teachers to my school. This week my thoughts are turning to how do we keep good teachers in my school or any hard to staff school. One word comes to mind - support.

As I reflect on this year and the support that has been given to our school, it is a very mixed bag. From our State Department of Education, we have been given significant support. As a result of our school’s label of low-performing, our State Department of Education sent a Peer Assistant to our school. This veteran teacher has been a powerful and positive force in our school this year. Even though, she was the deliverer of the state mandates, she was able to present these requirements in such a way that she created a strong sense of assistance for our faculty. Our school was also visited by our State Superintendent and our Deputy Superintendent. These visits meant so much to me personally and demonstrated the interest and concern our State Department has for our school.

From my own district, I had dreamed of a team effort from our content area supervisors on how to best improve our school. However, this did not happen. In defense of my school system, it is a very large system and due to a financial crisis a few years ago, our district office has a staffing shortage. Our school received tremendous support from our Federal Programs Director and those who work in her department. I do not know how we would have survived if it had not been for the intense assistance from our district’s reading coach. In addition, our District Superintendent gave a strong verbal commitment to address the needs of our school for next year. This is very encouraging.

Our school has received effective outside support from local universities, civic organizations, educational companies, and other schools. All of this has contributed to a feeling that many people really care about our school. However, there have been many days I have felt like I was on an island and I am sure my principal and fellow teachers share this feeling. I have watched my principal become so discouraged after being denied the support she needed to carry out her hopes for our school. This hurts.

The area of support I feel is most lacking is the support that comes from within the school; the support you receive from your colleagues. I may feel like this because I am still on the outside looking in. However, I do not sense the collegiality I had in my former school. Seven years ago, I suffered the most traumatic event of my life when I lost my 46 year-old husband to a massive heart attack. I will never forget the reaction of one of my colleagues as looked me straight in the eye and told me, “We will get you through this.” I am not sure if the role of your co-workers needs to be an aide to your personal trials, but I have often seen others depend on this comfort. I do know how important it is to have the support of your colleagues in order for your professional life to grow and flourish. I had hoped I would be this type of benefit for our school this year. Instead, I have felt more like a first-year teacher leaning on my colleagues, than a veteran teacher offering help.


I never cease to be amazed at the people that come into our lives at the right time. This year I was asked to be a part of the Teacher Leader Network (www.teacherleaders.org.)led by John Norton. I can not tell you what this online conversation with teachers across our country has meant to me. Not only has this group inspired me with all they have accomplished and the passion they share for their work, but they have allowed me to vent my frustrations, encouraged my work, and have echoed my beliefs. This experience has been quite reaffirming as well as challenging. The option to have this type of support and intense dialogue among educators available through technology is incredible. These are the conversations we need to have at our school in order to support and uplift each other’s work. It is my hope that next year this will happen, but I do not see it happening automatically. I believe it will take training on how to discuss our work and the work we are asking students to engage in. There are several options available in our state to have this type of professional development. I am hopeful my colleagues will embrace the idea of creating a true learning community.


Your comments have also been very insightful and encouraging to me these past weeks. I hope you will continue to comment and share how your faculty supports each other and how to create collegiality in our schools.

5 Comments

Dear Betsy:

I read with interest your observation about the need for a work environment to support its people, and how important your support network was for you when you lost your husband. This kind of support is needed not just in an emergency, when it is essential, but also on an every day basis as it builds relationships.

What do you think was the primary difference between your previous school and your current one regarding the development of a culture of caring for each other? Was this something explicit, or was it something that you had to discover as you spent time on the job? How could your transition have been made more pleasant?

Congratulations for being named the Teacher of the Year, and for walking your talk in a needy school!

: )
Sherri Fisher

Dear Betsy,

I am not surprised to see that no one has replied here. In some ways this entry is the most personal one yet. We hear you struggling to be fair to all while trying to put a finger on what is missing in the support your school is receiving. If I can summarize your comments on that support: State DOE, significant; Fed. Programs Director, tremendous; District Superintendent, verbal committment; outside organizations, effective; District, disappointing(with an explanation); Teacher Leader Network, wonderful; colleagues, problematic.
Part of the problem in trying to figure out what's going wrong with support is that the word itself means vastly different things in different situations. You felt significantly supported by the State Superintendent and the Deputy when they made the effort to just show up. Yet, a staff that just shows up is not considered very supportive. In fact, staff support is usually measured by the weakest link--the teacher who never seems busy; the one who never wants to do anything extra; the one for whom the job is a paycheck, not a vocation; the one whose understanding is limited but whose opinions are loud and forceful; the cynic; the resentful; the self-absorbed; etc. In any group, you will find one or more of these, and they DO present roadblocks to community building. In my experience such people self-limit the damage they do because they become isolated. I find that the bigger problems in community building come from the reactions of leaders to two other types of individuals--the vocal challenger and the quiet doubter. Too often, such people are considered to be non-supportive, I think it is much better and healthier to consider them the loyal opposition and to value them highly as such. It is a waste of energy to try to bring such people to your side. They are far more valuable in helping you see where you have missed something, gone wrong, been hasty in your planning. Good leaders recognize that these people are part of the team already. Poor leaders try to shut them up, shut them out, shut them down.

I believe that you are one of the good leaders, so my purpose in bringing this up is to remind you that being a leader of effective change in a school is a complicated process that requires constant reflection and self-examination.

I know that many on the Brighton staff are anxious for effective change and with the outside support you are receiving I am sure they, your principal, and you will bring those changes about.
JJoe

Dear Betsy,

I am not surprised to see that no one has replied here. In some ways this entry is the most personal one yet. We hear you struggling to be fair to all while trying to put a finger on what is missing in the support your school is receiving. If I can summarize your comments on that support: State DOE, significant; Fed. Programs Director, tremendous; District Superintendent, verbal committment; outside organizations, effective; District, disappointing(with an explanation); Teacher Leader Network, wonderful; colleagues, problematic.
Part of the problem in trying to figure out what's going wrong with support is that the word itself means vastly different things in different situations. You felt significantly supported by the State Superintendent and the Deputy when they made the effort to just show up. Yet, a staff that just shows up is not considered very supportive. In fact, staff support is usually measured by the weakest link--the teacher who never seems busy; the one who never wants to do anything extra; the one for whom the job is a paycheck, not a vocation; the one whose understanding is limited but whose opinions are loud and forceful; the cynic; the resentful; the self-absorbed; etc. In any group, you will find one or more of these, and they DO present roadblocks to community building. In my experience such people self-limit the damage they do because they become isolated. I find that the bigger problems in community building come from the reactions of leaders to two other types of individuals--the vocal challenger and the quiet doubter. Too often, such people are considered to be non-supportive, I think it is much better and healthier to consider them the loyal opposition and to value them highly as such. It is a waste of energy to try to bring such people to your side. They are far more valuable in helping you see where you have missed something, gone wrong, been hasty in your planning. Good leaders recognize that these people are part of the team already. Poor leaders try to shut them up, shut them out, shut them down.

I believe that you are one of the good leaders, so my purpose in bringing this up is to remind you that being a leader of effective change in a school is a complicated process that requires constant reflection and self-examination.

I know that many on the Brighton staff are anxious for effective change and with the outside support you are receiving I am sure they, your principal, and you will bring those changes about.
JJoe

I would like to learn more about the "explicit training from reading program consultants and reading coaches." I teach students who have special needs, and I am always looking for more effective techniques to teach reading.

How fantastic! Remarkable! You are going to teach at one of the NEEDY schools. How did you come up with that solution? (The solution: The best teachers' should teach at a needy school).

Comments are now closed for this post.

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