(Originally posted on A Principal’s Life.)

By David Ellena

In this day and age of “education reform”, it seems that teachers and public education are under attack from all sides. The media and politicians continually erode the public confidence in the very people who we watch dedicate themselves on a daily basis to our students. Federal, state and local governments reduce the amount of financial support and then ask teachers to do more and more with less and less. As administrators, we are caught in the middle. We see how hard our teachers work, but we are also under pressure to produce student achievement (read: test scores) that is constantly showing growth or improvement. What can we do, as the leader of the building, to help our teachers know that they are appreciated? Here are 5 things that I try to do during the year to boost my teams morale.

Recognize Them

Look for any way, any way at all, to make sure that they know you recognize their efforts and hard work. During our monthly faculty meetings, we have several different awards we give out. We recognize a teacher of the month, an employee of the month, and what we call the “Silver Paw” Award. Each of these winners gets a certificate, a small gift and use of a special parking spot near the front door. I also make a point of using hand written thank you notes any chance I can. If I see someone doing something special or going above and beyond the call of duty, I recognize it by taking the time to personally write a thank you note. I have been doing this for three years now, and I can tell you it makes an impact. I see these notes displayed in offices, on teachers walls and desks, and bulletin boards. It takes almost no time and costs next to nothing, but it’s impact cannot be measured. Another way to recognize them is birthdays. I took a few minutes two summers ago and entered every birthday of every staff member as a recurring event in my calendar. Whenever a birthday rolls around, I am notified automatically. I write a brief e-mail, wishing them a happy birthday and hoping their day is great. Simple, free and personal.

Respect and Value Their Time

We know as administrators, that our teachers are under a tremendous amount of stress. Don’t add to it by holding meetings and extra events that are not necessary. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes you have to meet as a group to get something accomplished. But be judicious with your meetings. Look at the agenda you have put together. Are these things that can be accomplished via e-mail? Then do that and cancel the meeting. If you determine that you do have to meet, be respectful of their time. Start at the correct time, conduct the needed business and end the meeting. Don’t be late or keep them longer than absolutely necessary.morale-ellena

Give Them Small Gifts

These don’t have to be fancy or cost a lot of money. Last December, we bought some hot chocolate mix in bulk and some small candy canes. The administrative team made a large pot of hot chocolate using a coffee pot, put it on a cart and wheeled it around to every teacher classroom. We gave them a great treat, which was at a minimal cost. But most importantly, we as administrators made the effort to take it to them while they were teaching class. Priceless. Think outside the box, involve your PTA, use every resource you can find, but bring them a treat. You will be amazed at how appreciative they are.

Provide Support for Them

This is a simple one. Regardless of what happens, make sure they know, by your actions, that you support them. Now, there are times when I do have to correct a teacher or address behavior that is not appropriate, but I will never do that in front of others or in a way that embarrasses the teacher. That is done in private in a professional manner. Lack of administrative support is, in my opinion, the quickest way to destroy teacher morale.

Protect Them

From parents, from central office demands, from the public, however you can, make sure they know you have their back. I will never allow an irate parent to belittle or attempt to bully my staff. Likewise, I will look for ways to reduce (as much as I can) the demands of forces from outside the building. How? Look for ways to kill two birds with one stone. Can  a PD activity satisfy multiple requirements from outside agencies? Great, one less thing for teachers to do. Make sure that your administrative team is communicating with each other and simplifying and coordinating their requests of teachers. Nothing is more frustrating for teachers than having to perform identical tasks for different people. Do your due diligence to ensure that does not happen.

What kind of things are you doing to help your teacher morale? Please leave a comment and share your best ideas on making sure our teachers are appreciated.

David Ellena is the Principal of Tomahawk Creek Middle School in Chesterfield County, Virginia. President of the Virginia Association of Secondary School Principals. He shares his insights on his website, A Principal’s Life. Follow David on Twitter at @TCMSPrincipal.