This is the third installment of the series of posts that I call, “It’s All About Morale.”
In the last post, I shared that the first step for a school administrator, or for any leader in fact, who is looking to improve the morale of his/her organization, is to accept responsibility for the atmosphere of the culture. That is, we have to ask ourselves what have we done – or not done – to cause the negative atmosphere. Poor leaders look to blame others for the problems in the organization. Successful leaders blame themselves and make changes in what they do. As I stated, the guiding phrase that I use as a leader is, “If it is to be, it is up to me.”
If we find ourselves in the middle of a school culture that is negative and toxic, we have to avoid the temptation to blame others for what’s wrong. That’s easy. Blaming others is our most natural inclination. Our brains have been developed to look for the negative. It’s what psychologists call our “negativity bias.” (Hardwiring Happiness – Rick Hanson)
What successful leaders have learned to do is ignore the brain’s natural inclination to blame and choose to ask themselves, “What have I done – or not done – to create this problem?” Once they consider that question, the next question is, “What am I going to do now to fix this problem?”
When we play the blame game, according to experts, our brains are in what’s called “defensive mode.” In this mode, we are at our least creative and innovative. In fact, we are more instinctive, and our chances of making decisions that are not thought out are higher. (How to Have a Good Day – Caroline Webb, Peak Performance – Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness)
Once we stop looking to blame others, that’s where the fun begins, because now the leader can look to create solutions for the situation, and according to the experts, once the brain is no longer in “defensive mode,” it can begin to use its creative power to think of unique ways to solve the problem.
This is cool stuff. Right?
So, in the last post, I promised to share some ideas on how to cultivate that save-the-world attitude among all our teachers. This is important. As you know, most new teachers are so great to work with, because they want to do all they can to “save the world.” Unfortunately, as any school administrator will tell you, this excitement doesn’t last too long for many teachers. In my experience, few veteran teachers maintain that first-year-teacher enthusiasm. It’s just to be expected. There are, however, a few amazing veteran teachers whose excitement hasn’t dimmed. You know them. They are the ones who are staying late to help the kids who need the most help. They’re the ones who you find giving up their prep and even their lunch time to offer tutoring. These veteran teachers act like it’s their first year teaching. Do you have some of those teachers at your school? I have a few.
So what is it that gives these teachers the energy and perseverance to go above and beyond on a daily basis in the face of the constant demands placed on them?
The answer is one word: purpose.
As I said in the l previous post in this series, most teachers entered this profession because of a desire to make a difference with their lives. They were not motivated solely by money; they had a purpose in life – to change the future. It was that life’s purpose that motivated me to become a teacher about 30 years ago. I look back, and I remember all the crazy things I would do for my students. I was wearing myself out and loving it, because I was motivated – motivated by my life’s purpose.
As the years went on, as with many teachers, things change. Right? We don’t stay late as often as we used to. We don’t spend as much money on supplies as we used to. We don’t sign up for as many committees as we used to. We lose some of our enthusiasm, and that’s normal.
The problem comes when we have a school-full of teachers who have lost their enthusiasm. That’s when the morale begins to suffer, and the forward progress slows.
That’s where we come in as school administrators.
We have become Purpose Reminders. I know that’s a lame title, but it’s all I could think of. Sorry.
The point is clear, however. As school administrators, we have to make the effort to remind our teachers of the reason why they became teachers in the first place. We have to remind them of their purpose – thus, Purpose Reminders.
Here are some ideas I’ve picked up from some of the books I’ve read:
- Create a school hashtag – With hashtags being so popular these days, have your staff come up with one that reminds them of their purpose as teachers. You can also have them create their own personal hashtag. Some might include: #changingtheworld #youremykid #myclassmyjoy #caringforkids
- Create a school slogan – This is similar to the hashtag idea, but a slogan can be more of a sentence, and easier to put on bumper stickers or t-shirts.
- What’s on Your Business Card – Have teachers create business card templates that identify themselves based on their purpose. Instead of writing, Mary Smith – 3rd Grade Teacher, she can write, Mary Smith – Creator of Tomorrow’s Leaders. You get the idea. What would be even better is if you, as the administrator, would from then on, call them by their new title when introducing them to parents and other teachers. Even purchasing actual business cards for each teacher would be cool. Expensive, I know, but cool.
- Create a Purpose Statement – This is a good homework assignment to give your teachers. Ask them to create a Purpose Statement. It has to be specific. That is, it can’t just be, “to make a difference.” Ask them to think about what they would like for people to say about them at their 75th birthday party, (I got this idea from Stephen Covey.), and have them create a purpose statement that reflects what they want to be remembered for. Once they submit their purpose statement to you, create some kind of poster or artwork where you can display their purpose somewhere in their classroom where they can see it on a daily basis. This is going to take effort – and probably money – on your part, but it will be well worth the investment when your teachers get that motivational boost that comes from being reminded of their purpose in life.
The bottom line is that we, as school administrators, have the unique opportunity to have a positive impact on school morale, and serving as the Purpose Reminder of the school is one way to do this.
This is not a one-time event, however. This is something that we have to constantly be repeating in our conversations, in our email signatures, in the documents we hand out to staff and parents. It’s one of our primary responsibilities as leaders – to remind those we lead of the “why.” This has to be done all year long, not just at the staff meeting at the beginning of the year.
So, when was the last time you reminded your staff about their “purpose?”
What are some of the strategies you’ve used? Please share.
In the next post, I’ll share more strategies that you can implement to improve the morale at your school or organization. Make sure you sign up to get notified by email when it’s posted.
Until next time, here’s to OUR journey toward School Administration Mastery!