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A Fish Rots From the Head – Tough lessons on teacher morale

Ouch! That hurts! But I know it is true.

The Principal has the greatest influence on staff morale. If your staff opinion survey indicates that staff morale is not good, it’s time to take stock, take ownership and take action. Stay with me and resist the temptation to get defensive.

Last week I received a two page long, email rant – you know the type, you probably receive at least one each month. This one was from a hard working teacher who was exhausted at the end of term. The keyboard has taken a beating as this stressed teacher vented their anger and frustration and thumped out each letter with passion and vigour.

The criticism aimed at me was that I dared suggest that teachers not coping seek professional help ‘during the holidays’. The correspondent expressed her belief that there is something wrong with our profession if people need professional help. She believed that if such support was required, it should be during term time.

The not so veiled criticism in her email wasn’t aimed at me but at her Principal. The teacher was upset that her Principal presumed that providing a weekly Happy School article was sufficient to appease frustrated and over-worked staff. They acknowledged that occasional tips in the Happy School articles helped with some of the challenges they faced but resented that sharing the articles was “all their Principal did!”

Their suggestions for their Principal to….”actually get to know your staff and care about their well-being, be seen in the staffroom on a regular basis, drop into a class occasionally, make yourself available, cut staff some slack at busy times and cancel that pointless staff meeting, don’t go overseas to a conference (paid for with school funds) when your staff are battling to keep their heads above water, do more than just say you recognise the hard work of teachers,“ are all worthwhile and I’d encourage you to take them on-board.

Staff engagement and motivation guru Ian Hutchinson in his great book , “People Glue” notes that, “Organisational culture is personified by its leaders’ behaviours, internal communications, what the organisation celebrates and how it recognises its people for their achievements.”

Hutchinson goes on to highlight that, “Inspiring leadership keeps people informed and appreciated.”

This week the leadership team at Milton State School in Brisbane walked the talk. They held a free, end of term raffle for staff. They had a great array of prizes in the draw (most of them donated by local businesses or school families who had businesses eg Grill’d vouchers, movie tickets and bottles of wine). However the most keenly sort prizes were vouchers from the Principal and Deputy Principal volunteering to take the winner’s class for the day.

What a great, fun, low cost initiative that led to some great humour. Not only were the leaders willing to share the load and acknowledge the demands of teaching, they also walked the talk.

We are after all in the PEOPLE BUSINESS. Showing appreciating and support for our people doesn’t have to be a big event. A personal conversation or message of appreciation can make all the difference.

The first steps to improving in any area are the three A’s. First you must become AWARE of the issue through seeking some information about the issue or concern.

Then you must ACCEPT that the information is true and the concern is real.

Before finally you will be ready to take ACTION to improve in that area.

What do you do to support your people and have a little fun at school? I’d love to hear your strategies!