5 ways schools can take pressure off teachers
We’re seeing too many headlines about the teacher recruitment and retention crisis. But what practical steps can be taken to take some of the pressure off teachers?
We’ve identified five things that relate to communication and culture.
- Manage information overload on parents
We all expect fast information. We expect it when we want it and for it to be relevant. Parents are clearly no different. This places a huge pressure on schools when budgets are tight and you can’t employ someone to manage all your different communication channels.
Our advice: Find one channel and stick to it. Choose something like Schoop, the multilingual communication app, then have a simple traffic light approach that differentiates what parents need to do with the information. Red means urgent ‘must read’, amber means for important but not immediate action and then green means ‘nice to know’ for information only. Ensure all teachers know the traffic light approach. You’ll reduce the number of questions from parents, increase the number of parents who actually do what they need to do within your timescales and create clarity for teachers.
- Manage information overload on teachers
From our research with parents we know that parents want to contact teachers directly. When we asked parents how their school could improve communication with them, one thing they said was, “Make better use of text messaging”. Some schools have provided email addresses for all teachers. Others are concerned that teachers are pressured enough without having an additional mailbox to manage.
Our advice: If you decide to open up email addresses for all teachers then manage the expectations of parents. Firstly, parents should only email directly where it is important and there are no other means to communicate. Provide etiquette guidelines (and preferably training) for your teaching staff so they know how to respond appropriately and reduce the pressure on them.Asking parents for feedback is seen as opening the flood gates but they’ll still want to share their views even if you decide to keep them closed. They’ll just have the conversations where you can’t hear them, but where they could be even more damaging to your reputation. Give parents the opportunity to discuss their views through well managed ‘quick polls’ on your website, email surveys or parent discussion forums around specific topics. By giving them these outlets then you’ll reduce the adhoc requests to teachers. If you are receiving the same question over and over again then create a Frequently Asked Questions section for parents on your website and direct them there.
- Support teachers in learning from one another
Teachers have great ideas about how to improve your school. But if they are all taking action separately then you won’t feel the benefit. There will be duplication when teachers are already under time pressures. Worse still, you won’t take the opportunity to bring staff together to work on things collectively, drawing on their different perspectives and pulling their various strengths to work as one team.
Our advice: Create opportunities to bring staff together to discuss important issues and work out solutions together. Show them that you value their opinions and recognise when people come up with proactive ideas. Ensure you create an environment where mistakes are turned into learning, rather than something that is buried and best forgotten. Consider informal brainstorming sessions to open up creative thinking and let people know that you welcome their views. Take action so the ideas are used and recognise where the ideas came from.Ensure your team stay in touch with what’s happening in the outside world, the latest trends and thinking. Encourage people to share what they are hearing with the team to focus on forward thinking.
- Be supportive – show you care and promote well-being
Human beings generally want to feel valued but often when times are tough and leaders get busy then the important ‘little things’ are forgotten. People can become stressed and neglect the things that matter, like their health and well-being. This leads to lower levels of resiliency, increased sickness rates and ‘presenteeism’ i.e. they turn up to work but they’re not there mentally.
Our advice: Take the little time it takes to say thank you. Encourage others to do it throughout your organisation and make sure it isn’t just reserved for the big ‘stuff’. Recognise the small things too. Support well-being through role modelling healthy living, wherever possible showing that you’re balancing your work and life well. It’s not just about the number of steps you take a day but how resilient you are mentally and physically. Consider seeking external support to come and talk to your team about mental health and well-being. If you have a school medical centre then empower them to take the lead and create a group focused on school well-being, not just for the teachers.
- Be clear on the parent’s role in the partnership
Parents have told us they want more information, they don’t know where to go to find out what already exists, but they also receive too much information from their school. It is clear there are some misaligned expectations from parents about their school communication and their role in the process.
Our advice: When new students join your school set out your expectations of their parents as part of the partnership and communication process. Tell them what you will provide to them and when, where to go for more information and to ask questions. Make it clear what you need from them e.g. participation at parent meetings, feedback on communications, etc. Provide this in writing and ask them to sign an agreement of the ‘partnership’ you are both embarking upon, to help their child to become the best they can be.