American teachers are approaching another very uncertain year. With COVID-19 accelerating among the younger populations, mask mandates have become a literal battleground. School boards have cancelled meetings, teachers have been assaulted, and guidance is often contradicted by policy. Amidst this whirlwind, teachers are considering leaving the field in ever greater numbers.
Every year 200,000 teachers voluntarily leave the profession. A recent report indicates that there is a 20% increase in the number of teachers who are considering leaving the profession. This adds up to over 50% of the current teacher workforce considering another profession. This exodus of experienced educators will prove devastating if immediate action is not taken.
Fortunately, research offers a robust road map for ways school boards and educational leaders can support teachers’ resilience and commitment during these tough times: it begins with Meaning.
Meaningful work is positively associated with workplace engagement and resilience. Recent studies highlight the impact of workplace meaning on preventing burnout and buffering stress. Other studies found that meaning leads to better teacher/student relationships, which in turn supports teacher satisfaction and student learning.
It is imperative that leaders understand that meaning is not a fixed state, but a constant state of ebb and flow. There should be frequent dialogue and reflection regarding workplace meaning. Schools and districts can support their teachers by focusing on the importance of their work, and the positive impact they have.
If you wait for the evaluation cycle to have these conversations, it will be too late. Instead, talk frequently with your faculty and staff about the positive impact they are making. Look for meaning-making celebrations and weave them into your school’s culture. Recognize the efforts of your teams as they make a difference and celebrate those efforts.
Additionally, positive workplace relationships are essential for meaningful work. Despite the extra workload that COVID brings, it is necessary to focus on positive relationships with students and among staff. These relationships are positively correlated with meaningful work.
In conclusion, a constant focus on meaning-making and positive working relationships will serve your entire school’s needs. Begin with acknowledgement of the work and sacrifice of your teachers and the value they add. Then build in opportunities for positive relationships to flourish. By bringing meaning and positive relationships to your community you will enhance the experience for all stakeholders.