Why and How to Improve School Teacher morale

Teacher morale is a major issue in private and public schools. Low morale reduces engagement with colleagues and students, reduces productivity, reduces student learning and breeds cynicism. On the other hand, when morale is high and faculty culture is healthy, students excel socially and academically, teachers are productive and cooperative, and the school environment is dynamic and attractive. Given the significant role that teacher morale plays, schools must continually work to improve teacher morale.

The main factors affecting morale are school leadership, workload, compensation, student behavior and professional development. Effective and supportive leaders contribute significantly to high morale, while weak leaders and low morale go hand in hand. Clearly, the teaching is intensive, unhurried and demanding intellectually, emotionally and physically. In addition to teaching, teachers have many other responsibilities such as curriculum development, break supervision, extra-curricular activities, marketing, fundraising and administrative paperwork. Feeling like you have too many responsibilities contributes to low morale. Naturally, being overworked and underpaid is a recipe for a morale disaster. Student behavior problems are another major reason for low teacher morale, especially when teachers lack the tools to address the problems. And finally, access to professional development plays a big role in determining morale.

School Leadership: School leaders have extremely challenging and complex jobs. Many go into leadership positions without adequate training. Even with excellent training and experience, school leaders face very complex challenges every day. Continuous leadership training, executive coaching, and professional development are essential to enable school leaders to provide powerful leadership and achieve high faculty morale.

Teacher Workload: There may be no way to get around the fact that a teacher’s workload is heavy. However, when faculty push and pull together, hard work is much more fun. In fact, in my experience as Head of School, teacher morale was at the top of the chart when faculty were heavily involved in large enterprises that required extensive work. Involving teachers in decision making, planning and problem solving, and creating collaborative teams to share the workload is a huge contributor to fostering high morale.

Compensation: Competitive compensation is important. However, the key to compensation as it affects morale is the system for setting salaries and increases. If teachers feel the system is unfair, compensation, no matter the amount, will hurt morale. Fairness is largely judged by the perceived trade-off between an individual’s value to the school and that person’s compensation. To provide fair redress, schools must abandon traditional “crooked” systems and operate systems that link compensation and performance.

Student Conduct: Teachers face increasingly complex demands in meeting the needs of their students in private and public schools. From anti-social behavior to special needs to apathy across the socio-economic spectrum, teachers are experiencing increasing problems with behavior management. Two major school initiatives will help tackle this problem. First, it is essential to provide behavior management training for teachers who are struggling with discipline. Second, faculty and staff must work together as a team throughout the school to address behavioral challenges.

Professional development: Professional development is directly linked to student achievement and teacher satisfaction is directly related to student achievement. Teachers and schools that value professional development or adult learning create the conditions for students to value learning as well. When students make outstanding academic and social progress, teachers feel the rewards of their profession. Providing meaningful and effective professional development for teachers is fundamental to successful schools and high teacher morale.

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