August 21, 2019

Supporting Teachers: 8 Ideas for Administrators

Are you a school administrator? Feel like you’re herding cats on a regular basis? Do you appreciate and respect the independence of your staff, yet wonder how to balance that with needing them to fall in line when necessary? With the free-flow of creative energy comes at least a moderate need for the same thing you recommend your staff provide to their students: structure. Read on.

Being left to your own devices in the classroom can be both a blessing and a curse. Teachers have the autonomy to plan and schedule their day in a way that best meets the unique needs of their students. Or do they? Remember that while in your mind something may have been decided and dealt with hours ago, chances are there is a large percentage of your staff who remain unaware. So while as an oh-so-understanding admin you may feel they’ve had all morning to readjust their schedule accordingly, they may have only just found out that you need to pop in with the school nurse for just “fifteen minutes”.

You may also be the fourth or fifth person who has needed to interrupt them in the past ninety minutes. Add a couple of last minute assemblies into the mix, and is it really a great surprise to find every grade level chair in the building knocking on your door in a nearly nuclear state of irritation? Here are a few tips to at least help you grease the wheels of reciprocal understanding:

Screaming fast, wireless internet.

Throughout the building. Not only does this provide total flexibility and efficiency in the classroom, it also promotes the best possible use of specialist periods when teachers are left to float during art or foreign language blocks and yet still expected to be performing their duties to the best of their abilities. Having wireless internet access makes it easier to post online homework assignments, spelling lists, etc. It also allows for more streamlined parent communication via email correspondence. Bonus? If you put out a memo, you don’t have to wait until sixth period to give your teachers a shot at seeing it. Remember, just because you’ve disseminated the information doesn’t necessarily mean it has been received.

Acrylic sign holders.

There are many sizes available, but the 8 ½ x 11 size is the easiest one to design and print classroom signs for, in my humble opinion. It also saves on teacher sign wear and tear and laminating costs. Signs can be created for various themes, quotes, concepts and more to provide professional looking classroom atmosphere. It’s also a much more streamlined look to have all the signs the same size from the hallway, and in a similar position by the door of each room. If teachers want more than the standard one sign, consider having a few for each room. One for the teachers name, another for the class schedule and a final one for individuality. Having the basics done for them before they arrive at the end of the summer gives them more time to get cracking with academic planning and to be available for any meetings you need them for.

Inventory everything by room number.

Actually, this one’s for both teachers and admins. For schools where the staff rotates in and out with frequency (for example on the international teaching circuit) and various circumstances ( typhoons, earthquakes, war evacuations) cause the supplies and equipment to be thrown into chaos, having everything assigned to a pre-numbered room can be a real sanity saver. For that new teacher that is left to rummage through the pile in last year’s supply closet, knowing if she sees something with a particular number that it belongs to her room is a huge relief. Figuring out which three teachers’ names have been assigned to her same room over the past few years is an absolute pain in the neck. Do both parties a favor and inventory by room. Seriously.

Communication boards with attached writing utensils.

These things are fabulous to have on the outside of the door. If a teacher takes the kids outside for an on-the-fly science activity or next door for a shared academic movie with another class, support staff will be able to find them easily. Don’t forget the wipe off cloth and cleaning solution.

Respect their time.

Seriously, respect their time. I know every administrator out there thinks they already do this. News flash? It rarely feels that way from the position of the classroom instructor. Countless last minute assemblies, four separate interruptions during the last hour of school for individual handouts that could have been collated and handed out earlier with the rest of the home communication bulletins, three separate trips to the nurse’s office in one week and support services for students that run late and throw off other group activities are just a few shining examples that come immediately to mind. And don’t get me started on the old “surely you don’t mind me redirecting the time you’ve already donated by coming in early with an unexpected hallway meeting.” It becomes very difficult to be a good sport about every other school employee’s emergency or administrative scheduling conflict when they happen all the time. Particularly if the reciprocal support isn’t there for things like . . . oh, I don’t know . . . let’s go with extreme discipline issues. (Yes, that was sarcasm.)

Cumulative records and class list support.

Personally, in my entire career I’ve only had one school ever do this in a way that was helpful. At the beginning of each year when the class lists were received, they were broken down and coded according to the type of additional support services each child received. Also noted were eyesight and hearing issues, special meds, last year’s teacher placement and general reading levels. From this document it was a simple matter to do appropriate “close to the board” seating assignments, scheduling sessions with specialists, plan initial language assessments, etc. This saved numerous hours of preliminary cum folder research at an already crazy time of the school year. It also made it more difficult for the class placement balance to be thrown off inadvertently when the category totals were already there for the releasing grade level teachers to see at the end of the year when these decisions are handled. (Cum folders are a huge professional issue for me, so definitely look for some follow up articles on this subject in the future. )

Standard, basic issue, equipment kits.

With as much money as teachers end up spending on their own classroom, I personally think it’s more than fair to expect that some basic infrastructure be both provided and restocked when necessary. A few items on my list? Chalk, glue sticks, single and three hole punches, stapler with staples, teacher and student scissors, eraser, white board supplies if appropriate, widget, staple remover and PE supplies such as a playground ball, hula hoops and jump ropes.

Distribution boxes.

Attached to the wall, and somewhere close to the door on the inside of the classroom should be some sort of container to hold memos, book club forms and other home to school communication. It should also house a slot for communication the admin offices want returned to them and the admin staff should be the ones to both distribute and collect these communication bulletins. For those who are about to remind me of the teacher mailboxes, I have to jump in ahead of you with the following: I can count the number of times admin was finished handing out bulletins to me by my last trip to the teachers’ room on one hand. In my entire career. On one hand.

I know some schools are doing their part with online postings of school issues and parent email lists, but the reality is many districts are just not there yet. Additionally, the old run down to the classroom at the last minute to hand the teacher a separate piece of paper that you interrupt her class time to explain and then in turn ask her to explain to her class really doesn’t cut it Gilligan, I’m here to tell you. It’s a double interruption and highly annoying.

Seemingly simple ideas? Yes. But you’d be surprised how often schools fail to set up these systemic types of support systems, thereby increasing the classroom stress factor exponentially. Most every suggestion on this list can be incorporated very affordably. Consider it an investment in the overall occupational health of the professionals you lead. Additional ideas? Sound off in the comment section below.

Photo Credit: Kim Howarth

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