When you’re happy, you’re better at your job. As a principal, I want to make my school a happy place, but it’s not just about making work more fun. It’s about creating an environment where teachers feel fulfilled in their hearts so they can give more of themselves to their kids.

As a leader, I model and live out the 7 Mindsets, which our school follows. “The time is now,” is an important one right now. To me, that means embracing every moment by letting my teachers know that I appreciate them and see how hard they’re working.

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Every night, I send texts or emails to three different teachers to praise something I saw them do that day. I’ll say, “I just wanted you to know how proud I was of you in that meeting, and how you represented your student.” Or, “I was peeking in your classroom today, and I saw you working with a child. I didn’t want to interrupt, but it just warmed my heart, and I wanted to let you know that you’re the type of teacher that I would want my own child to have.”

No matter how many of these notes I send, though, there are always teachers in my building who are having a tough time, either professionally or personally. Being a principal is a lot like being a counselor. You have to be aware of what’s going on with people—especially those who are having a hard time—and determine what it will take to pick them up. Here are a few ways I connect with my struggling teachers.

Four ways to connect with and support struggling teachers

1) Know the people you work with. I’ve been in my current school now for almost two years, so a lot of times teachers come to me and share things that they’re going through. I certainly encourage that openness and let them know they can share whatever issue they may be facing. When they come to me, we’ll just talk a little bit and see if we can figure out a solution together. Sometimes they come up with their own solution during out chat, sometimes they just need to get it out, and other times we can bounce ideas back and forth until they feel comfortable with a plan.

Not all struggling teachers are comfortable coming to me, so if I see somebody who’s obviously frustrated or isn’t their usual peppy self, I find my way to them and say, “Hey, are you okay? Do you need a quick break to take a walk around the school?” Sometimes giving a teacher a minute to catch their breath or reset themselves is all it takes.

I also have teachers and administrators who I completely trust to let me know when one of their colleagues might need our help. They’ll come to me to say, for example, “Hey Tracey, you might want to go down and pop into third grade today. I think someone’s having a really hard time. She hasn’t told you yet, but her mom was just diagnosed with cancer.” And I’ll make my way down there, happen upon that teacher, and ask her how she’s doing.

2) Find common ground. Right now, we’ve got a teacher whose husband is having a liver transplant. I’ve walked beside her through this journey because my mom has had a liver transplant, too. That’s been a great way to connect with her. I can say, “I know what you’re going through,” and give her guidance through it.

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3) Let them know you’re in their corner. The other day, a teacher had a really, really difficult discipline situation. We were in a meeting after school with her grade level, and after the meeting I ran over, gave her a quick hug, and said, “Hey, I want you to know that you handled today beautifully. You’ve got my full support, and I’m really proud of you and how you dealt with it.”

She emailed me that night to tell me how much that meant to her. It only took 15 seconds after a meeting, but knowing that I was in her corner helped her recover from a tough day. Sometimes, though, it takes more than a few words.

4) Promote self-care for teachers. Especially near the end of the school year, self-care is really important for teachers, so I encourage them to do things just for themselves. One way I apply the “the time is now” mindset is knowing when to say to my teachers, “You know what, guys, it’s pretty outside. Y’all go home. Take your family for a walk. Go do something with your kids, or go take a nap if that’s what you need.”

I truly believe that teaching kids is the most important job in the world. To help my teachers do that job to the very best of their abilities, I have to remind them that sometimes it’s okay for them to close up their laptops and go home. As a principal and a leader, I have to recognize the signs of struggling teachers and know when to say, “You go take care of you. You go take care of your family. School will be okay.”

About the Author:

Tracey Smith is the principal at Brookwood Elementary School in Forsyth County, Georgia. Follow her on Twitter: @tbsmith01.


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