The past two years of pandemic-related stresses and uncertainty have left educators exhausted, even as school districts are returning to a sense of normalcy. A recent National Education Association (NEA) survey found that teachers are burned out, with 67 percent of members reporting it as a very serious issue and 90 percent a very serious or somewhat serious issue.
A majority of schools are completely open for in-person learning, but pandemic-related educator and school staff absences, coupled with continued teacher turnover, are resulting in school staff shortages. In fact, 74 percent of the NEA study respondents reported that they have had to fill in for colleagues or take on other duties at their school or in their district due to school staff shortages.
This is the first time in my career that I have faced the daily struggle to fill school staff shortages caused by teacher turnover or by employees who are sick or quarantining. As school leaders, it is crucial that we work together to lessen the educator turnover issue to help mitigate staff shortages.
Here are a few recommendations that I have used and found beneficial at my high school.
Shield Teachers from Unnecessary Information
Educators are already overwhelmed with everything that is on their plate, and it is the administration’s job to not overburden them further. To lower stress, filter out everything apart from what is most pressing or necessary to share with teachers, which will help them better manage the information.
Ensure Educators Feel Appreciated
As school leaders, we need to go the extra mile and acknowledge all of the great things that are going on within our schools to bring joy back to the hallways. Small gestures like simply recognizing teachers publicly on a regular basis will help them feel appreciated. Regularly make kind gestures throughout the year to thank teachers, such as putting treats in the teacher workrooms, hosting fun events like Food Truck Fridays or Jeans Day or leaving simple notes thanking them for being there. Simple gestures can go a long way!
Implement Technology to Help Teachers and Students
During the height of the pandemic, educators had a lot of disparate technology resources thrown at them. To simplify the process, decide what technology platforms to use within your building and stick to them. When our school was researching options I saw the value in Kiddom’s digital curriculum platform for continuing a rigorous curriculum, through an in-person, hybrid and remote format, so we chose to implement it for our building. Make sure to provide teachers with plenty of support and training so they feel confident and comfortable using the technology.
Plan for Uncertainty
The forced school closures at the beginning of the pandemic threw many educators for a major loop. Almost overnight, they had to shift their instruction and assessment models to a digital format to support remote learning. Even though things appear to be improving, as a leadership team, now is the time to be proactive and create multiple plans that can easily be implemented so teachers are given enough time to prepare. Teachers are under a lot of stress, so taking the time to plan ahead will provide them with the consistent and clear communication that they need should another quick-transition situation occur.
Compensate Teachers for Their Time After School
Some teachers would be open to the chance to make some extra money by participating in after-school activities, such as leading an after school program, voicing their thoughts at collaborative planning sessions, or personal development opportunities. We have several teachers who volunteer to help students preview material, which supports both the teachers, who can earn extra money, and students, who may have some gaps in their learning due to lack of exposure with the inconsistencies of attending school.
Even though school districts are approaching normalcy, staff shortages will continue to occur for the foreseeable future. School leaders must make sure that teachers are heard and are adequately supported as everyone is working together to ensure that students’ needs are being met. This is not something that can be put off any longer and now is the time to act. Organize a team to support and implement these ideas, which will help school districts retain our incredible educators.
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