We all know the power of positive community in the classroom. When students feel valued, are known for their strengths, enjoy coming to school, and feel safe and supported, they are more ready to engage in great learning. Not surprisingly, the same is true for adult communities in schools.
Schools leaders have an incredible opportunity to help create vibrant and joyful learning environments through nurturing and sustaining the adults with whom they work. Both as a teacher and a consultant, I’ve seen it time and time again. When school leaders make a concerted effort to support staff—when principals see the development of a positive adult community as a vital part of their work as school leaders—incredible things can happen. Staff are more positive, are more committed to their work, and have more empathy and patience for students who struggle.
So, with that in mind, here are a few ideas to try. They are broken down by the categories of teacher health and balance I outlined in The Well-Balanced Teacher. Many of these ideas come directly from teachers who suggested ideas for administrators on the Well-Balanced Teacher Facebook page.
Basic Needs (food, hydration, sleep, exercise, spiritual renewal):
- Supply only healthy snacks at PD offerings and staff meetings…fresh fruits, cheese and crackers, etc.
- Don’t send emails in the middle of the night or on weekends/vacations. Model disconnecting from work yourself!
- Try walk-and-talk sharing at staff meetings. Give people a chance to move!
Belonging (connecting positively with others; knowing and being known):
- Help staff connect with each other. Begin each staff meeting with a brief partner/table chat such as What’s something you’re looking forward to about the upcoming weekend?
- Make sure you know at least one interesting/positive thing about each staff member that doesn’t have anything to do with school. Ask them about this hobby/interest/piece of information every now and then.
Significance (working with a positive sense of purpose):
- Say Thank you! Acknowledge staff members’ hard work and accomplishments.
- Have a leadership team which helps inform staff meetings and professional development work in the building—making sure it’s focused on staff needs and challenges.
Competence (knowing you’re good at what you do):
- Build time into staff meetings for staff to read, reflect, and share together about new initiatives. Remember that growth and learning takes time, and that having a workshop in the summer doesn’t mean that teachers now are ready to fully implement new strategies!
- Help teachers keep workloads (committees, extra work, etc.) reasonable. When someone talks on a new responsibility, help them find another to drop.
- When you visit a classroom, even just for a few minutes, leave a simple positive comment to help teachers know their strengths.
- Keep administrivia (logistics, housekeeping, FYIs, etc.) to one weekly email instead of sending out a steady stream of notices and announcements. This will help staff be more successful with keeping track of have-tos and will reduce feelings of being overwhelmed.
Fun (positive engagement and lightheartedness):
- When stress levels are high, find ways to be playful. A simple fun game or a fun video at a staff meeting can help keep spirits up.
- Laugh and be positive yourself. If you’re stressed out and unhappy, it will be hard for your staff to be joyful!
Of course, these are just a few ideas to consider—ones to get you started. Feel free to add more of your own to the comment section of this article so others can try ideas that have worked for you!
Positive community building takes time and requires on-going effort. If you’re in a school where there is a culture of fear or mistrust, it can take years of steady guidance for adults to feel safe and positive (even though it seems as though a positive culture can be dismantled with startling speed). So, instead of thinking of positive community building as something you do in the first few weeks of school, consider it as a never-ending role—something you nurture and support throughout the year, and year after year. Your teachers and students will benefit!