“Staff morale is lower than ever!” Have you ever heard this statement? I have heard this statement in every school district I have ever visited. Teachers and administrators make this statement out of frustration. Sometimes, the statement is accurate. Most of the time, the statement is an exaggeration.
We’ve all been there at some point in our career. I’ll never forget my second year of teaching. My head was pounding so hard that I purchased two cans of Dr. Pepper from the vending machine and downed them both during the [student] passing period. Have you sat in a faculty meeting at 4:30 and secretly prayed for the rapture or for the electricity to go out? When the state department of education announces unfunded mandates that will be implemented on the backs of underpaid teachers, it feels like staff morale is lower than ever!
I want to challenge this statement. Building principals have told me that teachers and staff members tell them, “Staff morale is really low and it is only November. What are you going to do?” While principals are gifted leaders, they cannot wave a magic wand and make everyone happy. Some principals want to tell teachers and staff to build a bridge and get over it. However, that approach usually does not improve the morale. Recently, a principal told me that she had a faculty meeting that was similar to a pep rally. She asked every staff member to say one nice thing about another person at the school. The morale improved for 24 hours and then the staff returned to teaching and the morale meter went back to negative ten.
Too often, morale is pinned on the superintendent or the building principal. Is morale determined by one person? A superintendent may visit your school once or twice a year. Does a superintendent make morale go down across the district? Some teachers seem to think that principals wake up in the morning, clap their hands and say ‘I’m going to lower morale today!’ I supervise principals and I have never heard one say, “My goal for the year is to take staff morale lower than ever within the first nine weeks.”
Do you pull your ‘Happiness Wagon’ or do you wait for your principal to pull your wagon? The adults in a school (or school district) determine the morale of the building. Roland Barth (2006) wrote, “In short, the relationships among the educators in a school define all relationships within that school’s culture. Teachers and administrators demonstrate all too well a capacity to either enrich or diminish one another’s lives and thereby enrich or diminish their schools.”
Mark Sanborn (YouTube) asks, “Are you a team player or a team slayer?” A weak school leader can make it difficult to enjoy the workplace. A decision made by the Board of Education can frustrate teachers. When the state legislature enacts legislation that takes the focus away from the whole child, it can damper spirits and make working conditions difficult.
An assistant principal once said, “I can get punched in the face by a student. Thirty seconds later I can see a student writing a sentence for the first time and it reminds me that I am here for a reason.” Have you forgotten the reason you entered the field of education? The next time a co-worker says, “Staff morale is lower than ever” you should push back.
According to sociologist Alexander Leighton, “Morale is the capacity of a group of people to pull together persistently and consistently in pursuit of a common purpose.” Low morale will have a negative impact on teaching and learning. Rather than complaining about the morale, be part of the solution. If you find that your morale meter is low at the end of the year, it may be time for a new school.
6 Ways To Address Staff Morale
1. Plan a staff outing or a grade level/department outing.
2. Have a Potluck Lunch
3. Build The World’s Longest Ice Cream Sundae. “Stressed spelled backward is Desserts!”
4. Adopt a Cause (Work Together as a Staff) i.e., Adopt-A-Highway, Habitat for Humanity, Volunteer at a Children’s Hospital, Host Game Night at a Nursing Home, etc.
5. Host a Staff Spa. Staff will love a manicure/pedicure, back massage, or facial!
6. Hold a meeting to brainstorm how the staff can focus on students and find time to regain the passion for teaching and learning.
Dr. Steven Weber is the Associate Superintendent for Teaching and Learning with Fayetteville Public Schools (Arkansas). Connect with Weber on the ASCD EDge social network, or on Twitter @curriculumblog.