After engaging in the first two-years of a multi-million dollar, three-year, state-wide school improvement process designed to improve school climate and learning, nearly 100 school leaders agreed that while they had developed some amazing anti-bullying, safe and welcoming schools, and peer-leadership programs as part of the initiative that they were proud of, they all agreed that they found that with one year left, they felt stuck. They told me they were not able to get their teachers to take the work seriously, and to become engaged in this work that these leaders felt was so important to their students.
They agreed that they were struggling to get their teachers to seriously examine how the work that THEY did everyday as teachers was affecting the climate of the school. They spoke about the problems of low teacher morale, teacher burnout, teacher resistance to learning about more new ideas or changes, and how after decades of being barraged with school change initiative and programs that teachers were saying, "No more, we have had enough!"
These leaders spoke of active and passive resistance as the norm in their schools and sought answers that would help them openly discuss these issues with their teachers, because they feared and agreed that most of these discussions were happening only in dark corners, after meetings, in small groups or cliques of teachers who refused to speak of this publicly. These leaders asked for help, not with improving school climate, but with improving the internal, adult culture within their schools in year -three of the grant. If this did not happen, they worried out loud, that little else they had done would last or really matter in the long run.
Over the past two years, we have been working with schools across the nation on this thorny issue of teacher morale and adult culture. Teachers want to openly explore these issues and they instantly recognize that adult culture is inexorably linked to school climate improvement .
We have found that working together as a community to understand and improve school climate, culture and learning, can serve as an opportunity to empower and give greater voice to teachers. We need to promote more dialogue with teachers in our schools about the conditions of their work, the impact of specific leadership styles and choices on them and their morale, their professional development needs, and the role teachers play in decision-making. these open discussion about issues directly related to the adult culture of the school can build teacher buy-in for the entire process because teachers see what is in-it for them!. When teachers buy-in to the importance of this work, then we infuse their work with greater meaning, passion, and purpose, as Deal so eloquently stated..