As a school administrator, your job is multifaceted to say the least. Depending on the size of your school and the resources of your system, the complete scope of your responsibility can vary quite a bit. But regardless of the full breadth of your job on paper, ultimately everything is your responsibility. And that’s how you have to think of it. You are the engine that runs the school. With that in mind, it is important that you spend your limited energy wisely so that your school can run as effectively as possible. To do that, you must invest in your most important resource: your teachers.
Current research shows that teachers are the most important school related factor in student learning. Of course, there are other factors that matter, such as the home environment, whether or not the student has eaten, if the student is well rested, and so on. But those are factors that are largely outside of the school’s control, so rarely will there be school policies that deal with those factors. But in terms of school related factors, the teacher has the greatest effect on student learning. With that in mind, it is important that we administrators spend a significant amount of our time and resources making sure our teachers are effective by giving them things they need. Some of these things are a little more obvious: planning time, professional development opportunities, and a health school environment. But one thing sometimes slips through the cracks, and it can be a key factor in helping teachers to maintain a high level of motivation. That is affirmation from the school leader.
While self-affirmation can sometimes do more harm than good, affirmation from the principal goes a long way to making any faculty or staff member feel appreciated and effective. This translates into a teacher who is happier, which makes the teacher willing to work harder and more effectively. This is something that some of the most effective companies in the world have figured out and put into place. Google, for example, has put a premium on employee happiness, and as a result it is considered the gold standard of places to work in the US.
You should utilize the same theoretical approach in your school. You may not have the scheduling freedom to give teachers a vacation whenever they want; you may not have the financial resources to give all teachers a new computer every year; you may not have the freedom to pay your teachers an above market salary. But you should control what you can control. You can affect teacher job satisfaction and motivation by making a point to affirm your teachers as often as you can.
When you think about it, it’s actually a pretty straightforward equation. Your school’s goal is improved student learning. The most important school related factor that contributes to student learning is the teacher. Teachers work harder and more effectively when they are affirmed by their principal. So affirm your teachers regularly, and not only will student performance improve as a result, but the school culture will improve around them as well.