I have noticed in my 18 years of teaching that we teachers value being heard, validated, and supported, especially in difficult times. I am often sought as a mentor for many staff with a range of struggles from the classroom to personal life. The intense demands of teaching coupled with the inevitability of life cause perpetual challenges that ebb and flow for teachers, so helping them to develop resilience is essential in the process of supporting them. The experience of being this mentor for many years, with wisdom garnered from my own life and work challenges, gives me a wealth of perspective that I call on to support my colleagues when they need it. It is the same “ear”, relationship, and caring that I give to my students as the needs arise. Effectively supporting people requires an investment of relationship, trust, communication, responsiveness, follow-up, and validation:
- Establish Trusting Relationships: I observe people. I listen to people. I take the time to get to know people. Why? Because I value relationship as a foundation for trust. Within my classroom, relationship is founded by mining inside the hearts and minds of students through writing, creating, and building community. With adults, it is getting to know them in meetings, social contexts, community builders, and just being present in their class and observing what interests them by what surrounds them (photos, books, posters, momentos, …). Having a relationship with staff is essential for being trusted both in good times and when they are in crisis needing the support I can offer. With this trust, they come to me, and they appreciate my mentorship.
- Communication and Availability: I’m the mom to many at the school. I keep an open door policy as much as possible and am available to people when they seek my support or guidance. I am present with people and prioritize their well-being. When it is evident that someone needs support, I use my intuitive nature to read body language, tone, and word choice to give me the insight to ask the right questions in order to support them. I genuinely know that my presence, candor, trust, and caring has made a difference for many, and I take that responsibility seriously. My strong emotional intelligence and open-minded, non-judgmental attitude really help me be a compassionate listener and a positive influence in helping someone navigate those tough times.
- Responsiveness and Awareness: In communication, it is important to be responsive and attentive. Constant interruptions are a part of being an AP, but handling them with grace and awareness is essential so staff feel valued and heard. Small graces by putting aside the computer, offering eye contact, and my full attention create a safe space for effective communication to occur, so they know that I care to hear what they have to say, and to find out what they need. I ask: “How can I best help you” or “Who could best help you?” I break down the upset or crisis into manageable chunks allowing for exploration of the root cause – this strategy alone is highly effective to give clarity and insight. As leaders it is our responsibility to allow teachers to feel supported and that they can count on us.
- Follow-up: The key to genuinely supporting teachers is the element of follow-up both in person and virtually. In the follow-up we can train resilience through encouraging positivity, coaching a growth mindset, connecting with their heart, helping them make habits of self-care, and getting them to laugh – yes, laugh! I firmly believe that love, learning, and laughter is the formula to help struggling teachers survive and thrive. In the follow-up, I coach them towards resilience through accountability. As we build up their resilience, they increase their capacity and open-mindedness for growth, improvement, and empowerment.
- Validation and Kindness: The key to helping teachers maintain a resilient state is to offer validation and acts of kindness. This cannot be underestimated as an important strategy to maintain all teachers: a kind word, a handwritten note or email, taking a supervision, or covering a class for a break can go a long way towards coaching self-worth, endurance, and gratitude in staff. Think of our 3:1 ratio rule – teachers, like students, need 3 positive encounters for every 1 negative. We, as leaders, have the power to be the 3 in a teacher’s world, and these acts foster motivation, respect, and success.