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February 1, 2014
Vol. 71
No. 5

Tell Me About … / A Colleague Who Boosted Your Morale

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Now I Remember

My then-principal was evaluating me in my 4th grade classroom one afternoon while I was teaching a lesson on map reading. The students were engaged and learning, and the principal became involved in the activity herself and had an exceptionally good time. The next week on the bottom of my evaluation she wrote, "Now I remember why I went into education in the first place." It was the ultimate compliment.
—Marcia Mason, teacher, Johnston City Community School District #1, Johnston City, Illinois

Acknowledging the Little Things

There are days throughout the year when the workload becomes overwhelming, self-doubt creeps in, and I wonder whether I am doing enough to reach all my students and contribute to a positive school culture. On those days, I sometimes pull out my stack of short but meaningful notes from my principal acknowledging the little things I've done over the past few years. Reading those notes inspires me to keep going, reminding me that it's the accumulation of all the little things that makes a difference for my students and my school.
—Kate Saunders, middle school teacher, Anglophone School District West, Bath, New Brunswick, Canada

You're Worth My Time

My first full year as assistant principal required a steep learning curve. All year, my principal provided me with intensive training—modeling meeting procedures and teacher evaluations, observing challenging parent conversations and giving feedback, and coaching me through the minefield of middle school student discipline. One day that spring, I drove myself to an interview for a principal position at an elementary school. My self-talk the whole way consisted of, "I'm not ready. There's still so much to learn. What was I thinking?" Then, just as I finished parking, I heard my phone buzz. It was a text message from my principal: "You got this." And I realized that I did have it.
All that intensive training wasn't a sign of my unsuitability for leadership. It was a sign that I had skills worth developing—that my professional growth was worth the gift of this experienced leader's time. Just three words, but a morale boost to beat them all. I got the job, and I keep that insight in mind as I motivate and support the adults and students in my own school.
—Kerry le Roux, principal, Soquel Union Elementary School District, Santa Cruz, California

A Focus on Strengths

I have a colleague who believes in me unconditionally. On top of that, he would do anything to support me. What did I do to deserve this? Well, nothing (note the "unconditionally" part). That's just how he relates to people—with positive regard. He focuses on people's strengths and works harder for others than anyone else I've ever met. I've come to understand that anyone can find errors and faults, but a strong leader connects people's strengths to the mission … which means that you have to be looking for those strengths.
—Suzann Girtz, assistant professor, Gonzaga University, Spokane, Washington

A Kudos Board

One of our teachers instituted a "kudos" board in our faculty lounge. There is a baggie with sticky notes and a pen, and whenever someone wants to give a shout-out or to thank someone for something, they put it on a sticky note. (Signing your name is optional.) I love checking the board as I go by and reading all the wonderful things my colleagues have to say about one another!
—Dawnya Griner, Valley Springs Middle School, Arden, North Carolina

A Challenge Met

It seemed like extra work when it was requested, but the result for myself and my staff was a feeling of validation and appreciation. My superintendent and deputy superintendent asked me to do a presentation to the school board about our professional development department's reorganization and work. Presentations at our school board meetings for informational purposes are typically short and not very engaging. However, our presentation and the response went on for more than an hour with questions and meaningful, positive discussion. My staff and I left the meeting feeling great and reenergized for the work ahead!
—Karen Beattie, coordinator, professional development, Volusia County Schools, DeLand, Florida

It's the Whole Team

There is not one person who boosts my morale at Choptank Elementary School—it's the entire school team that inspires me every day. Everyone on the team makes it their mission to do whatever they can to help every student. From a substitute teacher staying after school to help run the Young Gentlemen's Club to a secretary driving to another school to eat lunch with a former student, the focus is always on the kids and their well-being. Whenever I feel tired or stressed, all I have to do is look to my left or right, and I see someone working as hard as or harder than I am.
—Jon Harper, vice principal, Choptank Elementary School, Cambridge, Maryland

I Won't Let You Fail

It was December. I had accepted a position as our district's first instructional coach. There was no job description, and there were no colleagues in a position similar to mine. I quickly went from a confident middle school teacher to an insecure instructional coach, full of doubts. But one phrase from our superintendent kept me going: "I would not put you in a position to fail." Now, four years later, I find myself trying to inspire and empower teachers with that same gift of belief.
—Mardi Knudson, K–8 math coach, Independent School District 47, Sauk Rapids, Minnesota

Never Too Busy

Our administrative staff has been short one assistant principal position since 2008. As a result, these administrators are always busy and in the building from well before daylight to late in the evening. Their default walking pace is a speed walk. But the principal, Denise Pendley, still makes time to stop by our classrooms, always wearing a smile, to "check on us." She is following the example set by our previous administrators. We are very fortunate to have had such amazing administrative teams for so long.
—Sherry Reece, science instructor, Southeast Whitfield High School, Dalton, Georgia

High Expectations

Although the Randolph County School System has had a series of strong leaders, a change in personnel at and near the helm occurred recently. New leaders brought in sweeping changes in systems, processes, ideas, and philosophies that sometimes felt overwhelming but in the end will benefit students and their learning. At times, we felt as if we were building a new school system, but I've noticed that leaders in schools have risen to the high expectations. Morale-booster lessons I've taken from this transitional experience include the following:
  • Set simple, effective expectations. For example, our superintendent specifically told school leaders to observe in teachers' classrooms two hours a day.
  • Monitor and hold people accountable, and do so from a position of support for schools and the people within them.
  • Gather information and listen to what people have to say before making wide-ranging decisions.
  • Finally, rapid cultural change may be best. Don't get stuck in "the way it's always been." Set the bar high, and people will leap to meet it.
—Dana Albright-Johnson, principal, Randolph County School System, Asheboro, North Carolina

What We Do

Whenever we are frustrated with student behaviors, our principal reminds us that we change lives. That's what we do,
—Kristy Martinez, English teacher, Wasco Unified High School District, California

The Sincerest Form of Flattery

A fellow teacher saw a printout of a worksheet I made and stole it! She made copies of it for all the 7th grade teachers. When she found out it was mine she returned it and commented how useful it was. I was so flattered I didn't even care that she took my original.
—Lindsay Gelay, teacher of the deaf, Neptune Township School District, Neptune, New Jersey

Making a Difference

I teach Bible college students at the theological seminary in Calauan, Laguna, Philippines. When the seminary director asked me to teach curriculum development, I proposed that I teach Understanding by Design using blended learning (face-to-face with online learning) for the first time. My morale was boosted when he approved my proposal and agreed to shoulder all the costs for this new course. Although only six students enrolled, this enabled me to focus on their individual needs and facilitated the blended learning process. Most of these students tell me they have been transferring their learning to others, making a difference far beyond my original course.
—Minerva Reyes Hill, missionary professor, Southeast Asia Theological Seminary Calauan, Laguna, Philippines

A Personal Note

This summer, my principal wrote and mailed handwritten notes of appreciation to each person on the staff. Getting a personal card from the principal when we were out of school for the summer made me feel valued. Obviously, I am important, since she took the time to tell me!
—Leora Itzhaki, assistant principal, Blythe Elementary School, Huntersville, North Carolina

This article was published anonymously, or the author name was removed in the process of digital storage.

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