Summer is renewal time for educators. As leaders, we look forward to the energy and enthusiasm with which teachers and students return to classes. For many across the country, school opens soon and we hope that this is your experience. We also acknowledge that it may not be so. Last year was marked by concerns over student achievement, teacher evaluation and tenure, changes in curriculum, standards and testing, new accountability measures, and the overwhelming amount of negative press. The goal became survival and morale suffered.
The Mood Sets the Tone
So, now they are preparing to return. How each leader meets this year and welcomes everyone back will affect how high the beginning point is. Students deserve to spend their days learning in an environment in which everyone feels safe, supported, motivated, confident, and respected…and excited for the new year. The role of the leader in raising and maintaining morale is key. But how does one accomplish that?
In their article “What to Do When Your School’s in a Bad Mood”, Megan and Bob Tschannen-Moran describe morale as a mood and clarify the difference between mood and emotions. They describe emotions as being intense and intrusive and moods being “habits of mind or ways of being in the world” (p. 37). In other words, the state of mind with which we meet situations will have an affect upon how the rest of us will feel.
The tone and mood of a building and district certainly impacts everyone within them. That includes the children. So it is with the children in mind, we reflect upon what we are experiencing and how we are communicating, verbally and non verbally.
The Step After Understanding
Often, in an attempt to connect with each other, leaders and teachers join together through empathy and compassion. Negativity is a powerful unifier. And often, that is it purpose. It is not enough to commiserate or express compassion and empathy. There needs to be a next step. Once understanding is shared unless another step is taken, the unintended consequence of the agreement is a lowered morale. Feelings about what is happening to schools, what is being said about schools and those who work within them do need to be acknowledged. Feeling understood is important. But then what? There needs to be created a space and an appreciation for optimism and hope. New staff often carry those messages but we have fewer and fewer of them these days. So it has to come from within us, the leaders.
Remembering what is done well, what the students need, the tone with which all of this is communicated, the good things…all make a difference. Understanding what is difficult or frustrating or maddening is only the first step; it cannot become a settling location. There is a requirement that we hold focus on the students, the purpose and passion that brought us to this work in the first place, and the strengths of each person and the school itself. The mood of the school and district has to inspire the work that allows students and adults to flourish; it has to be an environment in which learning takes place because of it, not in spite of it.
This may seem quite the challenge. The beginning of this century has been a difficult time for educators. The seriousness with which work is approached in schools, matters but it also matters if schools are places where joyful interactions occur. We cannot let fear and pressure take those things away from us or the children. Leaders have the responsibility of preventing the mood from being one of feeling defeated, dismayed, defamed and cynical.
Enter 2014-2015 Anew
Even if that is how the staff left for summer vacation, and even if the leaders, themselves, were in those places, we cannot be there when the doors open for 2014-2015. Holding the balance between the things that need to be done and the attitude with which they are accomplished is our work. Leaders are the models. And while we cannot control the things that come at us, we do have control over how we feel and react. A colleague recently shared the reason he loves being an educator. “I have ability to share my passion for learning everyday and believe educators can inspire ideas that lead to a better world.” We have a bit more time to reconnect to or reignite our own passion. With that intact, we can open the doors and mean it when we say “Welcome Back.” Unless we can do that, it isn’t a new year. It will be last year all over again.
Tschannen-Moran, Megan and Bob”What to Do When Your School’s in a Bad Mood”, Education Leadership, , February 2014. Vol. 71. No 5 pp. 36-41