Building a Great Teaching Team

Great Teachers = Great Schools

In Hollywood they say casting is everything. If you pick the right actors to star in your movie, odds are better it will be a box office blockbuster. Same holds true for schools. If the staff and teachers are great, odds are much higher the school will be great. A great place to learn and work. So how does a principal find and maintain a stellar teaching staff? We surveyed 274 principals and assistant principals from private, public, and parochial schools across the U.S. to find out.

Hiring Great Teachers

Hire Who You Know

You know the old adage: it’s not what you know, but who you know. When it comes to hiring teachers, this appears to be true. Ninety-two percent of the principals and assistant principals we surveyed said they give first consideration to candidates they know personally or are recommended by someone they know. Seventy-one percent said they rely on recommendations from colleagues when hiring new teachers, 60% said they give student teachers a shot, and 47% of principals give subs more consideration than the average anonymous applicant. Only a quarter of those surveyed said they give first consideration to “off-the-street” candidates. One administrator even said she gives high consideration to candidates referred by parents. In short, go with who you know!

Top Qualities Administrators Look for in Teaching Candidates

A passion for teaching was the number one quality administrators look for in new teaching candidates. Eighty percent of respondents said it tops their list. One administrator said, “During the interview process you can truly see the person loves to work with children and will do anything and everything to ensure students are successful.”

The second quality principals look for when hiring are interpersonal or “soft” skills. Sixty percent mentioned this is a must in their teaching candidates. Soft skills like “resiliency,” “self-confidence,” “reflectiveness,” “flexibility,” “common sense,” and the “ability to build rapport with students, staff, and parents” were called out as incredibly important. And this holds true even more so at public schools, where 62% (versus 43% of religious school principals) noted it as a top priority.

Rounding off the top three qualities was expertise in their field. Thirty-nine percent felt it was an important quality in teachers. Interestingly, only 13% said having an advanced degree was important, so it seems the expertise administrators value is hands-on experience. “Over the years, those with teaching experience and student interaction have always been better staff than those with the higher degrees,” said one administrator. “Many have the very minimum in degrees; yet they seem to go above and beyond in reaching their students.”

Best Ways to Attract Good Teachers

When asked how to attract good teachers, most of the administrators we surveyed said you need to “be a school where people want to work.” A good reputation is key. “The best ways to attract good teachers,” said one principal, “is to have a school recognized for high standards, enriched curriculum, teacher support, pleasant working environment, and opportunities to voice opinions.” If your school is known for being a great school with a positive work environment, happy teachers, and a solid community, good people will want to work there.

Other administrators stated that if you want to attract great teachers, you need to offer competitive salary and benefit packages. “Competitive salaries and benefits make a positive first impression when teachers come to interview with you,” said one principal. If you don’t have any wiggle room when it comes to salary, offering other perks like flexibility, assistance with continuing education, or professional development can also help attract good people.

Retaining Great Teachers

According to our survey, the number one way to retain good teachers is to be supportive. Make them feel valued and appreciated. If you want to keep teachers, you need to “provide support for them and give them the utmost respect.”

It’s also important to build trust. Listen to them. Have an open-door policy. Know they can come to you with any problem—personal or professional—and have your ear.

And it goes without saying that creating a safe, positive work environment where teachers can thrive is a must. Create a school culture based on mutual respect. Having camaraderie amongst the staff is vital. To retain great teachers, morale must be high. If people are happy, they’ll do their best and stick around.

Facilitating Camaraderie

Teaching is an incredibly rewarding job, but let’s be honest, it can be very demanding and stressful. One of the best ways to help teachers deal with the pressure is to facilitate camaraderie amongst the staff. When teachers feel supported and part of the school community, they can handle the demands of the job better. One respondent summed it up like this, “The single most important thing to do to retain good teachers is to have a positive culture/climate on your campus where the staff are enthusiastic, positive, and supportive of each other as they work together to accomplish the goals of the district.”

All of the principals we surveyed felt that the responsibility for facilitating this camaraderie lies squarely on their shoulders. Eighty-six percent said the principal plays a “very important” role, and 14% said he or she plays a “somewhat important” role in it. Not a single respondent answered “not too” or “not at all” important.

Staff parties/luncheons and meetings were cited as the two most effective ways to facilitate camaraderie. “Taking time to share ‘good news’ at staff meetings … promotes a sense of family,” said one administrator.

At public schools, team-building exercises were a popular way to help the staff connect; while at parochial schools, retreats were mentioned by nearly half the respondents.

Building Morale

One would think perks and parties are the best ways to build morale, but according to our survey, the best way to boost teacher morale is to involve them in decision-making and value them. Eighty-seven percent said involving teachers in team building and problem solving is the way to go. Eighty-two percent said inviting teachers to help shape school curriculum is vital, and 75% said involving teachers in creating policies that affect them is a good way to build morale. “Ask for their input,” said one administrator. “Make them a part of the process.”

Being supportive is also incredibly important. Eighty-two percent of the administrators we surveyed said “offering support and coaching” is a great way to boost morale—being available to the staff to answer questions, checking in on them, and offering support for both personal and work-related issues. According to one of the respondents, “Going into their classroom during their prep period and giving (teachers) the opportunity to share one-on-one” is a great way to offer support. You can go to them or have an open-door policy so that teachers will come to you and share their thoughts and feelings.

Many respondents mentioned that giving teachers personal notes and positive letters to let them know they are valued and appreciated builds morale. And one administrator said the key to success is to have chocolate on hand 24/7. Lots of chocolate!

Creating a Good Work Environment

As with building morale, the best way to create a good work environment, according to the administrators we surveyed, is to stand behind and support the staff. “Listen to them,” said one principal. “Always have an ear for their needs.”

Seventy-two percent of administrators said improving student behavior is vital to creating a good work environment. One respondent said they “follow the golden rule school-wide.” Teachers, students, administrators—everyone is expected to treat one another with kindness and respect.

Safety is also a major concern. Seventy-two percent of respondents said providing a safe work environment is key.

Seventy percent of assistant principals felt giving teachers adequate time for lesson planning and grading is a great way to create a positive culture. This was a bigger issue at public schools (70%) than religious schools (43%).

Offering professional development opportunities was also cited as one of the top five ways to create a positive work environment.

And private school administrators were much more likely (71%) than public school principals (40%) to offer flexibility when teachers request time off.

Motivating Teachers

The best ways to motivate teachers, according to our findings, are to celebrate and praise them. “Brag about their accomplishments inside and outside of the school,” suggested one principal. Give them prizes for a job well done.

Feed them! It sounds silly, but offering little perks like lunch or snacks at meetings is a great way to keep your team motivated and happy.

It’s also important to get out of your office. If you’re on campus engaged with your staff and working alongside them, they will be more motivated to do their best. “I ensure that if they need help with students or parents, I am involved so they are never left on an island,” said one administrator.

And finally, be positive yourself! If you smile, the staff will smile with you!

Taken from:

What teachers really want to tell parents?

By Ron Clark, Special to CNN

September 6, 2011 -- Updated 1312 GMT (2112 HKT)

(CNN) -- This summer, I met a principal who was recently named as the administrator of the year in her state. She was loved and adored by all, but she told me she was leaving the profession.

I screamed, "You can't leave us," and she quite bluntly replied, "Look, if I get an offer to lead a school system of orphans, I will be all over it, but I just can't deal with parents anymore; they are killing us."

Unfortunately, this sentiment seems to be becoming more and more prevalent. Today, new teachers remain in our profession an average of just 4.5 years, and many of them list "issues with parents" as one of their reasons for throwing in the towel. Word is spreading, and the more negativity teachers receive from parents, the harder it becomes to recruit the best and the brightest out of colleges.

So, what can we do to stem the tide? What do teachers really need parents to understand?

For starters, we are educators, not nannies. We are educated professionals who work with kids every day and often see your child in a different light than you do. If we give you advice, don't fight it. Take it, and digest it in the same way you would consider advice from a doctor or lawyer. I have become used to some parents who just don't want to hear anything negative about their child, but sometimes if you're willing to take early warning advice to heart, it can help you head off an issue that could become much greater in the future.

Trust us. At times when I tell parents that their child has been a behavior problem, I can almost see the hairs rise on their backs. They are ready to fight and defend their child, and it is exhausting. One of my biggest pet peeves is when I tell a mom something her son did and she turns, looks at him and asks, "Is that true?" Well, of course it's true. I just told you. And please don't ask whether a classmate can confirm what happened or whether another teacher might have been present. It only demeans teachers and weakens the partnership between teacher and parent.

Please quit with all the excuses

And if you really want to help your children be successful, stop making excuses for them. I was talking with a parent and her son about his summer reading assignments. He told me he hadn't started, and I let him know I was extremely disappointed because school starts in two weeks.

His mother chimed in and told me that it had been a horrible summer for them because of family issues they'd been through in July. I said I was so sorry, but I couldn't help but point out that the assignments were given in May. She quickly added that she was allowing her child some "fun time" during the summer before getting back to work in July and that it wasn't his fault the work wasn't complete.

Can you feel my pain?

Some parents will make excuses regardless of the situation, and they are raising children who will grow into adults who turn toward excuses and do not create a strong work ethic. If you don't want your child to end up 25 and jobless, sitting on your couch eating potato chips, then stop making excuses for why they aren't succeeding. Instead, focus on finding solutions.

Parents, be a partner instead of a prosecutor

And parents, you know, it's OK for your child to get in trouble sometimes. It builds character and teaches life lessons. As teachers, we are vexed by those parents who stand in the way of those lessons; we call them helicopter parents because they want to swoop in and save their child every time something goes wrong. If we give a child a 79 on a project, then that is what the child deserves. Don't set up a time to meet with me to negotiate extra credit for an 80. It's a 79, regardless of whether you think it should be a B+.

This one may be hard to accept, but you shouldn't assume that because your child makes straight A's that he/she is getting a good education. The truth is, a lot of times it's the bad teachers who give the easiest grades, because they know by giving good grades everyone will leave them alone. Parents will say, "My child has a great teacher! He made all A's this year!"

Wow. Come on now. In all honesty, it's usually the best teachers who are giving the lowest grades, because they are raising expectations. Yet, when your children receive low scores you want to complain and head to the principal's office.

Please, take a step back and get a good look at the landscape. Before you challenge those low grades you feel the teacher has "given" your child, you might need to realize your child "earned" those grades and that the teacher you are complaining about is actually the one that is providing the best education.

And please, be a partner instead of a prosecutor. I had a child cheat on a test, and his parents threatened to call a lawyer because I was labeling him a criminal. I know that sounds crazy, but principals all across the country are telling me that more and more lawyers are accompanying parents for school meetings dealing with their children.

Teachers walking on eggshells

I feel so sorry for administrators and teachers these days whose hands are completely tied. In many ways, we live in fear of what will happen next. We walk on eggshells in a watered-down education system where teachers lack the courage to be honest and speak their minds. If they make a slight mistake, it can become a major disaster.

My mom just told me a child at a local school wrote on his face with a permanent marker. The teacher tried to get it off with a wash cloth, and it left a red mark on the side of his face. The parent called the media, and the teacher lost her job. My mom, my very own mother, said, "Can you believe that woman did that?"

I felt hit in the gut. I honestly would have probably tried to get the mark off as well. To think that we might lose our jobs over something so minor is scary. Why would anyone want to enter our profession? If our teachers continue to feel threatened and scared, you will rob our schools of our best and handcuff our efforts to recruit tomorrow's outstanding educators.

Finally, deal with negative situations in a professional manner.

If your child said something happened in the classroom that concerns you, ask to meet with the teacher and approach the situation by saying, "I wanted to let you know something my child said took place in your class, because I know that children can exaggerate and that there are always two sides to every story. I was hoping you could shed some light for me." If you aren't happy with the result, then take your concerns to the principal, but above all else, never talk negatively about a teacher in front of your child. If he knows you don't respect her, he won't either, and that will lead to a whole host of new problems.

We know you love your children. We love them, too. We just ask -- and beg of you -- to trust us, support us and work with the system, not against it. We need you to have our backs, and we need you to give us the respect we deserve. Lift us up and make us feel appreciated, and we will work even harder to give your child the best education possible.

That's a teacher's promise, from me to you.

How a school kept parents happy using SMS

Parents are funny creatures. When it comes to their offspring, their expectations of care and service generally escalate beyond that which they would be happy with for just themselves.
So a Queensland school recently scored 110% for customer service from parents of children returning from a school camp simply from the sending on a simple text message.
The school camp was on an island and as the weather had deteriorated and the seas become rough on the night before they were due to return home, the school took the initiative of organizing a bigger boat to ensure enhanced comfort and safety of the students and staff.
Of course parents may not have known this and remained worried.
The school took another step and sent a text message advising parents that a bigger boat had been organized, the firm arrival time of the boat and requested to know if the parents wanted to collect their children from the dock, or have them taken to school and be picked up at end of the normal school day.
By personalising the message not only with the parent’s name and the child’s name and asking for a response by SMS, there was a quick, simple and effective communication channel set up that only cost a few dollars and saved staff time and parent concern.