Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Teacher Morale

I am going to deviate from my usual "Tech Tips" to discuss an issue about which I feel strongly.  "Teacher morale" came up as an item agenda at our School Improvement Team meeting yesterday, and the minute I saw it, I thought to myself "OH NO,  here we go again!"

I have sat on our school improvement team (SIT) longer than anyone else at my school because as the full-time technology facilitator, I am a sitting SIT member.  As a result, I have served on SIT for 11 years now.  At this stage in my career, I am getting to the point where I have "seen it all before":  "teacher morale, should homework not turned in be marked as zeroes?; Should students be allowed to wear flip flops?; a variety of discipline issues, gum chewing, students using cell phones", etc, etc...  After so many years, these "critical issues" start to blurr into one murky memory.  I often say to myself: "Come on people, it's just Middle School!"

Anyway, Teacher morale has come up on several occassions in the past, so I know for certain that this is not a new issue.  Sure, there are differences in administation & faculty, but overall the same types of concerns rear their ugly head from time to time.  What's in the background of this current malaise?  It is afterall the middle of winter, and it has been a long one for us in the South East; we may have post holiday/winter blahs.  In addition, we are just starting to see the light at the end of the tunnell of a severe recession.  So, there is definitely context for this current feeling of unease. 

And by the way, Dictionary.com defines morale as "the state of the spirits of a person or group as exhibited by confidence, cheerfulness, discipline, and willingness to perform assigned tasks."

As a professional and a teacher, I love the fact that our job is one of the few where we still have a degree of autonomy.  I personally don't feel like I need anyone to tell me what to do. I need guidance now and again, but I pretty much know what I am supposed to do, and I do it.  I also don't feel like I need recognition.  It's just not in my nature.  So for me, my spirits are kept high by the good feelings I get from doing my job well, and the occassional positive feedback I receive from helping students/teachers.  If you want recognition and feedback,  why not start a blog? A blog will immediately make you feel recognized and you will know that someone out there is listening!

So why the low morale mantra here?  Certainly there are "issues" at our school, but are they any worse than other schools?  I don't think so.  Part of the problem maybe the fact that teachers by their nature seem to enjoy complaining, and when several do this (mostly about small issues) simaltaneously, it becomes a trend and spreads like a virus.  These problems are not significant ones if all of us simply focused on the following:  look on the bright side, offer solutions instead of more problems, and stop whining...

Having said all that, I'm sure there are things we can do to improve the morale at our school.  Listening to one another and communicating more effectively might be a good start.  Recongnizing our accomplishements as Mr. Martin does in his blog each week is also helpful. And finally, I suggest sucking it up and being grateful for the wondeful school we have!

I recently read a blog about school leadership and encouraging morale at schools--It reviews three simple things that school leaders should keep in mind. And again, don't forget--we are the leaders! Don't wait for others to lead you. Be a leader yourself. If our principal has allowed you to be a leader, he  has given you a gift and not told you to be a sheep!

I think we all must step up to the leadership plate and take responsibility for perceived problems at our school. Another resource comes to mind.  it is a book called Learning By Heart, by Roland Barth, and it is about taking on shared leadership roles in a school.  It would definitely be worth a read especially for those who don't naturally view themselves as potential leaders in the school..  Here is a review of it.

One last thing...We all should put "the situation" at our school in perspective.  Everything is relative. People in the corporate world are really hurting right now.  I have a friend who works for a large corporation in Charlotte and his main job lately has been to make lists of people to lay-off. He just had to put a friend/neighbor on one of those lists because that employee had received a B- on a recent evaluation. The guy had never received a poor rating before in his career, and yet he is being laid off... Imagine the morale in an organization like that...?  Be thankful, be positive, and push out the negativity!


  1. Perspective...a powerful word that opens the door to both positive and negative feelings. It may be middle school, but it is still a stepping stone to high school. If discipline, policies, and procedures at the middle school level are aligned like the curriculum for each grade level, then maybe the question should be, "What do middle school students need to learn outside the academic realm in order to be successful in high school and beyond?"

    Frustration breeds low morale and lack of recognition, consistency, and follow-through are causes for frustration. For example, when you thank the basketball team, remember all the other people that help make it possible; the other team, coaches, officials, managers, clock operators, scorebook keepers, cheerleaders, money collectors, concessions, National Anthem performers, maintenance, and the fans. I have taken this example to an extreme to make a point...you have to be careful when giving recognition because unfortunately, someone may be left out. Regardless of how anyone thinks they feel about recognition, it does make your day a little bit better :)

    One final thought as I reflect on the recent blogs; for continuous improvement, we should reflect daily on how our actions or inactions are affecting others in the school. TJMS is only as good as its leaders and this includes everyone; administration, teachers, and support staff.

  2. Another point might be...You just can't thank everyone! We all have seen the oscar award winning actor or actress walk off the stage only to remember that they forgot to thank his or her husband or wife. We are all human, and Frank is going to forget to thank someone everytime he writes that blog. But again, we all need to look at the bigger picture, and be thankful when others are recognized and not be driven by our own "need to be recognized"...Our time of recognition will come.

    I saw something yesterday where there was a suggestion to double the number of teams invited into the NCAA tournament, and the announcer said something to the effect--"Yeah sure let's just let everyone in, and then it won't be as special--kinda like this generation of parents telling their children that they are "special" all the time only for them to grow up as narcisists..." It is a matter of perspective, and we need not over- thank or it becomes watered down too. But I do get the point, we do need to be conscious of those "other" people behind the scenes who also deserve to be recognized...

  3. The example I used was taken to an extreme to make a point and I agree, you cannot thank everyone. I was supporting your comment that recognition is also about perspective. I did not mention anyone specifically because it was intended to be general in nature. Again, it is all a matter of perspective...

  4. I understand Leigh...I was just going with your illustration because I know there are people out there that feel when others are recognized they think why not them?