After asking the question last week about what teachers believe would help with their own retention in the education field, I got a lot of comments, both in person, via text, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Many moons ago, Frederick Herzberg introduced his Motivator-Hygiene theory (which, to this day, still has me stymied about the use of the word "hygiene" in this context). He theorized that employees in the workplace fell into two categories: hygiene and motivation (Herzberg, 1964). See? I told you it was more than a minute ago. I was but a glimmer in the eyes of my parents at this time (please refrain from ageism comments...it will just make me sad). While he found that what he called "hygiene issues" (such as salary) decrease employees' dissatisfaction with their working environment, "motivators", such as recognition and achievement, tended to make workers more productive, creative and committed. I am curious if this is still the case, or if it has changed in the last 50-some-odd years.
What I do know is there is no shortage of teachers who are speaking out (and loudly, in many cases) about their frustration with district office (or central office, whatever you call it in your area) personnel being out of touch with the frustrations and challenges that teachers are facing. I have so appreciated the candor with which teachers have expressed their exasperation and disappointment, as it directly informs the work I do, both in working with administrators and school leaders around the world and in teaching the courses required for educators to get their Educational Leadership master's degree. In one course I am currently teaching for Grand Canyon University, the question was posed asking potential/future school leaders what their interactions with their supervisors have been like. The responses range from, "What interactions? Our administrators are so busy putting out fires, there is no time for interaction with teachers" to "COVID has changed the dynamics somewhat, but our district leaders have no idea what I do in my own classroom". The blessing is that some of my students (teachers from all over the country) have noted that their administrators engage and interact with teachers on a consistent basis.
While there are a good number of administrators who are asking how to get teachers to show their students that they are there for them in this time of need, the frustration from teachers seems to surround the notion that, "We are told to be the light and saving grace for our students, but we, ourselves, are drowning out here, and no one is sending us a life raft." I noted that many teachers say things like, "My district administrators have never been in my classroom. They are out of touch" and "I want to become that administrator who goes into classrooms on a regular basis. My school leaders seem to be so busy telling us why we have to wear suits and ties and dresses and heels, they are out of touch with what we really do."
So, what makes a great leader? I have been asking this question since I completed my dissertation in 2012 on "Character and Competence", in which I asked teachers (and got over 550 responses) what they valued in their principals more: character or competence. Stephen M.R. Covey (Stephen Covey's son) had mentioned in his book "Smart Trust" (Covey, 2012) that he believed character and competence blend together to build a trusting relationship between school leaders and teachers. I was curious to find out if one of the two of those was more important to building trust than the other. What I found out was that those teachers who trusted their building leaders trusted the integrity of the leader a bit more than their competence. What does this mean? They remarked things like, "I'm fine if my principal doesn't know the answer to a question. We all know they don't know everything. So quit acting like you do, and simply tell us you will find out the answer....and then follow through." I've encompassed several responses into this "answer" above, but I do believe the teachers are craving feedback and reflection conferences and support from their supervisors, with integrity and effective communication (which, in many cases, simply needs to be taught---that is one of my favorite jobs).
A fortune cookie I read today said: "A leader is a person you will follow to a place you wouldn't go to yourself." Yessssss!! This speaks volumes, I believe. If Herzberg's theory holds true, teachers would love to have increased pay, for sure, and I don't know one teacher who would say, "Nah, I'm good. I'm getting paid enough. No need for more." But the pay is only a part of the solution, I hear and see. Being supported, having qualified substitutes when the teachers get COVID (yes, teachers get sick, too, although many of us have been known to say, "It is WAY more trouble than it's worth to simply go into school sick than to try to prepare for a substitute when you are vomiting or coughing up a lung"), and simply knowing the district has their backs on COVID restrictions that (inevitably) tend to change on a dime (which, by the way, is what principals say is taking up so much of their time---dealing with the ever-changing COVID protocols). When I was a principal, I used to say to my supervisors, "I don't mind being given a directive. What I mind is being given a directive, then once a parent calls to complain about the protocol we are following, the district administrator(s) caves in and backs the parent versus the teacher or principal, making me look like 'change for a nickel'."
Educators need so much grace right now. What does it take to be a leader teachers will follow into unchartered territory?
Thanks so much for everything you do!! I need those students with whom you are working to grow up to be knowledgeable and compassionate, as Dave and I will need some of them working at the assisted living facilities (or working in in-home care for us) in 20 - 30 years.
Covey, S. M. R., Link, G., & Merrill, R. R. (2012). Smart trust: creating prosperity, energy and joy in a low-trust world. 1st Free Press hardcover ed. New York: Free Press.
Herzberg, F. (1964). The motivation-hygiene concept and problems of manpower. Personnel Administration, 27(1), 3–7.