From staffing shortages and school board protests to the ongoing challenges presented by the pandemic, times are tough for educators and school leaders, and may be getting even tougher. A recent poll by Ipsos showed that public trust in teachers has declined by six percentage points during the course of this pandemic, citing the response to the pandemic and the conflicting political and social climate as key reasons for this dip. As teachers face scrutiny that calls their decisions and choices into question, strong school leaders must step up and be that point of outreach providing their communities with valuable insight, addressing concerns while also helping teachers navigate the hardships and opportunities.
While it may be challenging and sometimes even overwhelming, school leaders who invest in creating a strong voice within their communities will find it produces immense benefits. This past year, NWEA formed a partnership with UChicago Impact to provide resources that guide and support school improvement efforts. As part of that, we’re helping districts develop supportive environments centered on strong school leadership to help them navigate through the current climate and beyond. When school communities are structured around supportive environments, several positives arise including better outcomes for students. Here are a few:
Greater teacher retention: Based on a survey conducted by RAND in January 2021, one in four teachers in the U.S. has considered quitting the profession during the pandemic stating the work conditions and stress as their key reasons. While external factors (like a pandemic) will always be an issue, work conditions and supporting teachers’ well-being and mental health are aspects that a strong school leader can address starting with clear policies and expectations regarding work. Something as straightforward as clarity and transparency, even on unpopular decisions, can decrease work-related stress because teams understand the expectations, can plan accordingly and lean into a more trusting relationship.
Increased family engagement and trust: The effort must go beyond a newsletter here and there, but deeper toward truly listening and making engagement a two-way dialog that is open, transparent and ongoing. As a start, investing in family engagement needs to come from a strategic, all-hands-on-deck approach where each member of the school community understands their role and family engagement is clearly defined. The dividends of this investment are substantial—especially for the students. Based on the Brookings Institute’s new “Family Engagement Playbook,” it noted that schools with strong family engagement were 10 times more likely to improve student learning.
Caring and supportive school environment: School leaders set the tone, the expectations, and conditions for a positive environment. They have the ability to impact teacher and staff retention which leads to the overall stability of a school ecosystem. And with a fully engaged community, their leadership can curate a caring, supportive, and safe school climate – ultimately leading to greater student outcomes. Part of this includes having a common vision for their school community and being able to clearly articulate it to grow understanding and collaboration. A common vision is also a reference point for decisions and challenges. Defining the “what we want to be as a school,” and the “what’s important to us” can be powerful, especially in tough times.
While the current educational landscape will continue to be wrought with debates, challenges and upheaval, strong and effective school leaders are the key to helping their school communities maneuver through these rough waters. They must be that force of insight, open communication and a stable, trusted resource providing both transparent engagement between the school and its stakeholders while also providing the runway and space for teachers and staff to do what they do best—meet the needs of students every day.