I was talking with a friend, also a teacher, the other day about his current school year. He is working in a New York City charter school that, unfortunately but not so surprisingly, is having a difficult year with teacher morale, lack of trust, and teachers leaving before the end of the year. When pressed for the reason why this might be happening, my friend gave me a list of his thoughts on the topic. Of his reasons, what stood out to me most was the overaching idea of a lack of trust among school leaders toward its teachers.
In the name of either consistency or total control, many teachers experience the suffocation of their creativity and autonomy to do what is best for their students. Lesson plans, lesson scopes, lesson timetables, and countless other essentials are given to teachers who are then expected to present the material as-is. Such practices are not only contrary to all research on differentiation within each classroom, and among students in those classrooms, but also reflect the larger idea that teachers can’t be trusted to make decisions about the students that they have come to know and love.
While such all-encompassing plans are justified because of their consitency between clasrooms and done in the name of saving teachers time and energy, I would argue that it stems from a need many inexperienced leaders feel to be in total control. But, this control comes at a cost: it reflects an incredible lack of trust that can be immediately felt by teachers. All teachers (or, at least, the vast majority) want to do what is best for their students and often know what will function best for the students in their class. Teachers want to be trusted as professionals and utilize their creativity, not micro-managed as if they were incompetent. If teachers do not feel empowered and trusted to do what they think is best for their students, how could they possibly trust and stand behind their leaders?
Though the idea of standardized lesson plans and collaboration can be a very good thing, teachers still need to be trusted to make their own decisions in regards to their own students. School leaders need to be less authoritarian and more collaborative and supportive. A good school leader should be present for advice and guidance and provide support, not take over the whole ship.
Unfortunately, this lack of trust can quickly permeate a school building. And if teacher morale and trust is low, it will bleed into the classroom and instruction, felt not only by teachers but by students as well.
To combat this spiral, school leaders need to show trust and belief in their teachers and stand up for their autonomy in front of their superiors. Nothing is more inspiring and comforting than knowing your leader trusts you and has your back. This type of leader inspires long teaching careers and the development of experience, which seems to be a hard-to-find thing in some of today’s most underserved schools.