Launching a new year is a complex, multifaceted challenge. So much needs to be planned and implemented. Orienting new students, onboarding new staff, and establishing new structures and procedures are just a few examples. One thing is clear: A successful launch to the new year requires a focus on students and their needs. Since teachers are the primary interface with students, their success, too, is crucial to getting off to a good start. If we want students to succeed, we need to ensure that teachers succeed.
It is also true that the success of leaders in a new start is dependent on teachers having a successful start. Of course, we may not be able to remove every challenge our teachers will face or prevent every problem they will encounter. However, there are several crucial ways in which we can provide support that will help them deal successfully with the problems and challenges they will face. Here are four important ways in which we can provide the crucial support that teachers crave in the first weeks of school.
First, we need to provide time, permission, and encouragement to form relationships with students. We know that forming relationships is an important component of the start to a successful year. Still, teachers can feel pressure to focus on curriculum content and skill development, especially with the current focus on “catching students up.” Yet, until students feel supported and that they belong, focusing on academic learning is often a second level concern. In fact, spending time early in the year to build relationships and create community can lead to more effective learning and a faster learning pace as the year unfolds. By communicating that relationship building is a priority, we can relieve stress for teachers and improve student behavior and learning.
Second, we can commit to ensuring that teachers have the crucial tools and supplies needed to be successful. Few things are more discouraging than to begin the year without the essential supplies and equipment necessary to present lessons and engage students in learning. Checking in with teachers, following up on deliveries and work orders, and even bartering for needed supplies and equipment can make a big difference in reducing stress and increasing success in the first few weeks. Of course, we will not always be able to provide everything that staff members may desire, but we can be advocates and problem solvers on their behalf. Our efforts can make a big difference in the support teachers feel.
Third, we can prevent disruptions and distractions that interfere with early learning. The beginning of a new year typically brings a variety of information we need to communicate within the school community. New procedures and expectations deserve attention. We also may want to collect the student body for programs and activities to build community and school spirit. However, we need to be cautious about interruptions and disruptions that can get in the way of students and teachers developing learning rhythm and routines. We need to look for alternative venues and strategies to accomplish essential tasks and communicate key information in the first few weeks. Short videos, email briefings, podcasts, and other means of communication may allow us to accomplish our goals without getting in the way of learning or becoming an avoidable distraction. Teachers especially crave uninterrupted opportunities to build learning routines and create momentum as the new year begins.
Fourth, we can provide support by being visible and present. We know the value of being visible. When people see us in hallways, during informal walkthroughs, sitting in on meetings, and at school events and activities, we send a message about our commitment to be physically present. This is an important message, but our physical presence is just the first level of impact. People need to see and feel that we are emotionally and intellectually present if we want to have maximum impact. When we greet people by name, ask relevant and insightful questions, and offer encouragement and support, we add our interest, engagement, and commitment to the messages we send. During the first weeks of uncertainty and potential confusion, our physical, intellectual, and emotional presence can go a long way toward satisfying teacher cravings for support.
There will always be “bumps in the road” during early weeks of a new school year. We cannot expect to predict or plan for everything that will happen. However, we can provide the support and reassurance that we are ready to do what is necessary to protect learning and provide the essential support that teachers crave.