Teachers are Ready to Innovate. What will enable them to do it? Empathy.
Here are 5 ways you can foster innovation by showing empathy to educators in your life:
As the first bell rings for the new school year and students file into classrooms, teachers are expected to stand ready and energized to take on the new school year. While most teachers are happy to start their first lessons and many continuously search for ways to innovate, teachers around the U.S. are simply burnt-out.
New students and working parents are often the subjects of news articles, think pieces and ongoing support, but what if we all made an effort to elevate teachers in the same way? Is it possible that shifting our focus to a more human-centered mindset instead of a high test score could inspire innovation in education above and beyond what simple policy changes can do?
Though most teachers have a passion for teaching, nearly 15 percent of teachers in the U.S. leave the profession every year, and in a recent survey, at least 61 percent of teachers report that their jobs are always stressful. Even more alarming: 58 percent of teachers in that same study reported suffering from poor mental health as a result of on-the-job stressors. These startling statistics show that the current way of thinking of teachers is just not working.
Teachers face a number of issues in their field that professionals in other fields don’t often encounter. For example, in addition to meeting their job standards, teachers must also prepare students for standardized testing while also knowing how to deal with the trauma that students are experiencing. Teachers are also expected to be trained on handling the needs of a wide range of students, all while staying on-task with their professional development and filling out daily paperwork, lesson plans, and documentation. All of these are metrics not required of most working professionals. So how can we inspire teachers to feel supported to innovate?
With five simple mindset and behavioral shifts, we can help teachers feel enabled and empowered to face the new school year:
1. Respect that teachers know what they are talking about and how to do their jobs.
Teachers are highly educated and trained. In fact, 52 percent of teachers in U.S. public schools hold a master’s degree or higher. However, teachers are often confined by a uniform curriculum rather than trusted with their creativity.
“Treating teachers as professionals — on the part of parents and administrators — builds trust and confidence needed for innovative risks,” said Andrea Frankenfeld, a current educator at an alternative school. “If teachers are afraid they’ll be fired or penalized in some way, they will stick to the old way of doing things. At our school, our students have all struggled in other places before they come to us, so engaging them requires thoughtfulness, creativity and personalization. I couldn’t reach them if I was required to stick to only certain texts
2. Listen to teacher’s suggestions and observations about your child and how best to educate them.
Every child is different and teachers are trained to understand childhood development, deal with children from traumatic backgrounds, and account for learning differences in children. Teachers see a variety of children every day, and every child does not learn in the same way. Your child’s teacher may recognize their style of learning before you do, and that is a good thing. The more that parents listen to the suggestions of a teacher and implement their suggestions at home, the better the child may become.
3. Recognize that if teachers get negative feedback, they spend time correcting. When they get positive feedback, they can spend time innovating.
Even great teachers still get negative feedback — whether it’s a simple as “Why didn’t Jack eat all of his lunch yesterday?” or “Why did Lucy get a C on this? You must not have taught her the material.” Outside of major holidays and Teacher Appreciation in May, teachers hear a lot about what they should or should not do, or things they should do differently. But it is important to remember that teachers are only human, and constant negative feedback can create a stressful work environment. The pressure for perfection and/or improved test scores can be exhausting. Hopefully, teachers will get encouragement from their administration and colleagues, but one teacher told us a little love on a random day goes a long way.
One easy way to show your child’s teacher some love is to let the teacher know if your child really enjoyed something they learned in class. Not only does this encourage the teacher, but it also can help them plan more lessons like it. When teachers get positive feedback, they can spend more time innovating.
4. Trust the educator knows best.
“I think the biggest thing with teachers is that most people think that because they were a student once, they know what it’s like to be a teacher,” said Melody Riggs, a media specialist at an urban Title I school. “But we don’t think that about other careers. We don’t think we know what it’s like to be a doctor just because we’ve been a patient.”
When we think we can do someone else’s job, it demeans and diminishes the countless hours of education and training teach teacher has undergone. When someone with no teaching experience tries to tell a teacher how to do their job, it strips the teacher of all that they have accomplished to get there. But, when parents fully trust the teacher’s judgement, the teacher can feel more empowered and able to dedicate more energy into the classroom.
5. Acknowledge that teachers are not glorified babysitters; they are shaping the minds of future generations.
Teachers are responsible for dozens of students every day, and are working hard to teach the required material, connect with each student, and prepare lesson plans. They are not glorified babysitters but are molding the future.
Trusting both teachers and students can provide the space needed to get creative and disrupt traditional teaching stressors. Having empathy for the difficult standards expected of both teachers and students can have positive benefits for future generations.