Every teacher has a purpose. Every teacher has a reason that they entered the classroom. For some, that purpose originated when they were a student in school. For others, it was an unbridled passion for their content area. Each teacher’s own “why” is what makes them unique and valuable members of their school. However when adversity strikes, purpose is often the first thing that a teacher puts down. In fact, what may seem noble in spirit, the selflessness of forgoing one’s purpose to serve others is often misguided.
Responsive leaders understand that each educator in their building has something unique to offer, and that they can cultivate a collective vision from that uniqueness. This results in an increased sense of belonging and fulfillment amongst their staff as they work towards a shared vision. So although individual teacher wellness, purpose, and fulfillment often may sound vague and unconnected to student success, these can also be viewed as strategies for schools and districts to increase staff morale, teacher retention and student gains.
In fact, self-determination theory posits that human beings need three basic needs to be met in order to find a sense of fulfillment. People must feel competent, authentic and connected. This simple triad can provide school leaders with a roadmap to staff fulfillment and wellness, and a foundation for student success.
People have an intrinsic need to build their skills and develop mastery over tasks that are important to them. They must feel like they have skills that can make a positive impact on those around them. Everyone needs to feel like they are growing as a person and as a professional. Even the most passionate educators who love their working environment will leave their jobs if they feel like they are not being properly developed. So, each school district must provide employees with targeted professional development opportunities and clear pathways for advancement. This can lead to individual growth, reinforce a love for the work, and increase the desire to become valuable contributors to their school community.
Actions to Take:
Complete a Professional Growth Audit to find ways to connect teachers to targeted and differentiated development opportunities
People must feel that they have control over their own lives and classrooms. If teachers don’t feel as if they have autonomy, how will they be able to chart that course for their students? How will they be able to prioritize their professional development, take chances and experiment? Without agency, a school’s faculty will feel controlled and ultimately unfulfilled in their work.
Actions to Take:
Perform regular surveys and pulse checks to gauge morale and give a voice to your staff
Conduct regular learning walks and visit classrooms to gain a better understanding of what is happening in the classroom.
People need to feel a sense of belonging and connectedness with others. In order for people to feel as if they are a part of the team they need to understand and value their position on that team. Schools need different people to play different roles. Once everyone is aware of their part (which is expected to evolve and change) they can then spend their time honing their craft and maximizing their impact.
Actions to Take:
Draft a portrait of an educator for your district to align your staff purpose and competencies to the collective vision of the school.
Create a communication plan to analyze the ways you communicate important information to the staff. Consistent and clear communication is paramount.
Surely, leaders cannot force people to feel happy and fulfilled. They can however take actions, build structures and establish systems that create opportunities for people to be competent, authentic and connected. Purpose is an educator’s greatest asset and it can be cultivated by their leaders, and by school environments in which they work.