Thank Teachers by Changing School Culture

May 06, 2016

Death_to_Stock_Photography_BodyTruths_9-053032-edited.jpgIt’s a… family tradition…

I frequently profess I’ve never taught a day in my life. Everything I know about education has come from the knowledge of trained educators reaching me through listening to what teachers have to say. My mother is a retired Kindergarten teacher who put herself through her associates, bachelors, masters, and, eventually, National Board of Professional Teaching Standards certification  —  all while raising 3 kids and working concurrently throughout it all (wow, mom). Both of my sisters currently teach (if you know anything about me, you’ll find no surprise in learning I’m the youngest of 3). I’m in awe of their collective dedication. They’re called to do this thing that I’m certain is a source of a mix of constant joy and frustration.

I run an educational software company. If you said Education is the Davis family business, you’d be right.

To say I’m an education expert… you’d be wrong. But it doesn’t take an expert to know we don’t give thanks for our teachers throughout the year.

Half of all first-year teachers don’t make it 5 years.

We make it tough to teach

Teachers today don’t typically make it very long as teachers. In fact, half of first-year teachers don’t return after their 5th year. I believe this can be attributed in the way we prepare teachers for the classroom, how we pay them, over regulation, and the general climate of schools. We spend billions in recruiting and educating folks to become teachers, and then we make it so difficult to do so that half call it quits and work outside of their chosen profession.

A (nearly) thankless job

Having worked in schools most of my adult life, I can vouch that the climate in a lot of schools can be stifling at times. Creative, energetic teachers can be saddled with additional responsibilities that can be overwhelming  —  anyone who’s ever served as a grade chair can attest to the prevalence of thankless labor.

Come onnnnnnnnnnn May 29th. I can do this.

Every school year starts the same, an energetic convocation (usually with a Ron Clark or Harry Wong-esque speaker)  —  where we talk about how much we love and value our educators. By May, we’re in the midst of testing… and principals are thankful schools aren’t over 3 floors tall, typically.

What happens between those two points in time? A lot of regulation, rules, meetings, and not a lot of thanks.

Principals: Show your thanks by changing school culture

There’s no two ways about it. Principals set the tone and guide the culture of schools. While running a school and balancing the needs of students, teachers, parents, and your boss(es) can be overwhelming, it’s important to set the tone every day.

Little things make a world of difference here  —  protecting a teacher’s creativity to teach, giving the benefit of the doubt, being upbeat, getting out into classrooms every single day… all matter. Solidarity matters  —  being the last car in the parking lot is a drag, but shows you’re in the trenches with your teachers.

The number one thing you can do to improve your culture? Tell 5 different teachers every day what you like about their professional capacity.

Nary a month should pass that a teacher shouldn’t hear a 1:1 thank you from their principal.


I really like how you handled that discipline issue  —  it was tough to show patience in that situation, but you did and it mattered. Thank you.

You’re one of the most dedicated teachers I have at Anytown Middle. I appreciate it and depend on that to show an example for our younger teachers.

I know you’ve struggled a bit this semester, but you’re still here. You’re getting better every time I’m in your classroom. You’re going to be an important mentor to other teachers, one day. It matters to me you’re putting in the effort (Even teachers who are struggling need encouragement)

I know there’s a lot of data to sift through, but we provide a great tool to manage it. (See what I did right there?? 😉)

I know these sound corny, but try them. I challenge you to show evidence where providing 1:1 encouragement to your staff doesn’t improve morale and help build a happy sustainable culture.

Culture matters. It’s one of the few things, as principal, you’re completely in charge of. It’s one of the most important tools you have to recruit and retain your key players. It should be something you deliberately think about daily.

Happy school, happy staff, right?

Teachers: Change your classroom culture

I just spent the last 2 minutes outlining why teaching is a tough job, right? Well — while it is tough, it’s the profession you chose. Few people sugarcoated it for you. If you’re a teacher, you already know your fellow educators are a vocal lot. If you’re going to do something, it’s important to frame that profession in such a way that allows you to find happiness and fulfillment.

Just as your principal sets the tone of your school, you are the volume of the tone in your school. If you spend your day complaining, you’re taking time away from what really matters — teaching kids. You’ve got 180 instructional days to make an impact in a student’s life before they move on to the next grade. It’s important you make them count.

You also set the tone of your classroom. While your principal generally is the guardian of the culture in your school, you are the guardian of the culture in your classroom. Your principal controls the culture of 30 teachers, you control the culture of 130 students.

While it may feel like you are, at times, not empowered to change the tone and culture of your school, you vastly underestimate your power. No one loves early morning duty, but if you set the tone for your day by putting a smile on your face and accepting that it’s an important part of your job… things will likely go a lot smoother.

Spending extra time tutoring a struggling student after school is a big ask— but these are the activities we know make all the difference in the world. 1:1 remediation works. By framing this tutoring in the context of changing the next 70 years of a student’s life, it helps remind us why we started doing this in the first place.

My point is this: Your attitude matters. Your tone and demeanor with your students matter. Your interactions with your coworkers matter. Your willingness to go the extra mile with a smile on your face matters.

Your job changes lives, for the better or the worse. It’s your choice what your impact will be. That choice happens every day when you enter your classroom. Make it count.



Share on Twitter

Recent Posts


Subscribe to Email Updates