It is the final weekend of freedom before school begins again. These last couple days of summer are always full of mixed emotions that range from complete devastation to extreme excitement with some crippling anxiety and joyful anticipation thrown in there as well. I think it is fair to say that as we begin a new year every educator is potentially dreading two things. Now, I am sure there are more than just two things that are weighing heavy on people’s minds, but I can promise you that these two issues are at least minor points of contention for all educators. What am I referring to, you ask? Writing goals and poor staff morale.
You may not know this, but at the beginning of every year we are required by the state to pick numerous different goals that we will work towards. It is not actually the choosing of the goals that is laborious (In fact, goals are great because they give people something to strive towards). It is the paperwork that comes along with these goals, however, that we all dread. It is time consuming, tedious, and honestly just one more thing to add to the already ridiculous list of demands that we have at the beginning of the new year.
We have to test children pretty much immediately after they walk into the classroom as a means to collect initial data. It does not matter that they do not know us, probably have not done anything academic in two months, and are still getting used to their new environment. We have to have initial data in order to create percentages so we can anticipate how much growth we can make with our class in a year and then we can compare our final percentages to our initial percentages in order to determine whether or not we are fit to teach children. Did your class exceed your expectations by 10% or more? Congrats, you’re exemplary. Wait, you had a foster child in your class, and another child lost their grandparent, and some of the kids had significant special needs, and one of the students came to school hungry every day? Who cares, can they count to a million and do trigonometry at the age of 5? No, then you must just be sub-par at best.
I am obviously exaggerating, but sometimes it feels as if writing goals is nothing more than paperwork. Of course we want our students to exceed expectations. Of course we are going to work our hardest to make sure every child reaches their full potential. Of course we are going to hold ourselves to high standards. We are teaching the people who will eventually run this country. We do not take that lightly.
Speaking of taking things lightly, I want every educator reading this to attempt to take things with a grain of salt this year. You will not be perfect every day no matter how hard you try. With that being said, please remember that the students and the parents are not perfect either so have patience with them too. When we get stressed out we tend to take this out on our colleagues because they are the people we spend the most time with. This leads to issues with morale, cranky people, and binging on chocolate, which are not good for our health (even though chocolate is delicious).
At the start of every year morale is decent. People have not been together all summer so they are excited to share stories of the adventures that they have had, and hear about what other people have been up to. We all laugh and enjoy the food that the fabulous PTO provides to us. Slowly, as the year progresses, this shifts. The shiny newness has rubbed off and people begin to sink into their old habits. The gossip starts, the cliques reassemble, and the complaints begin to fly. I am completely guilty of whining as much as the next guy. Something seems to happen around March each year that almost feels as if a weight has been placed on everyone’s shoulders. We become tired, burnt out, and fatigued. The annoying colleague becomes extra annoying and we snap at people who we know do not deserve the negativity. It doesn’t feel good, and we are the only people who can fix it.
I would like to take the two things that I feel the most negativity towards, and mesh them into one positive. This school year I am making it my goal to improve staff morale. I will not collect data, create percentages, or spend hours writing about how I will improve my practice. I will simply be kind. I will give out compliments, treat people to coffee, and hug someone who is having a bad day. I will smile at other staff members in the hallway, hold doors, and say good morning. My goal is to do at least one act of kindness for every other staff member between now and the end of the year, and I would like to challenge you to do the same. Do something small, do something big, just do something to brighten other people’s days. Maybe if we are all working on bettering our schools we will see at least a small uptick in morale. Now I know this won’t stop us from having to write goals, BUT perhaps it will make us smile a lot more often.
The beginning of the school year is hard. It is stressful, anxiety producing, and exhausting, but it is also so worth it. Seeing the kids walk in with shining eyes and a desire to learn never gets old. Let us make this our best school year yet. Be kind, and show those goals who is boss.