Opinion
School & District Management Opinion

The 4 Gifts Principals Should Give Teachers This Year (Hint: Not Another School Mug)

How to support teachers and nourish their craft
By Sharif El-Mekki — September 26, 2023 4 min read
A Large yellow bow across the foreground of a  photo illustration group of teachers line up happily closely together along a wall
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The back-to-school jitters are behind us. The scheduling and staffing mix-ups and snafus are (I hope) in the rearview mirror. We’re now firmly in that sort of “normal time” of the school year where routines have been and are established, the cadence of the school day and week are driving along, and staff, students, and leadership alike find themselves in media res.

For school leaders, this is a pivotal moment. Do we take the ambition, aspiration, and optimism of the start of the school year forward, building on the momentum of the early days? Or does the gravitational pull of normalcy drive the sort of reversion to the leadership mean that too often begins to take place as the calendar turns to October and November? No school leader sets out to slide into stagnation, but it happens.

Here’s how to avoid it: School and building leaders, share some back-to-school gifts with your staff. Not a staff pizza party or a school-branded mug, but instead, give them the meaningful gifts that really support them, nourish their craft, and propel them to do their best work.

About This Series

In this biweekly column, principals and other authorities on school leadership—including researchers, education professors, district administrators, and assistant principals—offer timely and timeless advice for their peers.

First, give your staff the gift of time and space to collaborate. Your staff doesn’t need 20 extra minutes to mark papers, though I’m sure they would take them. Instead, give them the chance to be fully what they truly are: professionals with expertise and a range of talents who deserve the space to connect with peers in meaningful ways. Research—from South Korea to Southern California, Finland to Philadelphia—shows that when educators have dedicated and structured time to develop lesson plans and collaborate on teaching strategies, students thrive.

Second, provide the educators in your building with the imperative of anti-racism in all that you do. There is a world of structural racism and bias that pervades our public education system; it creeps into every corner of how we work as educators, how our schools function. The effects of it are chilling for Black and brown students and educators alike. Hold space for Black and brown educators and students, move beyond the affinity-group confines, and celebrate the diversity of your staff and student body. Empower teachers of diverse backgrounds to have meaningful input on leadership decisions and elevate minority voices across the school community to highlight new and important perspectives.

Doing so will enable you to both recruit and retain more Black and brown teachers, bolster a school culture premised on understanding and respect, and advance student well-being.

Third, and more tangibly, teachers do need stuff. Again, not so much a new school sweatshirt (though few would turn one down), but through programs like Donors Choose and the #ClearTheLists campaign, school leaders can be important assets in ensuring that resources make their way into teachers’ classrooms, above and beyond what the district is able to provide.

I hold out hope that we will one day be in a place in this country where our public school teachers don’t need to fundraise—that all our classrooms will have all that they need to fully serve every single student—but we are not at that day. In the meantime, these efforts can deliver resources where they are needed. With the aid of a motivated school leader, these campaigns can be remarkably successful difference makers for teachers and students.

Fourth, give teachers access to professional growth and networking opportunities. PD is great; great PD is even better. Building a professional network beyond the school walls, where content enrichment, personal growth, and new relationships can be built is a game changer. Providing teachers the time, resources, and opportunity to attend conferences, professional gatherings, and the like can open an educator’s eyes to new strategies and teaching moves. It can reinspire and reinvigorate stale practice and provide teachers sustenance through challenging times in their careers.

There are any number of great opportunities along these lines, including SXSW EDU, Southern Education Foundation, EduCon, ASU+GSV, LitCon, ASCD, and Learning Forward’s annual gatherings. A world of enrichment and connection awaits. In November, the organization I lead, the Center for Black Educator Development, will host the 6th annual Black Men in Education Convening, the largest and most influential gathering for Black male educators and our allies. Sponsoring some of your teachers to attend a gathering like these can be a catalyst for growth, both personal and professional.

These are just a few of the potential gifts that school leaders can provide to their staff. Finding the right combination can send a signal that they are valued and give substance to a school culture of personal dignity and professional respect—key factors in avoiding the midyear malaise and the foundation for an inspired school year.

A version of this article appeared in the October 11, 2023 edition of Education Week as The 4 Gifts Principals Should Give Teachers This Year

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Attend to the Whole Child: Non-Academic Factors within MTSS
Learn strategies for proactively identifying and addressing non-academic barriers to student success within an MTSS framework.
Content provided by Renaissance
Classroom Technology K-12 Essentials Forum How to Teach Digital & Media Literacy in the Age of AI
Join this free event to dig into crucial questions about how to help students build a foundation of digital literacy.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management Where Is K-12 Enrollment Headed? Population Trends, by the Numbers
America's public schools will have fewer students in the coming years, but population changes vary widely by state.
1 min read
Illustration of people icon.
E+
School & District Management How to Have a Hard Conversations With Your Teachers: 3 Tips for Principals
Here are three small steps that can ease the pain of a difficult conversation between a principal and teacher.
3 min read
Photo of two women having discussion.
E+
School & District Management How Have School Leaders Responded to the Trump Shooting?
When a tragic national incident happens in the middle of the summer, do school officials feel compelled to respond?
4 min read
A crowd waits for Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump to speak at a campaign event in Butler, Pa., on Saturday, July 13, 2024.
A crowd waits for Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump to speak at the campaign event in Butler, Pa., on July 13, 2024, before a shooting took place.
Gene J. Puskar/AP
School & District Management What Do Superintendents Do in the Summer?
In their own words, superintendents describe what keeps them busy while students are on break.
4 min read
Photo of woman working at office desk.
E+