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As the academic year begins to wrap up, educators are tired. Academic Leaders are tired, themselves–and they still need to help colleagues find the energy to make the end of the year productive, rewarding, and joyful. To do that, it’s important to remind teachers and colleagues there are mindsets and actions that can make your school community more kind and resilient. This is a great time to return to key practices that keep your community well:
Foster a renewed sense of community
Academic Leaders can foster a renewed sense of community through modeling acts of kindness toward colleagues. These acts can have big payoffs! Gail Markin, an SEL instructor in British Columbia, writes, “Did you know that when you perform an act of kindness towards another person, ‘feelgood’ chemicals are released in YOUR brain, in the OTHER PERSON’S brain, and in the brains of ANYONE ELSE who just so happened to witness the interaction? Essentially, we have the power to impact each other’s brain chemistry through our words and actions.” In other words, the effects of this type of gesture are contagious. In addition, the lowered cortisol levels that arise with feelings of increased belonging in the workplace can actually boost colleagues’ immune systems. As Markin writes, “The science is clear – if we feel valued by and connected with our colleagues, then we work harder and more effectively while experiencing more fun and more success at work.”
Re-establish clear community norms
The establishment of clear community norms is important not only for new colleagues but also for those who have worked together for a long time. Nina Portugal and Malia Tayabas-Kim, directors at Lead by Learning at Mills College for Education, note that bringing colleagues together to discuss norms, academic leaders can help make clear to their community that “we all need different things to learn best, and the only way we can learn that about one another is by shining light on our needs.” In Edutopia, Portugal and Tayabas-Kim suggest asking educators to consider the following: 1) What conditions do you need in order to be able to do your best learning?, 2) What conditions do you need in order to feel brave in this group as a learner?, and 3) What do you need from others to feel safe learning?
Promote the practice of public learning
The perception that our colleagues are not struggling makes us feel worse and less equipped to confront the challenges of our roles. Portugal and Tayabas-Kim write that “the myth of perfectionism puts pressure on us to share only our successes and not our challenges, making it hard for communities to build professional trust.” They put forth public learning as a way to mitigate this perception. Public learning involves sharing “uncertainties and dilemmas aloud, instead of focusing only on best practices.” In response, colleagues do not propose solutions but rather “support their colleagues with deep listening and courageous questions so the public learner can name their next steps on their own.” Public learning promotes trust among colleagues and more constructive relationships.
In healthy communities, people feel like they can create change. Academic Leaders can foster a sense of self-efficacy both at the individual level and for the community. At the individual level, Academic Leaders can do this by providing continuous feedback that focuses on areas of effectiveness and growth, developing action plans with colleagues, and formalizing a goal setting process. At the community level, Academic Leaders can open themselves up to feedback and make their own processes more transparent. At ASCD, educators Wendy Anderson and Kathy Schuh write, “Administrators who can create cultures that combine high levels of challenge and support are more likely to foster higher levels of self-efficacy.” Individual educators’ self-efficacy promotes healthy community efficacy.
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Brad Rathgeber (he/him/his)