How an Administrator can Increase Staff Morale

Charles B Foster
Charles B Foster
Middle school principal; M.A. in School Administration
Group of teachers on a video call talking to each other and taking notes.

How Staff Morale Plays a Part in School Success

Morale can be defined as “the confidence, enthusiasm, and discipline of a person or group at a particular time”. School staff who have a positive demeanor and morale are more likely to promote success for their students. In my experience in dealing with staff morale, staff who are happy are more likely to work harder to promote student success. The research on this topic proves that there is something to morale as it pertains to school climate and school success.

School climate can be affected by staff “morale”, or the enthusiasm and desire to want to come to work. Teachers and staff who feel good about their workplace are more likely to work to make sure that their students feel the same way. I believe that students know and can sense when their teachers feel safe, comfortable, and respected. If developing positive relationships with students is a key source of their success, those who work in school leadership should also be concerned with the well being of their employees. Three areas to note that are critical to the success of a school impacted largely by positive staff morale are: safety, relationships, and academic focus.

Safety

School staff who feel safe at school are more likely to have positive demeanor and productive work ethic. This should be the number one focus of all schools. Staff members should feel safe entering and working in the building during the school day. Processes for managing visitors, running safety drills, and daily and weekly safety checks, as well as proper protocols for dealing with the community, are all essential. Doing regular safety checks and being transparent with staff about all safety related-processes is essential for morale.

Relationships

School staff who build relationships with each other and with their students will also experience positive morale. When students relate well to their teachers, they tend to want to comply with them. Think about the teachers you remember from your days in school. Were they positive, upbeat, energetic, and caring? Did they go out of their way to help you when you had difficulty?

In my experience, staff members who respect themselves and their colleagues are more likely to show that same respect for their students. They also work hard to make their class content fun and exciting while making sure they cover the curriculum.

Academic Focus

I believe that teachers who work in a school with a positive climate are more likely to focus on learning and academic objectives. If their overall demeanor is happy, I believe they will focus on learning objectives for their students and take more pride in their work. We have had students comment on the local climate survey with remarks like, “Mrs. S loves what she does”, or “Mr. R enjoys teaching his class”. Sometimes the most qualified candidate for the job isn’t the instructor with the most years of experience, it’s the teacher who builds a positive and caring relationship with their students.

Challenges Created by COVID-19

When Covid-19 hit the U.S. in February of 2020, schools began to shut down or move from in-person instruction to remote learning. Over the course of the last calendar year, the pandemic created major issues for school morale and the overall climate of a great percentage of American classrooms. Educators were affected in physical, mental, and emotional ways just as their students and school communities were.

In a 2021 research survey, nearly three-quarters of teachers surveyed felt that morale is lower than pre-pandemic level, with 85% of the group surveyed feeling that overall morale is lower at their individual school. There are so many challenges for school staff created by Covid-19; two of which are balancing remote instruction simultaneously with in-person learning, and overall student engagement.

The pandemic caused by the outbreak of the coronavirus forced our classroom instructors to teach students remotely. Many of our teachers had never held virtual meetings using formats like Zoom, Google Meet, or Go-to-Meeting resources. Teachers and school staff had to quickly learn and adapt their instruction to formats like these so that they could present information to their students while working from home.

Then as the 2020-2021 school year started, many school districts developed hybrid models for school so that smaller groups of students attended school in-person to allow for social distancing of students (6ft distance), while others continued teaching and learning with classrooms that were 100% remote.

A second challenge that is partly a result of being forced to have remote and hybrid school is student engagement. The challenge is daily, as many teachers often struggle to get students to complete assignments on learning platforms like Canvas or participate in classroom Zoom lessons. Teachers sometimes feel they have failed their students if they aren’t engaged in the lesson, and often times they aren’t sure.

Ideas to Boost Staff Morale

School leaders who are “solutions” focused should constantly think of ways to improve school staff morale. There are many ways to help create positive morale in your school building. I will briefly focus on four ideas including: positive notes/messages, using timesaving strategies, using shared-decision making, and physical rewards and incentives. I believe these examples can be used for both in-person as well as remote teaching situations and can apply to all school staff.

Taking a few minutes each day to write a positive note or email to staff can be a great boost for staff (in-person or virtual). They appreciate the time you take to notice the great things they do for students. Using agendas for meetings with a set and planned meeting format are strategies that save time. Including teachers in school-level decision-making (ie. SIT, Interviews) makes them feel valued and an important part of the whole school team. Seeking their input in decisions can boost their confidence and make them feel more accepted.

Teachers also appreciate physical rewards, meals, or sweet treats. One of the most fun ways to do this is to fill a rolling cart with coffee and treats and go to their classrooms. For virtual teachers, this could be a mailed coupon or gift card. Teachers will often say they appreciate the notes and the gift of time more than food. Improving staff morale is not always easy; but with effort, it can be improved and should be a focus for all school leaders.

Resources
Miller, William C. “Staff Morale, School Climate and Educational Productivity” Educational Leadership, 1981.
*Updated March 2021
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