Helping School Staff Work in an Ever-Changing Work Environment

W. Stephen Parker
W. Stephen Parker
Middle/high school principal; M.A. in Educational Leadership
Man talking to his colleagues over a video call.

Greek philosopher Heraclitus stated, “The only constant in this world is change.” Education is certainly not immune to the ever-changing world we live in. Add in a global pandemic and change happens even more frequently and with little to no warning.

Since late February into March 2020, we have seen the evolution of shut down schools, virtual schools, hybrid schools, and of course the continuation of traditional schools all rolled together. We have seen schools start with one program only to move to another and in some cases even another. Helping school staff to work and work effectively in this ever-changing environment is a challenge in and of itself. However, school leaders are charged with doing just that.

We as leaders must actually continue to do what we have been doing all along. We must continue to help our school staff in whatever conditions come along, while dealing with our own feelings and concerns along the way.

Challenges School Staff are Facing

There has always been changes in the work environment, and those changes continue to come along as the educational process evolves. There are still the challenges of motivating students, coming up with new and innovative ways to impart knowledge, dealing with discipline, along with many other challenges along the way. Even with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, our staff is still expected to educate our students at the highest level we can.

As educators, our mission has not changed, and being in the midst of a global pandemic has not lessened the challenges schools have always had. However, one of the most important members of our staff today has become the custodian. No longer is the custodian just charged with keeping the building clean, but also now safe from the virus that so easily besets us.

Teachers are challenged with monitoring their students for more than reading, writing, and arithmetic. Teachers must also monitor students for symptoms while trying to maintain a climate of a safe and orderly classroom. School staff now must be prepared to become virus detectives in helping with contact tracing, all the while reassuring parents and students that they are safe.

School staff must be medical personnel and make sure that all students and staff have safe temperatures. Additionally, all staff must constantly remind adults and students to practice good hygiene and, for goodness sake, stay away from each other. School staff must do all of this while still making sure that benchmarks are met and students are mastering the objectives.

Add in to the mix that some of the students are virtual learners and that complicates things even more. Of course you also have to consider virtual students that do not have internet access. That means careful planning of paper/pencil packets to be picked up and dropped off in time for assessment of student progress.

There are many more challenges that school staff face and probably some that haven’t even come up yet. But rest assured, as long as we teach, challenges can and will come with the territory.

Strategies for Helping School Staff

Be Positive and Expect a Positive Attitude from Your Staff

It is imperative as educators that we put a smile on our face and press on regardless of the circumstances around us. A positive “it is what it is” attitude can go a long way in helping school staff to maneuver through these difficult times. As the school leader it is priority one with staff to exhibit a “can do” positive attitude and work with the staff to meet all challenges.

Be Supportive and Listen to The Staff

Our school staff is the most valuable resource in our building. We must understand that just because they are educators doesn’t mean that they are not human. We must support our staff most especially when they are going through difficult challenges and encourage them to engage in self-care. We also need to be careful to listen to what our staff has to say regarding the challenges we face. Our school staff is on the front lines of all of the educational challenges. We must hear what they say about how the battle is going for them.

Communicate and Communicate Well

Communication, or the lack thereof, has been a complaint of school staff for many years. In this current situation, good, open, and honest communication is more important than ever before. While our communication with staff may be primarily virtual, it is still important to be clear, consistent, and honest with our staff. We know things are changing and in many cases changing rapidly. The school leader should be quick to impart new information and also ready to give the directions needed to cope with the new changes. The fastest way to lose your credibility with your school staff is to withhold important information or not give decisive direction as things around you rapidly change. As the school leader, your staff wants and needs you to lead effectively.

Personally Make Sure Your Staff is Okay

As the school leader who is leading through difficult and often very challenging times, be sure your staff is okay. Take the time to ask individually about family members. Or even be more personal and take the time to ask, “How are you doing through all of this uncertainty?” The old saying, “a child doesn’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” pertains to our school staff as well.

As a school leader, a few minutes devoted to individual school staff can go a long way toward helping them to work through the challenges that have been heaped upon them. This can be especially true if a staff member or family of a staff member becomes ill from the virus during this pandemic. Taking the time to let that staff member know that you care and are there to support them will help in ways you cannot measure.

As we said at the beginning of this article, change is inevitable. But by working together, and pulling together as an educational family, we will get through this. Hopefully, by meeting the challenges in this time of pandemic, we will be better able to take on the next challenge together.

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