Why and How to Improve Teacher Morale in a School

Teacher morale is a major issue in private and public schools. Low morale decreases engagement with colleagues and students, diminishes productivity, reduces student learning and breeds cynicism. On the other hand, when morale is high and the faculty culture is healthy, students excel socially and academically, teachers are productive and collaborative, and the school environment is dynamic and engaging. Given the significant role that teacher morale plays, schools must work continuously to improve teacher morale.

The major factors that affect morale are school leadership, workload, compensation, student behavior and professional development. Effective and supportive leaders contribute significantly to high morale, while weak leaders and low morale go hand in hand. Clearly, teaching is intensive, unrelenting and intellectually, emotionally and physically demanding. In addition to teaching, teachers have many other responsibilities such as curriculum development, recess supervision, extracurricular activities, marketing, fundraising and administrative paperwork. Feeling overburdened with so many responsibilities contributes to low morale. Naturally, being overworked and underpaid is a recipe for morale disaster. Student behavior problems are another major reason for low teacher morale, especially when teachers do not have the tools to address the problems. And finally, access to professional development plays a major role in determining morale.

School Leadership: School leaders have extremely demanding and complex jobs. Many enter leadership positions without adequate training. Even with excellent training and experience, school leaders face extremely complicated challenges daily. Ongoing leadership training, executive coaching and professional development are critical to enable school leaders to provide powerful leadership and ensure high faculty morale.

Teacher Workload: There may be no way of getting around the fact that a teacher's workload is heavy. However, when the faculty is pushing and pulling together, hard work is a lot more fun. In fact, in my experience as a Head of School, teacher morale was at the top of the chart when the faculty was highly engaged in major initiatives that required extensive work. Involving teachers in decision making, planning and solving problems, and creating collaborative teams to share the workload contribute immensely to nurturing high morale.

Compensation: Competitive compensation is important. However, the key to compensation as it affects morale is the system for determining salaries and increases. If teachers feel that the system is unfair, compensation, regardless of the amount, will hurt morale. Fairness is largely judged by the perceived congruence between a person's value to the school and that person's compensation. To compensate fairly, schools must abandon traditional "step" systems and implement systems that link compensation and performance.

Student Behavior: Teachers face increasingly complex demands in meeting the needs of their students in both private and public schools. From antisocial behavior to special needs to apathy across the socioeconomic spectrum, teachers are experiencing increasing problems with behavior management. Two major initiatives by schools will help address this problem. First, it is essential to provide behavior management training for teachers who are struggling with discipline. Second, the faculty and staff must work together as a team throughout the school to address behavioral challenges.

Professional Development: Professional development is directly related to student achievement and teacher satisfaction is directly linked to student achievement. Teachers and schools that value professional development or adult learning create the conditions for students to value learning too. When students are making excellent academic and social progress, teachers feel the rewards of their profession. Providing teachers meaningful and effective professional development is fundamental for successful schools and high teacher morale.