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TEACHER MORALE: SUPPORTING YOUR GREATEST RESOURCE

Executive Summary


  • In a nationwide survey of public school teachers nearly 25% of those surveyed agreed or strongly agreed that “teaching is not worth it.”[1]

  • Nearly 20% of teachers say they are dissatisfied with their job and don’t like being at school.[2]


Now more than ever, with hiring quality staff at a premium, it’s vital to retain the staff you have.


Staff morale is vital to the wellbeing of your district, and it tends to be cyclical – at its highest at the beginning of the school year and ebbing after the winter break.


There are ways you can address the “Winter slump.” Now’s the time to give your district’s morale a boost and sustain your beginning of the year energy.


While morale and staff complaints aren’t the same, complaints do reflect feelings about your organization. There is some silver lining to be had with some staff complaints, however. “[P]eople only complain about something because they are committed to the value or importance of something else.” Author Robert Kegan reflects in his book, How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work: Seven Languages for Transformation.


The key is harnessing this energy and redirecting it in productive ways, and recognizing that morale is about more than simply “making staff happy.” Morale is about helping staff feel empowered and an integral part of your school, sharing a sense that “We’re all in this together.”


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[1] (National Center for Education Statistics, 2021)

[2] (National Center for Education Statistics, 2021)


Teacher Morale: Supporting Your Greatest Resource

In a nationwide survey of public school teachers nearly 25% of those surveyed agreed or strongly agreed that “teaching is not worth it.”[3] Nearly 20% disagree that teachers at their school are satisfied with their job and like being at the school.[4] Statistics like this beg the question “When was the last time you checked in with staff to gauge their job satisfaction?”



Morale is vital to the wellbeing and operations of your district, and it tends to be cyclical – at its highest at the beginning of the school year and ebbing around the winter break. “Kids are stressed. Christmas isn’t always a happy time for those students who observe the holiday,” notes Ron Wilke, former superintendent for Watertown-Mayer schools and consultant for Minnesota-based PR firm, Dehler PR. “You’ve got to be out as an administrator and support your staff. They’re feeling this stress, too. You have to be present for them.” There are ways you can address the “winter slump.”Now’s the time to give your district’s morale a boost and sustain your beginning of the year energy.


What is Morale and Why is it Important?

What is Morale?

Merriam-Webster defines morale as the “mental and emotional condition…of an individual or group with regard to the function or tasks at hand: a sense of common purpose with respect to a group.”[5] But, while a definition is helpful, how morale affects the overall functioning of an organization is more important.


Why is Morale Important?

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), 8% of teachers leave the profession yearly and another 8% move to other schools, bringing the total annual turnover rate to 16%. That means that on average, a school will lose 3 out of every 20 teachers.[6]


Megan Perry, Regional Social Worker for Minnesota-based Resource Training & Solutions emphasizes the importance of staff morale and culture as it reflects on students. “Staff culture is student culture. Kids are constantly responding to the biology of adults. When staff feel supported, valued, and respected it creates a healthy and balanced work environment. When staff feel confident, enthusiastic, and motivated they can model these skills at an individual and organizational level – creating a culture that thrives.”


While poor morale and staff complaints aren’t exactly of the same ilk, complaints do reflect feelings about your organization. There is a silver lining to be had with some staff complaints, however. “[P]eople only complain about something because they are committed to the value or importance of something else.” Author Robert Kegan reflects in his book, How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work: Seven Languages for Transformation. The key is harnessing this energy and redirecting it in productive ways and recognizing that morale is about more than simply “making staff happy.” Morale is about helping staff feel empowered and an integral part of your school, sharing a sense that “We’re all in this together.”


What Can You Do to Help Improve Morale?

There’s no magic bullet when it comes to improving or enhancing morale, but there are small, practical tactics you can begin employing today, to help combat feelings of discontent during the darkest days of the year.


Catch Staff Doing Something Good

Recognizing all staff goes a long way in bringing the right energy at the right time. Make the most of your recognition efforts by asking students to provide feedback. Set up a suggestion box or online submission form where students can nominate staff who they feel have gone above and beyond.


Handwritten Notes Benefit the Recipient…and You

Mom was right. Thank-you notes are simple but important. Schedule a time each week to sit down and thank those who are making a difference. It not only boosts the recipient, but studies have shown that showing gratitude also has a positive impact on the giver.[7]


Acknowledge Challenges

Teaching is hard work. Make your administration more accessible by acknowledging when staff encounter challenges, be it from internal stressors or challenges they face from outside the classroom. A 2022 Forbes article notes, “acknowledgment is the key to greater retention, improved engagement scores and more.” Let your staff know they are seen…and heard.[8]


Celebrate Early and Often

Do you take the time to celebrate achievements? How often do you acknowledge what’s going right? If you save these moments of acknowledgement for quarterly or monthly meetings, boost the frequency. Add recognition to staff emails or other communications methods in your schools.


Take Advantage of a Staff Newsletter

If you have a staff newsletter, is it full of HR messages and slim on human elements? Make sure it includes celebrations (see above) and positive stories, tips and tricks, and opportunities for humor or short staff bios so staff can get to know each other. If you don’t have a staff newsletter, you’re missing out on an opportunity for regular communication with your most important stakeholders.


Make Time for Team Efforts

“While people can easily be motivated to engage in independent tasks,” notes non-profit research and development agency, WestEd, “motivation often increases when there are added opportunities to work with others, particularly with people you care about.”[9] How often do you make opportunities for teachers and other staff to work collaboratively on shared challenges or opportunities for improvement?


Create a Sense of Inclusion

Does your staff have a voice in the decisions made that have an impact on their working environment? Bring in a staff representative to ensure staff have a sense of inclusion.


Make Professional Development Relevant

Professional development is vital to staff growth, but are they getting the right opportunities at the right time? Spend time speaking with staff or sending out an interest survey to make your development topical and timely.


Make Staff Time a Priority

While it’s important to meet and keep staff informed. There’s such a thing as too much of a good thing. Prioritizing, pausing, or stopping superfluous meetings will give back one of a teacher’s most valuable tools – time.


Energize Your Staff

Of teachers responding in a NCES Public Teacher Questionnaire, “22% agree or strongly agree that they think about staying home from school because they are too tired.”[10] Dr. Ann-Marie Foucault, Superintendent of St. Michael-Albertville Schools, shared that enlisting the help of local counseling services gave her staff some of the wellness tools they needed to stay motivated. Read more about the St. Michael-Albertville story in the case study below.


The Power of Presence

While each of these activities can add to your “leadership toolbox,” the most important aspect of boosting morale can be the most effective: being present. “You must make the effort, be purposeful, and make the time to be present with your staff,” notes Wilke. “Staff care when a superintendent or other leader takes an interest in what’s going on in staff classrooms and in their lives. The most important advice I can give is to be authentic and caring, to show respect for their work and who they are as individuals.”


Both Wilke and Foucault also believe strongly that focusing on strategic messaging brings to focus a school’s mission and gives staff a shared sense of purpose. Wilke encourages leaders to stay true to their bigger picture. “Look at your core values and stay focused on your organization’s goals and your staff can follow your lead.”


Strategic Plan Linked to Morale Boosting at St. Michael-Albertville Schools

Dr. Ann-Marie Foucault, Superintendent of St. Michael-Albertville Schools, has faced some challenges over the past few years. Between the stressors of the pandemic and failed referendums (that involved negative feedback about the schools on social media), staff morale took a hit. “We had to make $7.3 million in budget cuts and lost 77 staff over 2 years. Everyone was feeling the effects of the failed referendum.”


To take immediate action, Foucault and her team took several steps to turn things around, including partnering with a local counseling service to offer optional individual and group sessions to all staff. However, district leadership understood that long-term morale goals needed a more holistic approach.


Reflecting on the past few years, Foucault believes the steps that had the greatest impact on staff morale had to do with building and maintaining relationships. “We’ve always strived to have strong relationships with everyone in the district, but we doubled down and tied our efforts to our strategic plan and our focus on serving our students and community.”


First, Foucault said she worked with district leadership on several team building activities. “I believe professional development and team building must start with my leadership team and work through so that all 900 of our staff are aligned in our focus of serving our students. We’re all servants.”


Foucault said that their approach was akin to “realistic positivity.” “We knew things weren’t perfect, but we also knew we could work together to bring about a positive change. Sometimes the best thing you can do is be real with staff and let your hair down.”


To that end, Foucault and her entire administrative team make intentional efforts to get out to their schools and have one-on-one interactions with staff and students. “We have what is now known as ‘Welcoming Wednesdays,’ where all 37 staff members in the district office get out to our schools to greet students and staff. Staff use words like ‘energizing’ to describe the effect these actions have had on those they greet and on themselves. Everyone looks forward to their turn.”


While each of their efforts has had a short-term positive influence on morale, Foucault is taking the long view. “Yes, happy staff is important, but it’s about more than that. The effect of our staff’s outlook has a direct and important effect on our students. Our kids need to be in a good place to succeed. Ultimately, our goal is to help our students. We never lose sight of that.”


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[3] (National Center for Education Statistics, 2021)

[4] (National Center for Education Statistics, 2021)

[5] (Merriam-Webster, 2023)

[6] (National Center for Education Statistics, 2021)

[7] (The Importance of Acknowledgment, 2022)

[8] (The Importance of Acknowledgment, 2022)

[9] (Perks, 2022)

[10] (National Center for Education Statistics, 2021)

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