“Happy Teachers = Happy Students”

two algae covered turtles

While reading through a text for my own personal development, I paused on the quote “happy employees have happy customers” (Herb Kelleher, former CEO Southwest Airlines). It immediately called to mind a meme I see often on Facebook, Instagram, and all the other social media sites: Happy wife, happy life. (I’m not sure who to credit with that particular statement, but I can assure you that wives all over the world ensure that it is, in fact, a true statement 100% of the time!)

While it is easy to view this maxim as true through the lenses of business and home life, is this necessarily true for education? Can schools be seen and function as places of business, teachers as employees of these public “Fortune 500 companies,” and students, parents, and the community as our customers? Is it a foregone conclusion that if we make our teachers happy, our students are guaranteed to learn and to be excited about doing so?

Let’s examine some of the research.

Peter DeWitt, author of Collaborative Leadership: Six Influences that Matter, links teacher “happiness” to teachers’ feelings of self-efficacy (DeWitt, 2017). According to Tschannen-Moran and Hoy (2000), teacher efficacy is powerfully related to student motivation (happiness) and achievement.

Theodore Coladarci (1992; 2010) found that many school-level variables (i.e., small class sizes, principal’s conduct, and relationships with students and other staff members) affected teacher’s feelings of happiness and thus, their commitment to teaching.

Do you mean to tell me that after more than 30 years of research on school improvement, all we have to do to improve our schools is make teachers happy????

In short, no. Making teachers happy is not ALL, we have to do, but teachers’ happiness and sense of self-efficacy play a large role in successful schools. John Hattie (2014) identified the effect size of collective teacher efficacy at 1.57, meaning we can get almost FOUR YEARS of improvement in one single school year if teachers, as a collective unit, that they can effect change in student achievement! If THAT is not mind-blowing in itself, read on.

How can we make teachers happy?

While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to helping to improve teachers’ commitment to teaching, there are approaches any leader can take so that they can find their own answers to this question.

  1. Build a motivational and open school climate. Be approachable and flexible.
  2. Be likeable! Seek thoughts and opinions without being judgmental.
  3. Provide opportunities for teachers to feel and BE more effective!
  4. Be a partner, not a boss.

In a recent (non-scientific and VERY informal) survey, I asked educators that I know personally: What makes you happy? Overwhelmingly, the response was knowing that they had had some impact on students’ lives – whether it be through direct contact years after the student graduated or the immediate feedback of seeing a student “turn on” in class.

Teachers need to know that they are (if they are not yet, then that they can be) the most important factor of a student’s success. Because, after all, happy teachers = happy students = successful schools!

(For more details on teacher efficacy and making teachers happy, keep reading my blog!)

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“You’re Contagious!”

Recently, I began my journey as an instructional coach for the exceptional student education (ESE) department in my school district. ESE, no matter where you go, seems to have a bit of a bad reputation. Students with disabilities are seen as “weird’ and most personnel in this department get very little say when it comes to the business of teaching and learning. As I began my work in this department, this perception became even more clear. Very few teachers wanted to collaborate with the ESE coach!

Fast-forward to the end of the school year. My team and I are preparing a summer ¬†institute regarding supporting students with disabilities in inclusive classrooms. We are feeling beat down, dispirited, and just plain tired from all of the changes, mandates, and buck-passes that have occurred during the year. I am the youngest (and probably the most inexperienced) person on the team. I’m stopping at Starbucks to refuel and quell my anxiety about this meeting. I take a call from a teammate to clue her in on the latest details.

Immediately upon answering my teammate says, “I’m glad I reached you.” We talk for a little while and I express my excitement about the upcoming summer institute and how much fun we will have. To my surprise, my teammate express, “That’s part of why I called, you know? You’re so excited! Your passion is – it’s… contagious!”

After more than a decade in the classroom, I had been quite worried about being an ineffective coach. I knew I was a pretty decent teacher and had been able to motivate my students in ways that many of their teachers had not been able to do before. But great teachers do not always make great instructional leaders.

Hearing this from my teammate (who has TONS more experience and knowledge in our field than I do) really made my day. And reminded me why I chose to pursue educational leadership.

If we are to improve learning for our students, we have to improve learning from our teachers. We always run into teachers who seem to have lost their passion, their drive, or their purpose. Passing along that excitement to those who need refocusing just may be what we need to engage our teachers in discussions and actions to improve learning!

Passion – PASSItON!conatgious light bulbs