Principal Helpline: “Morale is low. What do I do now?”

The budget was cut. Teachers were fired. Nobody’s happy. What now?

Q

I have been named principal of a school that has recently gone through a rough time. Two faculty members were let go, the school budget was cut, and the last principal was seen as difficult to get along with. Needless to say, morale is low. What can I do fairly quickly to start changing the culture and raise morale?

A

Listening to your staff is key. One powerful tool to show your interest in what people think is a staff survey.

Decide what you want to know – opinions about curriculum, discipline, administration, schedules, even lunch – and design a questionnaire that people can complete during opening day faculty meetings or as soon thereafter as possible.

I prefer a short Likert format survey that asks teachers to rate various aspects of the school. Be sure to include room for comments.  You can also add an open-ended question at the end of the survey—something like, “Is there anything else you want to say that I didn’t ask?” in case you’ve missed something important.

Tell teachers that their answers are anonymous, but that you will share the results and comments at the next faculty meeting (don’t share comments if someone asks you not to). You can ask faculty to do the survey online, but I’ve had more success getting everyone’s participation by handing it out on paper at a meeting and collecting the papers when they’re finished.

The information you can get from a survey like this is amazingly helpful. I’ve found faculty to be candid and honest when asked for their opinions.  At the next month’s faculty meeting, you can share the results of the survey and together with the faculty identify priorities to be addressed. Of course, issues like budget cuts are beyond your control, but other concerns like school discipline, scheduling, or respect for staff are definitely within your purview.

Survey the faculty again in another month. Share the results again to see if there are any changes (using a Likert scale gives you numerical results to compare).  Repeat the process every couple of months as the year progresses. You will see attitudes change if you follow through on plans to address major issues.

The fact that the principal is asking for staff opinion sends a strong message that you respect their ideas and that you see the faculty as partners in making improvements in the school. It keeps feedback in a loop. It also shows that you aren’t afraid of dealing with issues head-on.

Listening and following through are essential to building trust and raising morale.

 

 

 

Posted by Suzanne Tingley

Suzanne Tingley has been a middle/high school teacher, department chair, principal, and superintendent. She taught graduate classes in education administration for the State University of New York. She developed a series of education videos and has been a Scholastic Administrator blogger.

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