California Educator

December/January 2022

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minds. Don't just say that we must have a positive attitude for our students. Rather, give us real support, such as applying schoolwide policies with consistency and fidelity, creating schedules that allow for collaboration, and ensuring that evalu- ations are meaning ful. Follow through on your promises and create a working environment built on trust — in each other's competence and in one another's commitment to our students. 2. Give teachers the professional development they want . Through- out the 2020-21 year, the instructional support team at my school site offered professional learning sessions twice a week. S om etim es we had an agenda , sometimes it was a virtual open office for teachers to show up and ask questions. Even though sessions were voluntary, we consistently saw the majority of teach- ers show up to learn. I do not hold to the essentialist thinking that puts teachers into categories of "will participate" or "won't participate" in professional devel- opment. Rather, I follow the "context principle" as discussed in e End of Aver- age by Todd Rose. e principle is: "Individual behavior cannot be explained or predicted apart from a particular situation, and the influ- ence of a situation cannot be specified without reference to the individual expe- riencing it." In other words, the question is not "How do we get teachers to partic- ipate in professional development?" but rather "How can we create a context in which everyone will want to engage in professional learning?" To feel human in our workplace, we need to feel like we have choices, and teachers need to feel trusted and empow- ered to make those choices. 3 . S y s t e m i c c h a n g e , n o t " s e l f - c a r e . " We n e e d t o s t o p t e l l i n g demoralized, tired teachers to "take care of themselves" when what they are really asking for is systemic change. Yes, teacher appreciation gifts are nice, but I' ll take a good f low chart, a clearly articulated process or a problem-solving protocol over a branded water bottle any day. W h e n t e a c h e r s a re c o m m u n i c a t - ing that they feel " burnt out," they are often really expressing demoralization. Re search er D ori s S antoro, author of D emorali zed: W hy Teachers Leave the Profession They Love and How They Can Stay, explains that demoralization occurs when teachers "encounter consistent and pervasive challenges to enacting the val- ues that motivate their work." I often ask teachers, "What makes you tired?" Their answers are almost never about the students. They are about the bureaucracy : inconsistent communica- tion, policies that don't make sense, or the never-ending parade of initiatives they are expected to implement. You may be able to combat burnout with self-care practices, but you cannot fight demoral- ization with a gift card or a spa day. We must bring a critical eye to our schools' systems and practices — and be willing to change things for the better. 4 . G o b e y o n d " c h e c k i n g i n " t o buildin g a c ult ure of re la t ional trust. We cannot ask teachers to build strong positive relationships with their students without making the effort to do the same among school staff. In fact, educational leadership experts say that culture is always at play in a school's suc- cess or failure. And research indicates that building trust among staff makes them more successful when it comes to implementing best practices over time. This may begin with getting to know one another, but it must be a constant, concerted effort. Last year, I helped coordinate grief counseling sessions and devoted meet- ing time for reflection and acknowledging feelings. en a colleague said to me, "I think we just need to have fun together again." So, I took on a new role I like to think of as my school's "cruise director of fun." One teacher called me the Julie McCoy of my school (a reference to the '70s TV show The Love Boat — I had to look this up). I organized virtual happy h ours w h ere we pl ayed triv i a gam e s and sang karaoke. I thoroughly enjoyed watching maintenance staff and coaches come up with the 10 most recent Sexiest Men Alive according to People magazine to clinch a win for their trivia team. is kind of frivolity may seem like just that, frivolity. But ultimately, making the time to have fun together builds trust and cre- ates a more human workplace. Lastly, to make schools human again, we must, on an individual level, commit to being human at work. We must bring our whole selves to work and be human in front of our colleagues and our students. The picture in this article is a 1997 band photo of my husband , w ho i s a hi g h sch o o l En g li sh t ea ch er. D urin g Spring 2021, students returned to in-per- son classes once a week for an advisory period, a nonacademic class designed to provide a space for building relation- ships. He took his ninth graders on a tour of the school to reacquaint them with the building, and to make things a little more interesting, he hid several copies of that band photo along the route. If students spotted one, they could keep it. It was his way of telling them, "I was in ninth grade once too. It will be OK." The students loved it and asked for more copies. Now, he gives these out randomly as rewards. So, this year, this incredibly challeng- ing academic year, we must center our humanity at work. is is what it means to be human at work — acknowledging the connections between us. There are s o m a ny d e hu m a n i z i n g w o rkp l a c e s . We cannot let schools be those spaces. Jennifer Yoo-Brannon is a member of El Monte Union Educators Association. A version of this essay was first published on "To feel human in our workplace, teachers need to feel trusted and empowered." 15 D E C E M B E R 2 0 21 / J A N U A R Y 2 0 2 2

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