In March of 2022, I wrote Teachers Are Quitting, and School Leaders Are Responsible. It was a piece born of the pandemic’s big quit hitting the education world, but to my surprise, it has been one of a few posts that people keep reading. Maybe I wrote a good title for once, and indignant school leaders can’t help but click. Or perhaps it’s because teachers are still burning out and looking for greener grass – with fewer candidates to replace them. Whatever the case, it’s becoming more and more evident to me that job satisfaction is about as likely as the flip of a coin. People in general are prone to work dissatisfaction, and there will never be enough cash to cheer them all up.
So then, Mr. Optimism, what are you suggestions? The best gem I found on the web didn’t come from the New York Times but the old, reliable New Hampshire Bulletin. Michael Whaland, a superintendent, encourages us to focus on why teachers stay, and I think his answer speaks a universal truth: "Teachers are much more likely to stay when they feel supported by both their school and the community – even in jobs that don’t pay well." That’s right, it’s all about community, not the Benjamins. At some point, though, we should sit down and figure out how to pay teachers a fair salary.
I ended Teachers Are Quitting with a list of questions for school leaders to consider. Here is an abbreviated adaptation of that list for leaders who want to build community:
What are the most common reasons people choose to stay in your community? How do you promote and celebrate those reasons?
How does your leadership team build community and support people? Name concrete actions and strategies.
Identify examples of healthy relationships/friendships in your community. How do people support one another? How do you show appreciation for this support?
How do you work deliberately on relationship building with your community?
Why do people feel valued in your community? How can you empower them to share their stories to motivate others?
Who is missing from your community? Who would make it better? What can you do to get them there?
The holiday season is as good a time as any to ponder these community questions. Actually, you should ask them throughout the course of the year, at least every quarter. When you look for signs of community, what do you see? I see campfires and laughter, arms over shoulders and tears on cheeks, the handwritten letter and the heartfelt hug, a cup of coffee without a screen in sight, the binding of souls in song and silence. Do you see givers or takers? Generosity or greed? Friendship or enmity? Compassion or indifference?
These questions matter. A bad answer is costly, and no answer is sheer neglect. Community is too essential to leave to chance – or to the inevitable dropped ball of a New Year’s resolution for that matter. This holiday season, may community be at the top of the list.