• By Rogelio López del Bosque, Ed.D. • IDRA Newsletter • June- July 2009

Teachers are currently under pressure to have a measurable positive impact on student academic achievement. Creating an environment that mitigates this pressure becomes a huge responsibility of a campus principal and administrative team. This type of environment requires that teachers have high expectations of themselves and of their students and feel that they are supported and valued for their contributions.

This article provides some insights from a former principal of a successful high school with students who are traditionally underserved and that defied widespread myths and attitudes about certain student populations.

If we are to make schools work for all children and be accountable, we must also provide the needed support, understanding, valuing and validation of our teachers. As administrators, this is perhaps one place where we can take the first steps to reform and transformation.

Rick DuFour states: “Humans have a fundamental longing to believe we are successful in what we do – our need to achieve. Educators are typically denied this sense of success. Bombarded with too many state, national and district standards for students to master, teachers are often unclear as to what they are supposed to accomplish” (Villarreal and Scott, 2008).

So what can we all do to help support all of our teachers? When teachers are valued, understood, appreciated and supported to do what they are supposed to do – to teach – they respond positively, feeling respected and involved in moving the school vision forward. Teachers, then, support each other and work collaboratively to support the school, students and parents. They feel empowered and are able to create a caring and nurturing family atmosphere where they value each other. They can overcome many of their hardships by focusing on what is best for the individual students. They develop high expectations and in turn value the students for their knowledge, culture and values.

As a high school principal, I worked hard at creating an environment that valued everyone on staff and the students, parents and community members. It was always my policy to understand the teachers first, treat them as professionals and support them at all times. In five years, the school moved from a state acceptable school to an exemplary campus.

We need to continue to support our teachers at all times. We need to change the paradigm to one of respect for the knowledge and experience they have and for all the effort that goes into their daily work. We can no longer blame the teachers, parents, students or anyone else for that matter. There is not enough time. We must move forward in providing our children with the best education possible as guaranteed by the federal guidelines.

So let’s move from blaming to shared responsibility for educating our children, and we can certainly start by providing the necessary support so they can focus on really teaching the children.

The following are very effective, practical approaches to help maintain a supportive culture for teachers in creating a successful school.

Be Accessible and Advocate

  • Be pro-active in making yourself visible as much as possible around the school. Let it be known that you are there to support and be of service to the teaching staff.
  • “Seek to understand” and be a good listener to teachers. Help resolve issues or problems with students or content or, in some cases, personal issues in their lives.
  • Keep an open door policy for your teachers. Teachers have urgent and immediate needs and require a response from you as an administrator. There should be no barriers preventing teachers from talking to you when they need you. If we want teachers to teach, then support them, listen to understand and get them what they need so that they can carry on with their teaching.
  • Do not keep your teachers waiting to talk to you. Always respond to questions or concerns they have communicated with you via e-mail with concrete examples and suggestions they can apply in the classroom.
  • Advocate for teachers when they are faced with non-constructive criticism. Work with teachers, other staff, students and community people to hear and resolve concerns in a way that is best for students.
  • Attend community functions where you can talk about the work your teachers are doing and their dedication.

Create a Culture of Support that Builds Teachers’ High Expectations

  • Teachers need to know, not just believe, that you support them in meeting their top priority: to teach. Teachers are at the forefront each day before every period, and there is little time to waste. In essence, they need all the support possible. Limit the classroom interruptions from the office or the PA system. Limit interruptions to emergencies only or very urgent matters.
  • Support your teachers on discipline issues. Teachers cannot teach when there are constant disruptions. Deal with the discipline problem and do not send the student back to the classroom right away. Get the assignment from the teacher and place the student in the vicinity of your office. Take the time to have a good talk with the student and contact the parents if necessary. Teachers need to know that you will support them.
  • Give office staff very specific directives to provide assistance to teachers when they need it. Time is precious to teachers, and they occasionally need things immediately. Telling a teacher that the copier is broken or that the office does not have time to prepare materials is not acceptable. Set up some back-up systems to meet the teacher’s immediate needs. Remember, teachers should be in the classroom teaching and not having to worry about their materials being prepared or available in time. There is no time for office politics when our focus is children.
  • Clerical, custodial and office staff must understand that they are support personnel to the teachers and must provide immediate assistance. They should be part of the solution and not part of the problem.

Acknowledge Teachers and Personalize Support

  • Prepare cards, in your own handwriting for a personalized touch for special occasions, birthdays, anniversaries, etc. Teachers appreciate this very much.
  • Call teachers at home when they are out ill. Did you ever get a call from your principal just to inquire about how you were feeling and to be assured that things would be taken care of in your absence? They need to know that you are calling because you are concerned about their health rather than just asking when they will return.
  • Acknowledge and reward teachers at least once a month. Always have coffee, hot water for tea, and filtered or bottled water. Bring some goodies, such as fruit and granola bars. If you have a parent-teacher organization, ask members to help you sponsor a luncheon every six or nine weeks for recognition of your teachers. It is not that expensive, and it goes a long, long way.

Build Supportive Leadership Among Administrative Staff

  • Be a role model and mentor to all teachers and staff, in particular, the newer ones and ACP teachers who need coaching, mentoring and validation. Even your veteran teachers need mentoring and coaching on occasion.
  • Trust teachers and make them feel like the professionals they are. Many have great ideas, abilities and talents that you may not know about. Many demonstrate great leadership with new and refreshing ideas that can certainly contribute to the school culture. This also enables them to buy in to a process, especially when the ideas come from them.
  • Provide opportunities for leadership among teachers. Rotate department heads, assign projects to certain teachers, give additional tasks to those working on an advanced degree, but make sure that you support them in all phases.
  • Allow all teachers an opportunity to participate in the hiring of other new teachers and staff, specifically when it is in their department.
  • Provide information on the latest research. Ask teachers working on an advanced degree to share new information or findings they have come across in their studies, especially as it relates to the issues your school is currently working through.
  • Provide teachers and staff with all possible data available about your school. Be the leader, and show them how to use the information so they can get true pictures of strengths and weaknesses.
  • Teachers in site-based management should be involved in true decision making and should be kept abreast of what is going on in the school.
  • Continue developing your professional learning community teams so that learning can be shared among staff. Practice the principles and support them as they themselves develop the process by providing the time to meet. It is also critical that administration attend as many of these meetings as possible.
  • Be an advocate for professional development and allow your teachers to attend professional development of their choice. Allow some each year to attend national or state conferences.
  • Do not keep teachers for training after school. If you are providing them with the support they need, they are teaching and working hard all day. At the end of the day, they are tired and need to take care of their personal lives. Saturday’s are days that can be used for training, but sparingly. Don’t forget that teachers have families and other obligations.

Build Parent and Community Support

  • Be a role model in valuing parents. Create a parent engagement and involvement process that supports the school, students and teachers.
  • Teachers need to know that parents also value their efforts in teaching their children and that they will support the teacher as an additional partner while working with their child.
  • Have parents become active participants in your site-based committee. They can become great leaders and advocates for your school and staff. You want them as partners in education not just as fundraisers.
  • Make the schools parent friendly and do more than posting signs in other languages. Train your office staff to welcome parents respectfully at all times.
  • Provide immediate assistance to parents. This means do not keep them waiting, have someone available to speak their language, and if they wish to see a teacher, set up an appointment with the teacher first. Interruptions in the middle of the class period are not acceptable.

Although some standards are personal and self-initiated, teachers have school and district goals to meet. Passing the state-mandated exams and meeting annual yearly progress creates high levels of stress for everyone. Teachers are probably the most affected. Many are also haunted by the thoughts and possible threats of having their school disestablished and then having to seek another position with an attached stigma.

The current economic crisis has only escalated these levels of anxiety. We are not always aware of the detrimental affect it may be having on their personal lives, families and surroundings. This can be very counter productive if we are to move forward to transform schools. Regardless of whether or not the pressure and anxiety is self imposed, teachers are having a difficult time dealing with so many demands and are in dire need of our support as administrators.

The tone and transformation process of a school is set by the principal and administration. Valuing and supporting our teachers is an important start in this transformation to make the school work for all your children.


Villarreal, A., and B. Scott. “IDRA’s Community of Learners Approach to Instructional Quality – Three Critical Questions that are Rarely Asked in a Curriculum Audit,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, March 2008).

Rogelio López del Bosque, Ed.D., is a senor education associate in IDRA’s Field Services. Comments and questions may be directed to him via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

[©2009, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the June- July 2009 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]