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May 1, 2013
Vol. 70
No. 8

Principal Connection / Is Your School Happy?

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I just read an article that identified the 10 happiest cities in the world.<FOOTNOTE><NO>1</NO>Schwartz, A. (2013, February 8). The 10 happiest cities in the world. Fast Co. Exist. Retrieved from </FOOTNOTE> The criteria used were the number of cultural attractions, parks, and shopping areas. We can quibble about these factors—what about libraries or crime rates?—but it's interesting to consider what might make the residents of a city happy.
The article got me thinking about what factors make a happy school. Specifically, what causes teachers to enjoy their jobs and want to come to work each day? This is not an idle question. Teaching is a challenge under the best of circumstances (and most of us don't work in the best of circumstances). Being happy doesn't mean that a teacher will be effective, but an unhappy teacher is likely to perform poorly.
I'm not suggesting that a principal's job is to make teachers happy. A principal's job is to ensure that children learn, and that means supporting teacher growth. If teachers are growing and learning, they're far more likely to be effective—and thus, happy. Happiness is a by-product of success.
You may recall Frederick Herzberg's studies of job satisfaction.<FOOTNOTE><NO>2</NO>Herzberg, F. (1987, September–October). One more time: How do you motivate employees? Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from</FOOTNOTE> Herzberg found that the factors contributing to job satisfaction and job dissatisfaction are entirely different. Dissatisfaction occurred when employees experienced what Herzberg called "hygiene factors," such as insufficient pay, an uncomfortable workplace, poor supervision, and a lack of satisfaction from the work. Improving the hygiene factors reduced job dissatisfaction but didn't contribute to job satisfaction. Job satisfaction comes from what Herzberg called "motivation factors"—a sense of achievement, responsibility, and recognition.
So what can principals do to increase the motivation factors that are integral to teachers' job satisfaction and happiness? First, both simplest and hardest, we need to make teacher happiness a priority. We should want more teachers smiling more often! It's simple, but it's also hard because so much of our time is spent responding and doing the things that we must do. From building schedules to racing to the top with standardized tests, from ordering supplies to dealing with recalcitrant students, sometimes it seems like all we can do is stay afloat.
But succeeding with all these tasks isn't enough. Our most important job is to create a culture of learning, one in which everyone grows. To do that, we need to increase the motivation factors that contribute to our teachers' job satisfaction.
What about recognition? How often do you tell your teachers that they've done something well? Beyond praising them when you happen to see a student make strides or hear a compliment from a parent, do you actively seek ways and reasons to praise? Do you praise not just the big and exciting things—the egg drop experiments and the record class average—but also the little and significant things? What about the time you went in a classroom and everyone was so engaged that no one noticed your presence? Did you use that as an opportunity to applaud the teacher (and the students)? How about the time when the teacher went an extra mile to make contact with a student's parent? When you see students making some progress, even though it's still not adequate, do you let that teacher know that you're pleased with her efforts? Opportunities to thank and praise abound once we embrace their importance.
The nature of the work itself contributes to job satisfaction, but sometimes even the best teacher can get into a rut by doing the same thing semester after semester. Have you talked with your teachers lately about their jobs? Asking, "What could I do to help you become a better teacher?" always yields rich responses. If nothing else, the question reminds teachers about your role and lets them know that you care. (Know, though, that when you ask that question, you need to be prepared to at least consider what they suggest!)
Is there a way to help a teacher reinvent his or her job? Can you offer some new technology? Would switching locations or assignments help? Is there an opportunity for teachers to come together and capitalize on one another's talents and ideas in creating curriculum? What would happen if you formed cross-grade or cross-discipline teams to look at student growth? How might the art and social studies teachers learn from one another? What insights could kindergarten and 6th grade teachers trade?
Offering teachers new responsibilities can be important, too. Different than just assigning more work, it's offering teachers ways to get involved in other aspects of the school. Who would like to help you think about school security? Who wants a hand in deciding what is posted in the halls? Who wants to help think about increasing parent involvement or making the school greener?
Making your school happier begins with putting a priority on increasing teachers' job satisfaction. Maybe this should be one of your goals for the next school year.
(By the way, Rio De Janeiro is the happiest city, followed by Sydney and Barcelona.)

Thomas R. Hoerr retired after leading the New City School in St. Louis, Missouri, for 34 years and is now the Emeritus Head of School. He teaches in the educational leadership program at the University of Missouri–St. Louis and holds a PhD from Washington University in St. Louis.

Hoerr has written six other books—Becoming a Multiple Intelligences School, The Art of School Leadership, School Leadership for the Future, Fostering Grit, The Formative Five, Taking Social-Emotional Learning Schoolwide—and more than 160 articles, including "The Principal Connection" column in Educational Leadership.

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