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School Culture: Surviving the Seven-Year Itch

by MAlutto 23. January 2014 10:35
Psychologists have been talking about the seven-year itch phenomenon as it relates to divorce and supporting it with data for over 100 years. Believe it or not, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, the median duration of marriages has not changed much, reporting 6.6 years in 1922 and over 70 years later hovering just around 7.2. Why is it our tendency to lose interest and bail? How can we keep the passion alive?

As it relates to schools, year after year faculties are asked to complete the same old tasks: report cards, parent/teacher conferences, back-to-school night, standardized testing, evaluations... and the list goes on. None of these activities are inherently sexy – it is no wonder that teachers are leaving their profession even faster than they leave their marriages. According to the National Education Association (NEA) the turnover rate for teachers is 17 percent, increasing to 20 percent in urban school districts. They also share that one-third of all new teachers leave after just three years and a whopping 46 percent after five.

I'm not suggesting that there exists a simple answer to the dilemma of teacher turnover, but like any relationship therapist would tell you, you have to switch things up and keep it interesting. How can we improve the culture of our schools so that teachers aren't constantly daydreaming about where the grass may be greener?

Consider the advice of a relationship therapist:

  • Communicate – if the only time your faculty gets together is at faculty meetings, you are missing the big picture. Faculty meetings are usually wasted on pointless updates or reminders that could easily be sent via email or memo. Try carefully crafting this time to create a space for true communication! Put the *big white elephant* topic out there and let people share how they feel, how it is impacting their students – or whatever! They have a right to their opinions and letting them voice these in a professional manner will create a community built on mutual respect, not that of a feared dictatorship.
  • Say "I love you" – okay this is pretty specific to relationships, but feeling appreciated and cared for – NOT A BAD THING! School leaders who highlight positive behavior among students and faculty create a culture of respect rather than fear - set the example, reward positive role models, and place less emphasis on the negative!
  • Spend time together – this one applies to both! Spending time together doing things that are mutually enjoyable is so important. If life becomes all about chores, shuffling the kids' schedules and the daily grind, you aren't enjoying each other anymore. School faculties need to take a step out of the routine to enjoy each other as people too. It could be something as simple as a payday happy hour, but maybe even something more thoughtful – a painting party, or bowling event, perhaps even booking a ropes course for some faculty team building. The truth is, it doesn't matter what the activity is, it matters that people take a break from grading stacks of papers and the pressures of common core to enjoy their colleagues as people.
  • Be respectful – in your marriage, this may be something as simple as just remembering to put the seat down, just kidding... Really show some respect for your partner and your colleagues. How often do school faculties begin to reflect student cliques? Create an all-inclusive, accepting environment and stop talking *smack* about each other.

No name calling - We are *supposed* to be role models for our students, not mimic their immature behavior. The grown-ups need to act like it – like I said, no cliques, no *subtle* bullying, and no segregation of any kind. Demonstrate acceptance, tolerance and open-mindedness – these are life lessons far more important to teach our students than the quadratic equation.

Creating a respectful, positive environment takes deliberate actions and repeated attempts – and NO - school culture is not something that can be changed with a presentation about school culture at a faculty meeting. Take it back to the golden rule if you need to break it down and with each action, pause and consider...

For individual questions or suggested activities to help begin the conversation with your faculty, feel free to email me:

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