How do we support teachers and staff both emotionally and professionally?


A healthy and happy staff is essential to a positive school climate and culture. The California School Staff Survey indicates that educators who feel supported emotionally and professionally are more effective and their students show greater gains. Additionally, when staff feel supported by their leaders, they are more likely to stay with the organization long-term and contribute to the culture, environment, and success of the team.


The best way to support staff is to ensure that their emotional and intellectual needs are addressed on an ongoing basis. Leadership teams can make significant strides in supporting staff by focusing on fostering a culture that is health-seeking, people-centered, and learning-focused.


  • DO NOW: Use gratitude and other ways of making sure folks feel known, seen, and valued to increase morale.
  • DO NEXT:  Facilitate collaborative conversations to define the new skills teachers will need to achieve this next phase of learning, and then create a plan that offers them choice and flexibility to get there. 


Foster a Health-Seeking Culture 

Educators are often on the front line of working with young people who have experienced trauma at home or in their communities. As a consequence, they often experience secondary traumatic stress (STS), or “emotional distress that arises when someone experiences the traumatic experiences of another individual”. LEA leaders can help ensure teachers get their social-emotional needs met by fostering a health-seeking culture and helping eliminate stigma associated with mental health. 


  • Eliminate stigma associated with mental health challenges by making resources easily accessible. 
  • Develop guidelines for responding to the loss of a student, community or staff member. 
    • Work with staff on how to handle commemorations, memorial activities, and permanent marker establishment, if allowed. Here are some guidelines from Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.  
    • Determine how memorial activities will strike a balance between honoring loss, resuming school activities and class routines, and maintaining hope for the future.

Foster a People-Centered Culture 

A UK study found that “good workplace relationships have the largest impact on job satisfaction” and concluded that over half of employees’ satisfaction at their jobs is predicted by their workplace relationships and the quality of both individual and supervisor connections. Additionally, educators who don’t find connections with those with whom they work are less likely to stay at that place of work. To build strong relationships and a people-centered culture, focus on connection, appreciation, and collaboration. 

Key Components

  • Connection: Pay particular attention to how to create connections when some or all employees are working remotely. There may be pivotal times in the school year to be even more specific about culture, including during back-to-school time. 
  • Appreciation: Make tending to morale and recognizing good work a priority. Gratitude is scientifically proven to improve well-being and relationships. 
    • Find ways to create opportunities to truly see people and their work, share stories of what you have seen that is aligned to the vision, and lean in when people are having a hard time. 
    • Morale can be supported through quick actions, like leaving a post-it note of appreciation, playing some music at your meetings, or sharing some snacks. Here is a list of more ideas.
  • Collaboration: Pass the microphone. Research shows that teacher retention and satisfaction is greater in schools where teachers are empowered to be active collaborators and are valued for their expertise. 
    • Give other people a chance to shine through distributed leadership whenever possible. Giving opportunities for others to step up will strengthen the team and create opportunities for diverse voices to share wisdom.
    • Here are 10 principles to move your district toward distributive leadership. 

Foster a Learning-Focused Culture

Effective professional learning not only has the potential to improve both teaching and student outcomes, but can also be effective in recruiting and retaining teachers. Creating a learning-focused culture can increase job satisfaction for staff. 

According to research from the International of Educational Sciences, high-quality professional learning:

  • is tied to specific content and outcomes;
  • incorporates active learning;
  • is job-embedded;
  • is collaborative;
  • provides models;
  • includes coaching;
  • is sustained and continuous; and
  • is aligned with school goals, standards and assessments, and other professional learning activities. 


  • Identify needed competencies. What do your educators need to know? In order to be clear on the skills needed to meet your learning plan, be sure to map out the adult learning competencies you desire to see and communicate them with staff.  (More information from Learning Accelerator here.) 
  • Gain greater insight. What are your strengths and gaps? Understand what staff members have done and now need. Learn what is going on for teachers via surveys and phone calls. 
    • Page 19 of this document from the Los Angeles County Office of Education provides a template.
    • This document provides some suggestions specific to hybrid learning during COVID-19.
  • Create a plan for this new phase. How will you support teachers in gaining the identified competencies, given the needs and assets in your community? 
    • This plan should be co-created with educators and leaders.
    • Prioritize key needs and offer training to address knowledge gaps identified through surveys. 
    • Build in time to practice developing new skills with support. 
Quality Drivers for the Design of Online Learning Tools for Teachers (The Learning Accelerator)
  • Offer choice to staff. 
    •  Cedar Rapids Community School District created a BINGO Board to encourage educators to select content and learning experiences based on their specific needs. 
    • This slide deck from Dallas ISD illustrates a creative way to present PD experiences to engage educators in supportive, personalized ways.
  • Stay connected and keep learning.
    • Iterate cyclically to fine-tune competencies. Be sure to host meetings and staff conversations, for both administrators and teachers, to discuss future plans for students and the LEA/school. 
    • Foster a community of support among peers. Build processes for collaborative learning, peer sharing, and iteration as teachers adapt to new practices. Develop best practices by fostering peer collaboration, including connecting employees with someone in a similar role but different context and partnering those experienced in a certain competency or tool with those who are new to it.
    • Keep iterating. Get feedback and continue to work together. 
  • Align your systems as you create a plan for support and professional development.  
    • Look back at evaluations and see if they are aligned with your identified priorities and competencies. 
    • Consider your LCAP and whether competencies and outcomes are aligned.
  • Bring the adult community together and along.
    • Acknowledge the depth of mindset and practice shift this new phase of learning requires of teachers. Veteran teachers will feel like novices again, tried-and-true practices for student engagement may not work, and technical hurdles will create frustration.
    • See the Creating a People-Centered Culture section for ways to celebrate success and improve morale. These are hard times, and small acts of acknowledgement can go a long way.
    • Make sure your plan has opportunities for staff collaboration.
    • Use best practices for meetings as suggested in this sample agenda
    • Model strategies you are asking teachers to use to engage learners.


  • What evidence do you have that relationships in your school are built on trust? Are there any areas where levels of trust are negatively impacting on teacher effectiveness or student outcomes?
  • How and how often do you celebrate and acknowledge your staff? How can you get the most value out of these celebrations?
  • What opportunities do your staff have to share their professional knowledge and success? How can you provide more opportunities for teachers to participate in decision making and in sharing their expertise?
  • How do you eliminate barriers to addressing staff mental well-being? What message does this tell the staff? What stigma may you be unintentionally creating for staff around mental health?
  • How are your staff, parents, and students thinking and feeling about equity and inclusion at school?  Do you have a system that helps us connect and act on inequities?
  • What are the most important things the staff must know and do in order to be more successful in your school model? How will you get them there?