6 Ways to Motivate Teachers: Be the Hope

If you have one technology helping kids learn more than anything else, would you care for it? You bet you would. You'd lock it away. You'd polish it. You'd make sure no one messed with it. You'd take good care of it.

Well you have that one thing. Study after study shows that one thing is teachers. Besides the paycheck and the staff meeting “thanks for all you do” — do you take care of them?

A game my childhood friends and I played comes to mind. We had this “merry go round spinny thing” (as we called it) and we'd all get on and hold on for dear life. Then, a few ran furiously and pushed as fast as possible until they fell to the ground laughing. Whoever held on amidst the centrifugal force won. Usually we'd sling off like water off a dog's tail. Sometimes injuries happened but mostly laughter. When school spins like the merry go round – we don't laugh. We get faster and faster and sling in all directions. We just can't hold on!

The moment. The respite. The kind word. The act of service. These are things that stop the merry go round for a moment so we can catch our breath and hang on for another few spins.


A sign left by some quick breakfast foods in our teacher's lounge.

6 Sweet Ways to Motivate Teachers

Motivate Teachers Tip #1 Understand What Teachers Need

What I miss most from business is not the challenge – for I'm more challenged in teaching than I ever ways in managing a business.

What I miss most about the business world was a) having an executive assistant and b) being able to close the door to get work done. I could DO something.

Teachers most often need peace and quiet to get their work done. On work days, plan meetings at the end or the beginning, but let them actually WORK. Don't let vendors come on campus and interrupt them. Give them a stream of uninterrupted time. Sure, some  teachers won't “work”  but many will. Once every nine weeks, we have some elementary parents who come and watch classes to give the teachers a working lunch once every nine weeks.

I am a teacher but even teachers get tired.

We are teachers but even teachers get tired.

Motivate Teachers Tip #2: Encourage Teachers to Walk It Out

I see Mrs. Adkins in our learning lab — approaching 90 — and I'm not sure how she's done it. She's taught longer than I've been alive and I just don't know how.

If all you needed was love — I've got that. If it is knowledge of my subject – I've got that too. It's the being pulled in a thousand directions every day that is so hard. But I'll tell you Mrs. Adkins' secret to longevity and a sharp mind. Time Magazine has an article on it, “The Single Most Proven Way To Get Smarter and Happier.” Exercise.

Teachers are often up walking around the room or at their desk. Encourage them to get outside and take a walk. Make it acceptable and insist upon it. Two years a go when I had prom on top of everything else, I asked for permission to take a walk during break. That one habit is  kept me from quitting. If your staff is stressing, get them moving, the science is they'll be happier and think more clearly.

Motivate Teachers Tip #3: Realize the Financial Struggle

Some ask how I can write this blog AND do everything else but this blog isn't a burden– it is a necessity. The speaking and freelance writing I do with this blog help me stay in teaching because I have two kids in college. I don't make enough at my day job to pay for college – so this blog helps me do what I love (encourage teachers) and help those I love get an education.

Many teachers have to work outside school.  Many schools discourage this but many don't realize the nature of the fixed income teachers are on and the need to bring in additional money for their families. For most of us, we work on the side so we can afford to teach. Understand and support this reality or just pay teachers more. ;-) (grin)

Motivate Teachers Tip #4: Help Them Help Kids

Countless students (at all schools) don't have school supplies. When money is tight it can be frustrating to go buy boxes of pens, highlighters, or markers because the $250 allowance the IRS gives teachers doesn't nearly cover it. The poorer the kids at the school, the more teachers struggle to buy everything their students need.

Replenish the school supplies for teachers. Give them pencils, pens, highlighters, markers, and paper.  It gets more important the closer you get to the end of the year when parents stop thinking about empty backpacks and school supplies. I have a Mom of an ADD kid (who knows he loses everything) buy me a big box of pencils at the beginning of the year. She knows he will lose them–she's being thoughtful AND helping her child. I'd give him the pencils anyway but I appreciate the thought and acknowledgement.

Motivate Teachers Tip #5: Tell Teachers They Are Important

Remember the 5 love languages? Teachers who need to hear or read they are important. These words need to be said. In our teacher's lounge, a parent left a mug of mints with a little sign: “Thanks for being so sweet.” Some mysterious person keeps coming by and putting more mints in the cup.

Write notes and say inspirational things. Remind them in words of the nobility of their profession and who they are to be as teachers. For those who need to hear and read the words, these are like rain on dry land.

When you do little things for teachers, interject thoughts of inspiration and thanks.

When you do little things for teachers, interject inspirational thoughts. Remind them of their nobility and purpose. Little notes do make a difference.

Motivate Teachers Tip #6: Acts of Service

Our PTO started last year with a meal for us. The parents who put it on went all out – not necessarily in money but in effort they got an A+. They picked flowers from their yards. They wrote notes in their own handwriting. Each made little parts of the meal in the box and then someone assembled the box and tied it with a beautiful ribbon. (Lots of pictures in this post came from that event.) It was a pure, unadulterated act of love. =

Do something kind and thoughtful. My Mom bakes muffins and breads and leaves them in the teacher's lounge. Our PTO bought a Keurig for the teacher's lounge and keeps it replenished. Yesterday PTO had a “soup day” and it was awesome. I know a person who comes by and writes little fun quotes on our board in the teacher's lounge just to add a new, encouraging thought to the day. Flowers, a quote, and sometimes food are all a nice thing. (My friend Todd Nesloney had his administrative staff cook pancakes for the teachers one morning.)

Being Kind is Always Awesome

Sometimes you get through big tough times with little things. The kind word. The laugh. The compliment.

Students are vital and important. We love them and want to give our best. But you reach a point — and this is from a teacher who dearly loves my brood — where there's nothing left to give. And that tiny little push of encouragement is the only thing that keeps us moving forward each day. That tiny bit of encouragement makes a big difference.

So, take time today to encourage teachers. If you're a teacher – you should encourage teachers too. If you work with teachers – please do. (And don't forget the custodians, lunchroom staff, administrators, and office staff – many people feel this way. Most people need to feel appreciated.)

Teachers are reachers, but many of them need encouragement right now.

You might be the one thing that keeps them holding on for another spin.

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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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Vicki Davis writes The Cool Cat Teacher Blog for classroom teachers everywhere