Most administrators seem to understand that many students struggle with anxiety. There are plans and procedures to help these students feel comfortable and successful. However, administrators also need to consider that adults also deal with anxiety, including the teachers they work with. Teachers have a lot to be anxious about: students, parents, paperwork, paychecks, grades, extracurricular events, etc. The last thing a teacher needs is an administrator adding anxiety on top of an already stressful job. Luckily, reducing administrator-induced anxiety is not difficult. Here are some things administrators can do to help lessen teacher anxiety.
1. Let teachers know when you are planning to observe their classrooms.
Of course you don’t want to interrupt instruction when conducting a teacher observation, but turning around and seeing an administrator in the room can induce anxiety. Even if you have a great relationship with the teacher, when you are in their classroom, you are observing and evaluating them. This naturally increases their nervousness. So make eye contact, wave, say hello, do something to make sure that the teacher is aware that you are present. If possible, let them know in advance that you will be coming in, so they can prepare themselves and be at ease when you walk in the door.
2. Be Transparent Whenever You Can.
Getting an invitation to a meeting without knowing why can cause an increase in anxiety. Your invitation might be innocuous, but the anxious brain thinks, “What did I do?” or, “Am I getting fired?” when there’s an invitation for a meeting and no reason why. In the email or calendar invitation, just state the purpose of the meeting so the spiral of worst-case scenarios can be avoided. And if the meeting is about a reprimand, your teachers deserve to know that and should be given time to prepare.
3. Don’t say, “Talk to you later.”
Passing an administrator in the hall and being told, “Hey, we need to talk later,” or “I have to talk to you about something,” causes the same kind of anxiety spiral as meetings with unknown agendas. Either say what you have to say or just talk to the teacher later. Again, don’t leave the worst-possible scenarios spinning in your teachers’ heads. They’ve got enough things already spinning around in there.
4. When you see a teacher doing something good, let them know.
Anxiety tells us that we aren’t good at anything. If all teachers hear from you is what they are doing wrong, you are adding to the negative view that makes teaching difficult. Too often this can push a teacher out of the profession. Pay attention to the good your teachers do and let them know when you see it. It can be as simple as an email, a quick word in the hallway, or even athank-you card.
5. Be aware of your tone.
The tone you use matters. A brusque tone in an email or in person can add to teacher anxiety. Consider how you speak to or email your staff. Starting off with kind words and sincerely asking about how they are lessens anxiety. Yes, you are often in a hurry, but slowing down to be kind is worth your time.
6. Be someone your staff can trust.
If it is clear that you care about your staff and want them to be happy and healthy, they will be more at ease. If they feel you don’t care about them, anxiety can make you someone to be feared and avoided. Go out of your way to know who your staff are, what they do, and what they need. Celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week. Recognize individuals at staff meetings. Send weekly emails to staff showing your gratitude. And more than anything else, truly listen to your teachers. Caring for and listening to teachers will have a dramatic impact on them personally and the entire school culture.
There are many things that are out of an administrator’s hands when it comes to lessening the stress teachers feel. However, there are also a lot of simple ways administrators can help lessen teacher anxiety and help the entire school staff thrive.
Plus, check out this article on giving teachers voice and choice.