5 Smart Tips For Principals For Growing Teacher Confidence and Independence

Your needy teachers probably just need some confidence.

young woman gesturing with clasped hands, pretty please

The fourth grade science teachers stops by your office several times a day, constantly asking for your input on changes he wants to make to his curriculum. The sixth grade teachers stops you in the hallway regularly and seems to be fishing for compliments about her students’ test scores. Another emails you daily complaining about noise in the hallway. Who are they? The three or four needy teachers who take up more time than all the others put together. 

School leaders are often the go-to for staff needs, and this is okay—up to a point. When your schedule is full and you have pressing needs to address, responding to an email about slow Wi-Fi for the fourth time in a week can make you want to rip your hair out. However, truth is, there is a reason employees are needy. Staff needs to feel confident in the work they are doing. Confidence leads to independence, and school leaders can empower and instill that confidence in their teachers. Here are five tips for working with and growing confidence in needy teachers.


1. Start a dialogue.

It’s important to start by having an honest conversation with needy staffers, says Faun Zarge, an employee burnout and resilience consultant. Zarge suggests using phrases such as, “I want to check in on how work is going for you this year and what I can do to better support you,” or, “What do you need at work to feel confident?” From here, you’ll learn if the staffer feels adequately trained and if they they have the resources to succeed.

“This will lead to a natural dialogue that can reveal employee needs as well as gaps in the employee’s skill set that may need bolstering,” Zarge says. 



2. Don’t be dismissive of your teachers.

When you have these conversations with needy teachers and staffers, try to keep an open mind and listen without judgement. Don’t get defensive as this could shut down the conversation.

“There’s a tendency to be dismissive of or be annoyed by a needy employee,” Zarge says. “However, a needy employee is often a very motivated employee who wants to perform well. With the right conversations and adjustments on the part of both manager and employee, the result can be a high-performing and highly committed member of your organization.”

Conversations will often reveal the thing behind the thing. Again, if you can listen and identify whatever it is that makes a teacher needy, you can help address it.


3. Consider your role.

Remember that, as a principal, you play a huge role in how your staff feels and acts at school. Consider how your actions may be contributing to an employee’s needy behavior. There’s a big difference between a staffer who has a needy personality and one who just needs more training, support, or recognition.

For example, you may not be providing enough feedback to teachers or administrators. This causes them to check in with you constantly. Or, you may not have provided them with an understanding of how their performance will be judged at the end of the year. Without clear expectations, employees lack confidence.

“When employees are uncertain of how they are perceived and whether they are spending time on the correct priorities, they will naturally become more needy as they seek validation that they are ‘on track,’” Zarge says.


4. Work together on next steps.

After you’ve examined your role and had meaningful conversations with a needy employee, you’ll want to work together to create a plan for moving forward. The exact strategy will depend on what you hear from the needy staffer. It may involve extra training, regular one-on-one meetings with you, a new set of goals, or something else entirely. In general, the plan should include clear expectations for both the staffer and the manager. It should also have a system for checking in regularly to see how the plan is working. 


5. Assess your school-wide recognition systems.

Often neediness is really just employees seeking affirmation for their work. Take a step back and conduct an audit of all the ways you recognize positive staff contributions at your school. Are you providing enough kudos, awards, and support to your teachers and administrators? Could you be doing more as a school leadership team to show your appreciation? There are dozens of ways principals can reward teachers, such as highlighting individual achievements in staff meetings, writing a simple email, or buying them a cup of coffee every so often. Teachers should feel appreciated and affirmed for the positive work they do.

When we empower teachers to make decisions and solve problems, they do not have to constantly go to an administrator about issues that come up. By opening up dialogue, working with teachers, and affirming their work, principals will have more time to deal with pressing issues. More importantly, teachers will have more time because their needs will be met.

Join the great conversations going on about school leadership in our Facebook groups at Principal Life and High School Principal Life.

Plus, check out 8 ways principals can build positive school culture.