Gallup recently discovered that 31% of U.S. teachers are engaged in their work, meaning that less than one in three teachers are involved with, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and their school. More than half of teachers, 56%, are not engaged, meaning they just go through the motions of the workday, putting in the time, but not the energy or passion that the most successful teachers do. What's worse, 13% are actively disengaged at work. These teachers aren't just unhappy at work; they're often busy acting out their unhappiness and undermining what their engaged coworkers set out to accomplish.
Sadly, these results are really not much better than the typical workplace across the country. Our students deserve better.
Now for the good news: it is possible, through relatively simple strategies, to drastically improve the engagement of your district. Here are six recommendations for principals and school leaders based on studying some of the nation's most successful and engaged schools:
- Identify the right people to be school leaders. Some principals clearly have a different level of natural talent than others. A recent study found that highly talented principals on Gallup's PrincipalInsight assessment were 2.6 times more likely to have above average employee engagement at the schools they lead three years later. Placement of talented leaders has a big and lasting impact on the success of the school.
- Focus on teachers' strengths. Teachers are more engaged when they have the opportunity to do what they do best every day. Having a principal who focuses on teachers' strengths nearly eradicates the possibility that they'll be actively disengaged on the job. Great principals get to know their team members well and then, as much as possible, build the role around each teacher's areas of greatest strength.
- Build a culture of recognition. Great principals are more than conscientious administrators -- they also know that recognition is good for the school. They build and sustain a culture that includes meaningful recognition on a frequent basis. Teachers and students look forward to interactions with these school leaders.
- Measure teacher engagement. Great data can serve as an important springboard to action that transforms the workplace. The best engagement-building strategies begin with effective measurement and continue with actions at the local school and workgroup level.
- Don't try to do it all on your own. Great principals encourage dialogue among staff when determining specific strategies for building a great workplace. The best ideas often come from those closest to the action on a daily basis.
- Building an engaged school is not an event, it requires ongoing and intentional effort. The good news is that you can teach to this test. Each element of engagement can serve as a value statement for how you will lead your school. Great principals talk about their efforts to build an engaged school on a frequent basis, including when they recruit new staff members, when they meet with parents, and when they connect with members of the community. They meet with their staff to discuss the survey results and what excellence can look like for their team. They build a simple, specific plan of action, follow through on their commitments and continue to make steady progress throughout the year.
The benefits of employee engagement include lower absenteeism, decreased turnover, increased student engagement and increased student achievement -- all issues that school leaders work hard to improve. With the right measurement and intentional action, your schools can be among the best workplaces in America.
Gallup can help you improve teacher and student performance:
- Become a strengths-based school, starting with practical steps for building an engaged and thriving culture.
- Download the results from Gallup's survey of K-12 school district superintendents.
- Watch our on-demand webinar, "Talent-Based Hiring: Selecting the Very Best for Your Schools."
A version of this article was published previously in the AASPA Perspective newsletter.