3 Reasons Why Providing Positive Affirmations to Special Education Teachers Is Not Enough
Before the pandemic hit, 50% of special educators were entering and leaving the field within 5 years. Within 10 years, 75% were leaving. Today, that number has likely increased. While “you’re doing great” or “nice work!” is nice to hear, it’s simply not enough to keep special educators around. The number one reason special education teachers leave the field is because they don’t feel valued. Here are three reasons why those affirmations aren’t working and what we all can do to communicate to special educators that they are incredibly valued and, hopefully, help to keep them in the field.
1. The timing is wrong. Special educators are in a field that demands them to frequently know more and do more. It seems the whole sandwiching model of praise has taken a turn for the worse. While effective in delivering hard information, it’s starting to be the only time positive affirmations are being expressed. Instead of waiting until after the meeting where an upset parent questions the teachers’ expertise to let them know they are an expert at what they do, tell them each time you see their expertise building and before the meeting starts. Make daily deposits to build others up.
2. It’s not enough information. Hearing “good job” after an IEP meeting from a principal or general education teacher is, at times, confusing. What did I do a good job at – preparing the evaluation? Following the agenda? Delivering the news that their student is displaying significantly concerning mental health-related behaviors? Provide the affirmation and then tell the teacher why you are saying it. This will help special education teachers hear that you do, in fact, know and appreciate the work they do. Show them you’ve worked to learn more about what they do.
3. Nobody knows why it matters. On top of checking in with students and other duties as assigned, special education teachers’ to-do lists are filled with due process deadlines. Every time one of those items is checked off the list, the impact is felt somewhere and by someone. IEP completed on-time? The district’s compliance performance just increased. A morning check-in happened? A student just had an incredible 1st period. When positive things happen, take a moment to recognize those that put in the work leading up to that win. Tell them the story behind the ‘thank you’.
Special educators have a tough job. Let’s face it – everyone in education has a tough job. The problem we’re faced with is that if we don’t do something to change the way we communicate value to special education teachers, we will not have any special education teachers left to teach those who desperately rely on and require them. Whether through a tool, like axis3, or our coaching services, we make communicating value a top priority. Special educators should feel their job is sustainable and that’s what we’re here to ensure.
By Elizabeth Orme, Founder & CEO