Effective Practices : Human Resources
Conservation and Nourishment
Human Resources Section 7
1. What can a school do to provide a nourishing environment for teachers and staff?
2. Many schools spoke of the need to provide special care for colleagues during times of need, and the importance this can have both for the individual and for the school’s long term health. Examples of this special support are listed to below.
3. Many schools provide formal programs and practices to nurture the inner life of the teachers and staff. Examples cited by the schools follow.
4. When asked what was most effective about the school’s work to conserve and nourish the people in the organization, the following key ideas were shared.
5. Schools shared the following key philosophies that inform their policies, practices and procedures regarding conservation and nourishment of employees.
What can a school do to provide a nourishing environment for teachers and staff?
Schools have found a variety of ways to provide nourishment for teachers and staff, and those that seem most successful in this area have an ongoing focus on helping colleagues conserve their resources. One school interviewed made it clear that offering a variety of offerings is the key to nourishment, as the following list of its activities illustrates:
- The faculty staff meeting is a place for regular study, artistic work, and social events such as the celebration of birthdays.
- Peer mentorship allows teachers to visit each other, providing a space for appreciation for work done well and the possibility of helpful feedback offered in a non-threatening environment.
- The Human Resource Committee sees its responsibility as caring for the colleagues at the school. This is a gesture that underlies all the work of this group.
- The College of Teachers serves as a pastoral care committee at the school. They identify individuals in need and then appoint a small group of individuals to coordinate needed support. This support can take many forms including temporarily reducing the class load, making meals or providing transportation for family members.
- The school’s policy of direct communication is also one that conserves teacher resources. The ability to confront issues directly and early on allows many issues to be resolved before they reach a boiling point.
- The school continues to look for ways to reduce non-teaching hours. One example is the removal of the requirement that teachers must attend the holiday fair; there is an assumption that people will do as much as they can and that requiring volunteerism is draining rather than nourishing.
- Continued focus on the salary structure and on benefits has led to some improvements, and reminds the faculty that these are important issues that the school is working to resolve on their behalf.
This last point was echoed by another school, which added, “The health insurance and retirement plan (see Retirement Programs) provide a measure of security. One of the big things that Waldorf teachers face is our financial insecurity, and this can weigh on a teacher over time. Knowing that one’s financial needs are provided for, at least in some measure, can be a real comfort.”
Several schools shared thoughts on the importance of the faculty/staff study and social time together. One school said,“ The school insists on anthroposophical and educational studies, child studies, and artistic activities together as a faculty. There is an insistence on socializing together; for example birthdays are celebrated once a month in the faculty meeting with food and an opportunity to hear from the honorees. This time is not minimized, and usually takes a full 40 minutes! The school recognizes that the social art needs cultivation. There are not a lot of factions and frictions, and this may be as a result of the studies and social time together. These times together can bring energy to the individuals present and support new ways of working between colleagues.”
A second school described their meeting life this way, “The school attempts to have nourishing meetings and nourishing studies. The College has a way of supporting the members that is quite strong, and is quite nourishing. There is a mutual trust and respect, as well as recognition that there are people with whom conversations can be shared. The faculty is a group that works well together, and that legacy is nourishing.”
On this same issue another school shared, “It is our hope that the faculty study will provide nourishment for teachers, as does the sharing of a verse among faculty members each morning. Having a sense of humor is valuable, and can provide recognition that as colleagues we are all in this together. Faculty anthroposophical studies also remind us of the greater purpose behind our work, and this context is often nourishing.
There are many little things that help people feel supported, such as offering snack during the middle of the faculty meeting. The school always starts the year with a retreat, which is helpful in setting a tone for the year and providing nourishment throughout the year.
There is great benefit in social opportunities. The 8th grade offers a cafe one day a week, and the 12th grade offers one on another day. The students sell coffee and snacks, and teachers have an opportunity to sit with colleagues and parents. The faculty rooms help as well; it is sometimes hard to get work done because there is lots of activity, but the rooms provides an opportunity for informal conversations about students and lots of camaraderie.”
Another school focused attention on helping new teachers develop a social connection in the community. “We have become quite understanding of new teachers. It is not easy to break into the social circle, and the school is trying to be conscious of this. It’s more than just eating together before faculty meetings. People are really busy, and they don’t have the requisite interest in the other to really nourish faculty members.” The school must consciously support this interest.
Other schools shared the importance of creating healthy work schedules. One stated, “The school tries to tailor the schedules for teachers realistically. The schedules vary from person to person based on their individual strengths and abilities. A faculty member can join the school and limit committee work without getting a lot of flack from other colleagues. We don’t ask people to serve in places where they don’t have strength.” The school added, “When people ask for a few personal days off they are almost always granted. However, there is a strong understanding of what is right and fair so people don’t take advantage.”
Many schools spoke of the need to provide special care for colleagues during times of need, and the importance this can have both for the individual and for the school’s long term health. Examples of this special support are listed to below.
Temporary Changes to Schedule
One school provided three examples of ways in which schedules were temporarily adjusted to meet a teacher’s special needs. “In one case a colleague with children had one in crisis. The school recognized that it could no longer serve the child, and the mother was confronted with needing to place her son and see him successfully integrated in a new school environment. During a transition period the teacher was only required to be at school for main lesson for six weeks. The schedule was slowly worked back up to a full schedule by slowly adding one full time day a week until she was again carrying a full load.
In a second case a class teacher needed surgery. The teacher was planning the surgery for Christmas break, hoping to be back at school right after the holidays. Instead the school encouraged the colleague to schedule the surgery earlier, two weeks before Christmas and not to return until two weeks after the break. This allowed the teacher to be fairly recovered for Christmas at home, and then to be fully recovered before returning to work. This was accomplished by having a subject teacher take over the main lessons for four weeks. The special subject was not taught at the school during this time, and all teachers participated in subbing during the normally scheduled subject classes.
In a third case a colleague was in a very serious accident and broke her neck. She was out for six months recuperating. During that time the school kept her job open for her and paid her salary.”
Meals and Transportation
Other support services mentioned include transportation and meal support. “The school has a group called the Silent Angels. They are parents that keep their ears to the ground and are ready to respond when needed. When there is a death or illness in the family they are ready with meals and cards, and whatever help is needed,” shared one school. Another said, ” On a smaller scale there are many times when meal making takes place. For example, a new teacher took on a class following the departure of the first class teacher. The parents arranged to provide the new teacher with a meal every Friday night, allowing her to rest and enjoy time with her family at the end of a long week. Her forces were conserved, and more energy was available to work with the class.”
Several schools mentioned providing financial support for colleagues during periods of crisis. “In another situation a teacher had a family member going through a difficult period. The faculty member received a paid leave of absence, allowing her to take care of her family situation without adding a financial burden to an already difficult time,” shared one school. “Teachers have been ill and needed an extended leave and it has been given almost without question. The teacher’s salary has been paid so that a financial burden is not added to the other concerns.” Clearly schools need to recognize the precedent setting implications of decisions like these, but in an environment of acute shortage of Waldorf trained teachers and staff these decisions can ensure the school is able to retain qualified personnel for the long run.
Another school recognized the additional burden that class teachers carry, and has consciously decided to provide classroom assistants as a means of reducing this stress. These assistants relieve teachers of recess duty, clean up after painting, and so on, removing a really big burden.
Mentoring and Professional Development
Stress can also be a result of job performance concerns, and schools spoke of the importance of providing mentoring and other help. As one school described it, “There have been some pretty extraordinary cases of money being spent to retrain people, and provide strong mentorship. The school has become much more awake to the value of providing these resources. The school is committed to doing all it can to heal a situation or help a person pull himself up. Teachers have frequently thanked the school for the level of support they have received in a time of stress.”
Many schools provide formal programs and practices to nurture the inner life of the teachers and staff. Examples cited by the schools follow.
- Study is a regular part of staff meeting and the College meeting. It’s also a frequent part of committee work and small group meetings.
- In addition to faculty study, two faculty members offer additional study groups that are open to anyone - parents, staff, and friends. One takes place on campus and another at the person’s home.
- The school sponsors anthroposophic conferences, either independently or in conjunction with the local branch of the Society.
- The school encourages teachers to participate in continuing education classes on painting and other subjects for purposes of personal enrichment, not just to receive training in a field.
- The school’s parent education series includes anthroposophic education. Many teachers attend these offerings as well, receiving inner nourishment from their participation.
- There is an initiative to provide the foundation year of the teacher training on campus. A large number of parents and teachers have signed up.
- The Christmas Plays are something the faculty really enjoys putting together. They nourish the faculty.
- Visiting teachers come from time to time and work with the faculty in various areas including the arts for a few days. This bit of art is a homeopathic dose, but it can carry someone a long way.
- A former teacher offers a singing group that is open to faculty and parents, and several members of the community participate each week.
When asked what was most effective about the school’s work to conserve and nourish the people in the organization, the following key ideas were shared.
Tolerance of different standards
“The most effective part of our program of conservation and nourishment is a tolerance and understanding for the personal struggles that people have, and a recognition that each person has his own standards for participation. This is a fine line to walk, and there are times when the school does need to ask someone to step up and take on additional responsibility.”
Interest in the other
“Colleagues at the school take an active interest in each other. They are not nosy, but do genuinely care about each other and are willing to be supportive. There is an atmosphere of mutual support an understanding.”
“What really sustains us is our work together, and the relationships that develop out of that work. Our colleagues are extremely supportive; when this is present and people feel it, one can handle a great deal. Without this support the forces to meet the challenges of daily work in the school are often lacking.”
Schools shared the following key philosophies that inform their policies, practices and procedures regarding conservation and nourishment of employees.
The school wants long-term employees. It likes the stability that comes from them and will do whatever is within its means to make this happen.
We strive to support people’s efforts to work out of a disciplined inner life, recognizing this as a path for people to effect change in themselves and growth in their school.
There is an emphasis on standing in the shoes of each other person, recognizing the efforts of each colleague, and appreciating each person for the gifts they bring rather than continually comparing the quality and quantity of what is offered.
The cultivation of anthroposophy is critical for the future of our work and for the school.
Anthroposophy is the key philosophy that informs all policies and practices in this area. From this base comes recognition of the importance of interest in the other.