Making the Case for Faculty Well-Being
Away from entropy & decay and toward meaning & growth
The Brief Case 📚→💼→📈→📊
“How we are at the small scale is how we are at the large scale.”
—adrienne maree brown, Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds
We know only one thing for certain as we move through each school year: challenges, unplanned events, and interruptions will test the resilience — sometimes even the health — of school personnel.
Combine that with the record number of teachers leaving the field, the “quiet quitting” phenomena nipping at the psyche of even the most robust workforces, and the ever present need to outperform expectations in order to justify exorbitant tuition prices, and the case for faculty well-being hardly needs to be made.
We will make it anyway, looking to do so in ways that debunk some existing practices or assumptions. To begin, a bracing metaphor: faculty well-being is the air flowing through our hallways, invisible and taken for granted until the hallways are smoke-filled. Noticing it and shaping it for the better before a match is lit requires a consistent, sometimes conspicuous focus.
According to Gallup, a global analytics and advice firm that helps leaders and organizations solve their most pressing problems, “Work should be a stabilizing force in people’s lives. This is particularly true in psychologically brutal times like those the world experienced in 2020.”
Even when not dealing with 2020 levels of difficulty, school leaders should acknowledge the role that their schools play in the lives of their faculty members. When people are tired or frustrated or unable to find sanctuary at work to escape the unpredictability, irrationality, and sporadic cruelty of the outside world, their well-being is at risk. The same holds true if things inside an organization seem just as chaotic, reactive, or challenging as someone’s home, personal, or non-work life.
Once well-being starts to slip for even a few colleagues, it can carry morale and then performance down with it. As a school leader, getting your house in order — offering consistency, predictability, equanimity, and equitability — can prevent such slippage. Your faculty will excel, in part, when they feel well; when they know what to expect; when effort is calibrated with a worthy mission.
School can be a place that challenges us, that leaves us feeling blissfully exhausted at the end of a long week, but it should not be a place that blocks us in befuddling ways from fulfilling our talents or from contributing to an inspiring shared purpose.
📚 The Learning Case for Faculty Well-Being
Being well springs from the same essentials as learning well: humans of all ages need to feel that their work is meaningful; that they have autonomy; that they are competent; that they belong. And an environment that promotes such flourishing cannot be transactional.
That is, you cannot trade the installation of a coffee bar or granting a dress-down Tuesday for faculty well-being anymore than you can turn students into mathematicians or writers by offering them a few free homework passes or a class party. Such gestures are nice, but if they are unconnected to a larger strategy, they frame well-being as a series of surface-level offerings.