When educators' working conditions are compromised, positive teaching and learning are compromised.
In talking with educators from multiple systems, one huge factor that is negatively impacting schools is the fact that schools are often underfunded and understaffed. It is essential that an audit of school needs is well done each year, and then that audit is used to see if schools have what they need to do the job expected.
Since the potential service and work in schools is limitless, it may be that the audit leads to tough choices. But it's better to make tough choices and decide what we can do well and what we can't do than to pretend that we can do it all without enough staff, supplies, or funding.
How can we do this?
First we have to think about safety--do we have the staffing needed to ensure that students have a safe experience at school? What does it mean to be safe at school? At elementary school this means that we have staffing that provides needed supervision and oversight, a nurse's office/services, staff for conflict/problem resolution, and personnel to keep the school clean and safe.
Next we have to make sure that we have the facilities and time to meet individual's personal needs. Are there sufficient restrooms, time for breaks/lunch, telephones, and spaces for privacy when needed--privacy to nurse, deal with significant problems and meetings, and places for quiet work.
After that, we have to attend to the laws that dictate what we have to do in schools. As I think of those laws, I am mostly thinking of laws that lead our services to students with special needs. We have to make sure we have the staffing we need to meet those requirements. When staffing is challenged in this area our efforts related to inclusion and good service to students is greatly challenged.
Then there are the expected, identified state and system-wide standards and program expectations. Do we have the time, materials, and support needed to meet those requirements?
After that are areas of enrichment--what will we choose for this? Where will we put our time and energy in this regard? Often educators and others give extra time to make these special events and initiatives happen--they do this as one way to develop and enrich students' school experiences.
When we try to stuff too much into the school schedule, we often diminish our ability to do the essential work well. Yet if we don't reach out at all, programs can be dull. So there's a good balance to be had here.
Good schools take the right equation of roles, schedules, structures, and resources carefully. They make difficult decisions with human dignity and support as the central feature of these decisions. In good schools they recognize that we can't do it all, and make time to prioritize about what we will do to serve students well and do the job we are required to do.