There are many things to understand about teaching when you first begin your career, and even more..
What do you look for when we talk about improving student morale? How can you see it throughout your school? As you do class visits, and as you walk down the halls? Is it just “on-the-surface” morale, or do you want to really know if good morale is there to stick?
We found 3 degrees of improving student morale: daily practices, the Fish! philosophy, and Outward Bound.
Improving Student Morale Every Day
An article from aged.wvu.edu states that good morale is exemplified by:
- Students who enjoy class and don't hurry to leave
- Collaborate well with each other
- Respect and think fondly of their teachers
- Go above and beyond what is required
- Participate in class and outside.
Maybe you have other signs of good morale, but these are a good place to start. In that same article, teachers are advised to exhibit:
- a willingness to share
- an enjoyment of teaching
- a conviction that s/he can achieve success
For that reason, the actions that teachers can take are:
- give appropriate praise and due credit
- exemplify mutual respect
- relate lessons to real life
- allow free exchange of ideas
- practice fairness
- display a willingness to allow students to take ownership of classroom matters
Fun With Fish!
In another article from acui.org's Melissa Paradee, she cites Alexander Astin's (1984) theory of involvement. Students spending more time on campus, participating in activities and organizations, and communicating with faculty tend to display high achievement.
How do we obtain that? The Fish! philosophy comes from Stephen Lundin's experience with employees of the world-famous Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle. He observed the team of fishmongers having fun at their job naturally through playful antics. They made sure visitors had a memorable time, while staying focused on individualized customer service.
The philosophy goes like this: Play, Make Their Day, Be There, Choose Your Attitude.
Much has been written about the importance of play and leisure being a factor in well being. By incorporating a sense of play into the school day, with an eye toward your educational goals, students can put down their guard and allow for accidental learning. The fishmongers like to sing silly songs and toss slippery fish to each other and sometimes to their customers, making for an exciting on-your-toes experience.
Make their day encompasses addressing each and every person with a kind word or gesture. People can walk the halls like zombies throughout the day. How many of them actually interact with their peers or teachers? Getting lost in large crowds can let students fall through the cracks as far as morale is concerned.
Teachers can be encouraged to address their students with importance. The Waldorf schools have a policy of greeting your students at the door with a kind word and a handshake with the student's name being spoken out loud with a smile.
Don't underestimate this as cheesy fluff. What may feel contrived to you might mean the world to a student.
Being there involves being accessible to students in need. It's being aware and vigilant of students who you feel have low morale, and going the distance to figure out what's wrong. Engaging the student in safe surroundings and showing genuine concern for their well being boosts morale significantly.
Choosing your attitude allows you to take control of your bad mood and change it quickly. I've personally learned that the act of smiling, even to myself, surprisingly boosts my morale. Taking time to inhale through the nose deeply and exhaling slowly and focusing on the breath alone can change your sour attitude to one of peace. This breathing is the basis of meditation, which teachers can certainly teach students to do.
Not for the Faint of Heart
Mike McCarthy went the distance. He brought into his school the idea of Outward Bound being a way for a few staff to bond through overcoming challenges. Very quickly, those first participants realized that they could take it back to their school as a way for students to grow.
Over a period of time, Outward Bound became an event which students looked forward to. This, and looking at solving real-world problems, gave students the opportunity to take ownership of their learning. "The idea of Outward Bound is not to get yourself to the top of the mountain, but to get everyone to the top of the mountain ..."
This bore out to be true when other students from Earlham did their own Outward Bound expedition with sled dogs. By challenging themselves together, they learned how to help each other survive and excel. That forms a bond which is special and appreciated for life.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in 2016 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.
Originally published Jun 16, 2016, updated Nov 10, 2021