In the much-loved, three-time Emmy award-winning sitcom Abbot Elementary, viewers sit down each week to watch a team of oh-so-earnest teachers do their level best to make a difference in the lives of their students. But, to no one’s surprise, each week brings hilariously out-of-left-field problems for the staff to hurdle instead.
While the teachers are a loveable bunch, the TikTok star principal only stands in their way; meanwhile, the school district is more likely to shut them down than fund or support them. There is never enough money in the budget for even the most basic educational needs. The children are lovable but needy, and the parents and volunteers add to rather than lessen the drama on the teachers’ plates. Almost every day some all-too-real misunderstanding, communication breakdown, or facility failure makes the teachers’ jobs that much harder.
And yet, these teachers are committed, each and every one. They love their students, and they are determined to find a way to teach effectively and make a long-term difference. Leaning into each other (and often into their own mistakes) they find a creative way to get through every day.
Of course, a sitcom is by definition full of manufactured drama and chaos. Watching the main characters solve their exaggerated problems in 25 minutes is why we tune in at the end of our own long days.
And yet, real-life teachers report that part of the reason Abbot Elementary is so successful is because it shows us a caricature of the truth, and in this caricature, they feel seen, their reality honored. Teachers and schools are mission-driven, longing to be effective at nurturing a community yet constantly bumping up against the drama created by the community—both inside and outside the building. Schools are not exempt from the dangers of a toxic work environment. Rather, the additional layers of children, parents, and invested community members add even more for educators to juggle and balance; this long list of stakeholders can be all but impossible to please.
We at Best Christian Workplaces have spent decades studying Christian workplaces of all kinds—including private K-12 schools. We know just how real these earnest hopes and the unrelenting roadblocks can be. In our work, we’ve sat down and listened to thousands of educators at all levels of the K-12 environment. What we’ve found is that the questions you raise, the dreams you hold, and the problems you struggle to solve are consistent across the board. They sound a bit like this:
How can we get buy-in from everyone when our “everyone” includes administration, teachers, staff, students, parents, and volunteers? What is the best way to communicate effectively to such a large, yet diverse, group of contributors? What about the fear of change…or the lack of resources to enact desired change? What does all this look like when the needs of the kindergarten teachers are so different from those of the high school teachers? How do we form an effective, enjoyable, and healthy team together?
These questions are real, and they aren’t easy to answer or solve. But just as real are the earnest, hardworking, and mission-oriented staff and teachers behind them.
We know the strengths and weaknesses you’re facing because you’ve told us about them. We have heard how deeply you want to encourage and support your teachers and staff, and we’ve caught the vision for how your institution is impacting the community. But we all know from experience how the “little” discouragements build up—especially in a school where individual teachers can feel both isolated and disempowered. We have all felt the way unaddressed miscommunication plants seeds of distrust that grow to full-blown breakdowns between teachers and administration—and between students, parents, and school.
None of these underlying problems are unique to your school, but neither can they be easily solved by a Christmas bonus, Casual Dress Fridays, or a Teacher Appreciation Week celebration. We’re convinced that investing in and building a flourishing workplace where staff and teachers are fully engaged is the best thing you could do for your entire school community.
And we have so much we’re excited to share with you.
Are you ready to learn more?
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Reach out to Robert Wachter, global marketing director with Best Christian Workplaces, for more information about our employee engagement survey. Schedule a meeting today.