Three Things Leaders Can Do to Validate Teachers

A teacher’s level of confidence about their ability can significantly increase positive school culture, especially if they possess a high degree of collective efficacy. By contrast, bad classroom experiences, toxic work environments, and ineffective feedback can dampen a teacher's progress and their ability to create meaningful learning experiences for their students. To boost a teacher’s belief in their ability and improve performance, school leaders must play a critical role in developing teacher efficacy within their school community. Here, we will explain the importance of teacher efficacy and validation and how administrators can help teachers feel valued, confident, and successful.

The Problem

One of the main culprits of teacher devaluation is the result of policymakers and other officials who have little to no experience in education, yet they make important education decisions that affect students and teachers.

The Solution

Teachers must be partners in shaping education policy. Teachers are no strangers to change, and they understand the challenges our legislators face.

However, elected representatives (and even district officials) need to keep the door open a little wider to hear teacher voices and their ideas. Teachers like forming partnerships - doing so guarantees an education system worthy of our students, teachers, families, and communities.

What Leaders Can Do

As leaders, we must recognize that a teacher’s classroom experiences, and the relationships they create with students, are what ultimately define their professionalism. Teacher-created assessments aligned to the subject matters they teach may lead to more academic achievement than standardized curriculum and lesson plans. Teachers should be granted more  freedom to determine the best course of action for students so students may acquire the necessary learning intentions. The need for adopted resources is important, but those resources expect every student to master everything at the same moment, rather than assess each learner's capacity. A more balanced approach would allow teachers to teach children, not just a curriculum.

Whenever teachers are given the opportunity to assist with critical decision making, they feel that their input is being heard. This can ultimately lead to better school culture, increased levels of efficacy, and a greater sense of pride and ownership. Overly hyper leadership behaviors that are based on evaluation only can have a negative outcome. Simply stated, teachers and leaders who work together toward a set of mutually agreed upon goals will naturally create shared beliefs that lead to incremental gains in student achievement. 

Three Strategies to Validate Teachers

1. Authentic praise

Of course, we expect teachers to do their job, to be present with students every day, and to create optimal classroom environments. Strong leaders recognize these accomplishments with encouragement and support. The overall result of authentic praise can lead to additional positive outcomes.

In his review of research, Jerald (2007) highlights some teacher behaviors found to be related to a teacher’s sense of efficacy. Teachers with a stronger sense of efficacy:

  • Tend to exhibit greater levels of planning and organization;
  • Are more open to new ideas and are more willing to experiment with new methods to better meet the needs of their students;
  • Are more persistent and resilient when things do not go smoothly;
  • Are less critical of students when they make errors; and
  • Are less inclined to refer a difficult student to special education.

Leaders who recognize teacher accomplishments on a daily basis can help build a school community based on relational trust, interdependence, and mutual respect. Remember, collective efficacy is the belief of teacher groups about collective ability to promote successful student outcomes within their school. Let's not forget to highlight teacher accomplishments - doing so guarantees future success.

A note of caution, teachers can tell the difference between authentic praise and false praise. This is why feedback must be honest and sincere, coupled with specific suggestions. Praise is even better when it comes from someone we know and trust.

2. Purposeful collaboration

In his book, Collaboration, author Morten Hansen describes that while many organizations desire more unity and focus, our rush to collaborate comes with an unanticipated consequence; an absence of obtaining better results. Therefore, building a collaborative culture is key toward building collective and individual teacher efficacy. 

Leaders need to help create structures for teachers to accurately identify areas of student need and collaboratively decide on the best instructional approach in response to those needs. When schools and school systems break down the silos of individual practice, we can create truly professional teams of educators who continuously reflect on and improve their practice. Moreover, teams are focused on appropriating new knowledge about teaching and learning rather than simply maintaining existing knowledge. This means that teams follow protocols consistently while challenging current thinking and practice. Giving teachers the time to work with each other permits them to learn and share, especially when the biggest upside to collaboration is to consistently create school-wide best practices.

Remember, when teachers take time to share ideas with leaders, leaders must listen intently and offer support. Rather than create top-down mission and vision statements, leaders who collaborate with teachers are focused on creating a collaborative culture that builds the capacity of teachers and staff. 

3. Acknowledge the work and empower your people

Leaders - remember to value each teacher every day. Simply put, teachers that are valued will know how to stay motivated!

One significant way to acknowledge teacher efforts is to eliminate useless and inappropriate professional development sessions. 

Most teachers understand that professional development should contribute to their profession. However, based a 2013 report on professional development by the National School Boards Association’s Center for Public Education, it was noted that most teachers are not given the kind of professional development that would actually help them.

A summary of the report said:

Most teachers only experience traditional, workshop-based professional development, even though research shows it is ineffective. Over 90 percent of teachers participate in workshop-style training sessions during a school year (Darling-Hammond et al., 2009). This stands in stark contrast to teachers’ minimal exposure to other forms of professional development (Darling-Hammond et al., 2009). Despite its prevalence, the workshop model’s track record for changing teachers’ practice and student achievement is abysmal. Short, one-shot workshops often don’t change teacher practice and have no effect on student achievement (Yoon et al, 2007; Bush, 1984).

A summary of the report also noted that:

The reason traditional professional development is ineffective is that it doesn’t support teachers during the stage of learning with the steepest learning curve: implementation. In the same way that riding a bike is more difficult than learning about riding a bike, employing a teaching strategy in the classroom is more difficult than learning the strategy itself. In several case studies, even experienced teachers struggled with a new instructional technique in the beginning (Ermeling, 2010; Joyce and Showers, 1982). In fact, studies have shown it takes, on average, 20 separate instances of practice before a teacher has mastered a new skill, with that number increasing along with the complexity of the skill (Joyce and Showers, 2002).

Based on these findings it seems obvious to continue the work that has already been established by giving teachers ample time to practice and master the work. This single practice alone can be the difference between compliance and actual school improvement and will ultimately create empowered teachers and leaders.

The demands of teaching can be overwhelming.

So, acknowledging the work can translate into fewer "secret sauce and silver bullet" initiatives. Teachers do not want our sympathy; they desire our empathy. Praise teachers often with authentic feedback, help them when they ask for it, be aware of their increased responsibilities, and assist them in managing the limited time they have. Doing so will validate the entire staff.


Hanson, Morton. (2009). Collaboration. Harvard Business Review Press.

Jerald, C. D. (2007). Believing and achieving (Issue Brief). Washington, DC: Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement.



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