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February 11, 2014


Diving Into School Morale

by Chris Lindholm

The February 2014 Educational Leadership publication is focused el-feb14-lefton building school morale and offers several articles reflecting on how to cultivate positive spirits in a school staff.  The timing is superb…  I note on my calendar at the beginning of February every year to brace for the mid-year slump.  While I’m convinced it has a good deal to do with the lack of daylight and cold weather here in northern MN, I also agree Megan and Bob Tschannen-Moran that “bolstering school morale is a primary school improvement strategy” (pg. 38).  School leadership teams need to assess, plan for, implement action plans to address, and progress monitor the emotional pulse of the larger school team just as an effective coach of an athletic team or the director of musical must do.  An emotionally flat team simply cannot perform well while one wrapped up in the positive synergy of real, results oriented school improvement can knock it out of the park.

Courage to TeachAs I skimmed through the many rich articles in this timely journal I was surprised that I didn’t stumble into a favorite author that I’ve blogged about many times before – Parker Palmer, author of The Courage to Teach.  I especially like Parker’s lens on the heart of a teacher because he gets well beyond gimmicks and secret santa activities and dives deep into what makes us educators tick.  He understands and explains the very personal side of this profession and leaves the reader feeling like there is indeed someone who can explain the emotions that run through a teacher’s veins.  That real sense of being heard and being understood lies at the foundation of morale doesn’t it?  In my experiences, when we teachers feel like we belong and are part of a team of passionate people working toward the same greater good morale issues seem to go away.  When teams can articulate how they disagree and agree, when we care for the person more than being right on an issue, and when we demonstrate deep respect for the expertise of a colleague even in the face of tensions, individual and collective morale soars.  Parker Palmer’s pulse on why we care so deeply in this work and why we need to be so careful as we engage in improvement conversations is extremely enlightening to the work of a Professional Learning Community and to the work of a leadership team struggling with how to address the morale of an entire staff.  It’s just a deeper issue than setting goals and bringing donuts to a faculty meeting…

Parker Palmer is the founder of the Center for Courage and Renewal, an incredible resource and opportunity for personal and professional renewal in this ever demanding line of work.  Here is Parker reflecting on the connections between teaching and leading in his book, The Courage to Teach

And here is the story of a teacher life changed by the work of Parker Palmer and the Center for Courage and Renewal.  I invite every educator to take a good pause and focus in on your inner life as a teacher.  Here lies the real roots of morale, emotional health, and the passion to burn the midnight oil for our students.

School leadership teams – are your action plans for staff morale and climate focused on donuts and parties?  Or… are you leading your staff through a journey of renewal that authentically connects the inner life of a teacher to our everyday work?  I know what I would be more excited to follow and support.

May you be encouraged this February!!

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Hi Chris,
    Thanks for this great blog and posting the videos. Here is one more video on a current pilot program by the Center for Courage & Renewal and the University of Virginia called Leading Together: Building Adult Community in Schools. It is definitely more than just building morale — it’s about building trustworthy relationships.
    –Shelly at the Center for Courage & Renewal

  2. Feb 11 2014

    What an honor to have Parker reading and you commenting on my post!!!! Parker understands and articulates the deep pulse of an educator like no other author or presenter. It is about relationships – and the norms, protocols, and leadership needed to nurture them. Thank you for sharing this video – and please do reach out if you’re looking for a district to work with. I’m a long fan of Parker’s work, but I’ve never invested in a retreat or the training to facilitate – but the timing may be right in central MN… Feel free to reach out at @clindhol or via email at

  3. Feb 13 2014

    I love it, Chris.

    Never underestimate the role that morale plays in driving change in schools. As a classroom teacher, I’ll do anything in buildings where I am invested and we are winning together. When morale suffers, though, I’m stagnant.

    Hope you’re well,

    • Feb 13 2014

      Amen to that Bill – and it’s great to hear from you! Finding the groove now in Pequot Lakes, MN and will be spreading your words freely!! Keep up the fight!


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