Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Teacher appreciation shouldn't be reserved for just one week a year

Each year we do our very best to show our appreciation to teachers during the official time for doing so, Teacher Appreciation Week. This official time of recognition is celebrated the first full week in May. This year the dates are May 4-8. But my thought to ponder is why should we wait until the first week of May to show teachers how much they are appreciated?

We actually try to build staff morale and celebrate our teachers throughout the school year. However, I realize we can always do better. Any success experienced by a school administrator is owed directly to the staff and students in the school. And nothing can harm motivation like feeling unappreciated. In fact, I've read numerous lists and surveys that show not feeling appreciated is a bigger concern for employees than tangible rewards like salary (although these can go hand in hand).

This past week our conference principals met here in Bolivar for one of our regular meetings to collaborate and conduct the business of the conference (Central Ozarks). As part of the agenda, the COC president, Chip Arnette from Branson HS, asked each principal to share a couple of ideas for showing appreciation to staff and raising morale. This time of collaboration proved invaluable for challenging and inspiring me as I consider ways to show appreciation in ongoing ways.

Todd Whitaker writes that one of the most important jobs of a principal is to make sure that teachers are more excited about teaching tomorrow than they are today. Clearly, a positive school climate with happy, motivated teachers is going to result in a much better experience for students. I'm sure there are studies that would support this idea. It is practically self-evident.

So what are a few of the ideas shared in our meeting?
1. Everyone agreed our teachers love 'jeans days,' especially when it is a surprise.
2. Handwritten notes of appreciation are powerful, from the principal, students, or other teachers. One of our counselors led a school-wide activity during the holiday season that asked students to write notes of appreciation to staff members (teachers and support staff) on paper Christmas ornaments. The ornaments were then collected and given to the individuals before leaving for break.

3. Play games with staff to keep things light and have fun together. A healthy school takes time to play, laugh, and  have fun.

4. Several ideas involved food. Teachers enjoy eating and socializing. It's been said "be sure to feed the teachers so they won't eat the students!" Cook breakfast, order in snacks, have a barbeque. One school shared they have a barbeque once a quarter. In the past, our school had Payday Breakfasts. Every payday we would eat together to celebrate. Even though the Payday Breakfasts were great, over time, they became so routine that they have gone away for a while. Sometimes even good ideas need a break.

5. Staff member of the month. Showcase your staff, their background, and interests. Share this on the school website so your community can know your teachers and support staff better.

6. Have events off-site. Several schools reported having Christmas parties, but there are lots of ways to do an off-site event that will be enjoyed by all.

7. Several schools reported having social committees who help to plan events, celebrate birthdays, and find ways to make teachers feel appreciated.

8. Praise staff members publicly and/or privately. A word of encouragement makes one feel noticed and one's efforts appreciated. We discussed briefly if praise was better in public or private. I've come to prefer private praise or public praise that is anonymous. The teacher knows he or she is the one being complimented. But some teachers might be embarrassed by public praise.

So these are just a few of the ideas that were discussed. There were many more. I was very proud to see a group of administrators coming together to share ways to help teachers feel more excited about the profession and making a difference for students.

But the most important take-away for me is the reminder that we should always be looking for ways to provide a better experience for our teachers. When teachers feel appreciated, so many things will fall into place. So I would encourage you to celebrate teachers and all staff in your building throughout the school year and not just in the 'official' appreciation weeks!

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