Education Opinion

Expanding Recognition

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — May 20, 2014 4 min read
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May and June are welcomed for the colorful blossoms, warmth, and sunshine they bring. In schools, this season of promise is accompanied by endings, including assessments that signal the end of learning for the year, the closing down of classrooms, the goodbyes to students who will move on to new teachers and classrooms, and colleagues who are off to do other things over the summer.

This has been another challenging year in education. The continuing struggle to understand and implement the Common Core, new assessment systems for students and teachers, new accountability measures, dwindling resources, and conflicting criticism from the public, have worn many down. To many educators, this spring doesn’t feel like blossoms, and warmth, and sunshine.

Changing the way people feel at the end of the year can send everyone off on a more positive and optimistic note. It will set the tone for the fall that is only one season away. The plays and concerts, art shows, and awards assemblies are all celebrations of hard work by students and teachers. They are followed by graduations. This time of year contains the big rituals and prominent recognition ceremonies. They are our grand examples of the culmination of dedication, perseverance, and good work.

Buried within this story are many acts and accomplishments by students and teachers that go unnoticed and unacknowledged. These little bits of pride, left unspoken, walk out our doors and get hidden. They may have been small acts of courage, kindness, effort, empathy, thoughtfulness, generosity, support, encouragement, understanding, compassion... the little things that make the world a better place. Or, they are those moments where someone with the courage chose to do the right thing. These remarkable acts often drift past our attention as we rush to our next meeting, or deal with an urgent issue.

These last days and weeks of school hold the very best opportunity to make a commitment to acknowledging the little things. Those acts are encouraged when recognized, actually by anyone. These acts are the ones not explicit in a job description of the faculty or grades of students, but they do call us to a higher level of being human. There, most certainly, have been teachers, teaching assistants, teacher aides, secretaries, custodians, lunch staff, bus drivers and crossing guards who have had positive impact on children this year. There are students who have worked at being learners, becoming friends, and many offering generous acts of kindness. There are those who steeped out from being a bystander to say “no” to the bully and protect the bullied. For many it is simply the daily accomplishment of getting to school because it is safe or they want to learn. They leave behind home situations at home that impact their ability to pay attention but they choose to come to us anyway. They try to focus and be part of the school community.

Sometimes, in an effort to recognize the efforts of the people we work with, especially at the end of the school year, we sweep all of this into a well-meaning thank you luncheon, offer awards for specific accomplishments or acts, or issue a public statement of appreciation for “all you have done”. But many will leave wondering if you really know the child they reached or the mini success that changed a life.

Everyone appreciates being seen and acknowledged. During stressful times, it is even more important. So many in teaching and leadership roles are naturals at this. No matter what else is going on, they are present, and connect with eye contact and an exchange that indicates their awareness of the good work and effort being made. It is a matter of good habit. Others let this very important recognition fall into the bucket of a collective, not a personal, acknowledgement or they let it slide altogether.

We encourage school leaders to change how this hard year ends. What if we considered letting staff and students know that we have not missed their contributions and that we appreciate them? What if we walked around and said a few words or sent emails or tweets during these last few weeks as a random act of kindness from us?

A website committed to research and findings is full of suggestions and stories about random acts of kindness. There also exists formal research about the effect of witnessing good deeds, and doing something selfless for others, revealing our own emotional intelligence, kindness and empathy. We are suggesting an innate and simple shift. The easiest way to help people feel good is to let them know we see them, hear them, value them and their actions. If we begin to focus on those little things and recognize them, we can start a shift in what others see and do.

We already subscribe to the idea of recognizing others. After all, we just had “Teacher Recognition Week”. There are the student recognition assemblies, too. But the other weeks of every year offer opportunities to make recognition a more personal and more powerful act. Beginning a new behavior in this season of endings might get noticed. If started now, and allowing this to rise to the top of our “to do” list, perhaps the next school year will begin happier and more optimistically. Who wouldn’t want that?

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The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.