“Being told you’re appreciated is one of the simplest and most incredible things you can ever hear.”
I read this quote for the first time during an Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teaching and Teachers (ECET2) conference. Sponsored by the Gates Foundation, the conference is designed to bring teachers from across the U.S. together to celebrate the great work they do and elevate the profession through professional development and collaboration.
The conference resonates with me, and hundreds of my colleagues, because of its primary focus on telling teachers how much they are appreciated. With the exception of Teacher Appreciation Week, these are messages teachers rarely receive at a local building level. I enjoy the lunches and cards from the parents and students, but I’m not naïve. I perform a job in return for a paycheck, which I could earn just about anywhere. However, a little appreciation has an immeasurable impact on my job satisfaction—and that matters as well.
I have never felt unappreciated in the work that I do. Underutilized, maybe, but never taken for granted. I have been fortunate to work with administrators who consistently show they value my colleagues and me. My wish would be for all teachers to feel that same satisfaction. But where do we start?
Appreciation Starts at the Top
I started with the assumption that some administrators don’t always know where to start building this culture. I contacted two principals I have worked with—one retired and one current—to ask for their advice. Here are some of the practices that they shared.
R-e-s-p-e-c-t. Commit yourself to policies and procedures that demonstrate your respect for the time and professionalism of teachers and staff. Encourage teachers to attend workshops, conventions, or take on leadership positions during school time. Meet their personal needs by allowing the use of flexible scheduling for family situations. Hold meetings only when necessary and stick to a timed agenda. When appropriate, filter requests from outside entities (PTA/PTO, business partners, parents, etc.) and empower office staff to handle situations with a focus on protecting teacher time. Establish an open door policy and make sure you follow through.
Create Your Own Sunshine. Create a bulletin board visible to staff, students, and visitors in a high-traffic area of the office. Whenever you receive a positive note about a teacher, post it on the board with a large sunshine cutout. Leave extra suns close by so anyone can leave a compliment for any staff member. (Remember to respect student privacy and use discretion. Mark out the identifying information before posting.)
Friday Reflection. Send out a reflective email every week that highlights stories “from the field.” Anything that helps to break down the silos between teacher classrooms is a plus. Include pictures of class programs or stories from parents, students, or other teachers. Highlight observations you’ve made throughout the week that promote best practices and positive school culture.
Ask Me Why My Teacher Is a Rock Star. Check the local office supply store for blank stickers and create your own “ask me” message. During informal walk-throughs, listen and watch for something interesting that engages the children, or ask students what it is that makes their teacher different or memorable. The teacher is declared a rock star, and the students get to wear the sticker, proudly telling anyone who asks why they love their teacher.
Miss Manners. Treat your staff as you would your family and friends. Handwritten birthday cards or thank you notes are a rarity in our digital world, but they make an immediate positive impact. Staff parties are great social events, but parties for the staff’s children reinforce the idea of family.
What’s Right With ______? During non-evaluative walk-throughs, look for behaviors that support your school’s vision or the climate you want to encourage. Post a chart in a highly visible area and write down anything any staff member did throughout the week that goes above and beyond. Label the chart, “What’s Right With ______?” It has to be authentic, and it’s not necessary to find every person every time, but it should highlight outstanding behaviors you want to encourage in others.
Flip the Script
Appreciation goes both ways, though. If teachers don’t feel like they’re getting what they need from the top, perhaps it’s time for them to treat their administration like students and model good behavior. Here are a few suggestions for teachers to model appreciation for their administration.
Do Your Job. You are the professional and the head of your classroom. Unless it is a legal or an ethical issue, try to keep your administrator out of the daily grind. Whether you are having a conflict with a coworker or working through issues with a student’s parent, do whatever you can to resolve the problem on your own. Enlist the aid of colleagues to brainstorm solutions or act as mediators. Communicate your expectations to others and be prepared to compromise.
Treat Your Administration as You’d Like to Be Treated. One thing that hurt my previous principal’s feelings was being taken for granted. No one likes to be told what to do. Whether you need a letter signed or to take a personal day off, ask and say please. When your principal protects your time by running interference with a parent or canceling an unnecessary meeting, thank them. Respect their time. If you can’t ask your question in five sentences, don’t send it in an email but ask for a personal meeting.
Come With a Solution. There are situations that require the input or approval of an administrator, but that doesn’t mean the principal has to develop the solution as well. If possible, bring two to three acceptable outcomes to the conversation with your administration and be open to other suggestions.
Ask for What You Really Want. Understand what you really need from your administrator. Maybe you don’t want your principal to solve your problem for you, but to just act as a sounding board or point out things you may not have thought about.
Agree to Disagree. There are so many legal, moral, and economic factors that go in to the decisions made during the school day. Many times, decision-making is out of the control of the principal, or they may not be able to explain their reason. You are welcome to disagree with decisions, but be respectful and keep your complaints out of the public eye.
Practice Willful Obedience. Be ready to work together to solve the problem. But understand that once you’ve brought an issue to an administrator, you’ve given them your power. When you involve your principal in developing a solution and then ignore the advice given, you’ve just wasted everyone’s time, and you nurture hostility and distrust. Unless you are asked to do something immoral or unethical, make the commitment to carry out the solution and see it through.
Appreciate Yourself (and Others)
If you don’t feel like you’re being appreciated by your administration, appreciate yourself. Reward your successes with small treats and kind words. Share your stories with your colleagues and celebrate their successes as well. Avoid negative, toxic conversations and promote unity. And most of all, if you are truly unhappy and feel unappreciated, update your resume and make your plans to move on to a position you feel treats you right.
In my ideal world, conferences like ECET2 would be unnecessary. Teachers and administrators would consistently receive the support and appreciation they need to be effective. However, we’re just not there yet. At the very least, I would love for teachers to share these practices with their administrations and to begin a dialogue about this topic. We can and should do better for each other.