Optimizing Teacher Appreciation Day
Leadership Insights

Principal as Instructional Coach: What is Meaningful Teacher Appreciation?

By Terry Wilhelm May 5, 2015
Optimizing Teacher Appreciation Day

As I discussed in Why Employee Recognition Programs Can Make Customer Service Worse, teacher recognition programs that operate on a rotating basis (Employee of the Month, Teacher of the Year) are often relatively meaningless for a variety of reasons. Worse yet, programs like these can actually undermine the values the organization wants to instill such as customer service, teamwork and motivation to work harder.

Giving teachers their due: Is Teacher Appreciation Day meaningful to the honorees?

Blanket recognition days such as Teacher Appreciation Day or Day of the Teacher also have their drawbacks. Because these days are infrequent and socially mandated, honorees can become blasé about them. After all, the principal or parent-teacher organization are simply doing what’s expected by giving teachers their due, right? That said, no principal with an ounce of savvy would ignore the occasion.

In affluent schools, PTAs are a great resource for teacher recognition efforts

In schools serving more affluent students, the PTA or PTO may provide a festive luncheon. Parents feel good staging the event, and most teachers enjoy it. The principal is also invited, of course, and uses the occasion to express his or her own thanks and appreciation.

High-needs schools depend on the principal to acknowledge teachers’ work

In less affluent schools or schools with a less active parent group, it falls to the principal to come up with some — usually tangible — means to recognize teaching staff (and a few weeks later, the classified staff, on Classified Appreciation Day, the secretarial staff on Secretaries’ Day, and so on). Some principals provide lunch for the staff at their own expense; others purchase individual gifts which they hope will convey appreciation, and numerous online and catalog-based vendors helpfully offer teacher and staff appreciation gifts ranging from keychains and mugs to T-shirts.

What is missing from these annual traditions? Although it’s essential for principals to demonstrate appreciation on the day officially designated for that purpose, if this occasion is the only time that she or he thanks teachers, it will most likely ring hollow.

Celebrate small achievements and improvements: How principals can provide teacher appreciation throughout the year

It is often lamented that schools do not celebrate enough and educational leaders don’t give enough pats on the back. In the current era of accountability based on test scores, it is easy to miss acknowledging other important achievements, improvements, large and small wins, and the dedicated, hard work of staff while keeping a laser (some might argue myopic) focus on testing outcomes.

Tell each teacher what you appreciate about them

As a principal, stop and think about your teaching staff. What is it, exactly, that you admire about each teacher? One principal wrote each teacher a personal note for Teacher Appreciation Day — a very large undertaking, even for a smaller school. Or, perhaps, since the day is just around the corner, how about opting for the keychains for now, but then resolve to begin providing specific, individual thanks and recognition more regularly throughout the year?

Keep track of personal notes to keep all teachers in the ‘thank you’ loop

Another principal keeps a staff roster in a file on her desk. Each time she writes a personal note, simply puts a check by that staff member’s name. She can see at a glance who has not received a personal communication in a while, and it also helps her remember to make more frequent, informal connections, often as simple as a verbal thanks or ‘good job’ for a specific accomplishment.

Expressing thanks to teachers is a rich reward when principals demonstrate that they’re paying attention

Finally, when expressing thanks and appreciation to the staff as a whole — which can be for anything from improving attendance to reducing failing grades to producing a student performance or exhibition day — be sure to include as much specific detail as possible about the success itself, which will make the affirmation more valued by the recipients.

So, by all means, recognize your teachers on Teacher Appreciation Day, but don’t stop there!

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