Faculty & Administrators Share Suggestions for Showing Appreciation in Schools

This week is National Teacher Appreciation Week and while educators are sure to receive gifts and notes from grateful parents and students, it is important to remember that they also need to be appreciated by their peers and managers.

When writing The Vibrant Workplace, we interviewed a number of individuals in a variety of work settings to gain their thoughts about the specific challenges of communicating appreciation in their workplace, and ways to overcome the obstacles. The following answers are compiled from individuals who work in school settings and are familiar with our Appreciation at Work resources. Their responses reflect their own personal perspective and communication styles.

What are the characteristics of working in a school setting that make communicating appreciation to faculty and staff challenging?

When you have only one thirty-minute staff meeting a month, it makes building relationships challenging because there’s so little time for anything “extra.” With the short planning period that each teacher has at a different time, a person would really have to plan ahead to do anything specific for another on staff.

For administrators and principals, a challenge is to know what a teacher really does in the classroom. An administrator can occasionally spend five or ten minutes in a classroom, but that only gives a glimpse of what goes on. Teachers rarely see what another teacher does during a class, so there is not a lot of data on which to base appreciation for colleagues.

Another practical aspect of school settings that creates ongoing challenges is the fact that school personnel are frequently moved from building to building. As a result, team members may just be getting to know one another and how to support and encourage each other when one of them is transferred to another school. (This is especially difficult for administrators who have multiple staff to get to know.)

What are typical assumptions or stereotypes about faculty and staff, and how they are motivated?

Many administrators and principals believe a general email saying “good job” is enough to encourage a staff member, seemingly because that’s the easiest action to take, even though it is not personal or meaningful.

Those who are not teachers (especially parents and administrators) assume that a class’s test scores make an educator feel like they are a good teacher. In reality, many teachers know that the test data does not define them as a teacher any more than the scores define the kids.

Food is actually a pretty good motivator, and it takes many shapes and forms:

• The PTO providing snacks or a meal during parent/teacher conferences.

• The principal buying dinner before an evening open house.

• A random snack with a note left in your mailbox or on the desk.

While the actions are usually well intended, don’t assume that free food makes teachers feel appreciated—that’s not always the case. While a workroom full of food often becomes a gathering place, many teachers would rather be home with their families . . . and also eating healthier meals.

One of the assumptions that teachers and school personnel most resent is: “Teachers don’t need motivation because they only work from eight to four and they get summers off.” In contrast, during the school year, teachers feel supported when they are given extra planning periods or workdays without students, not only to allow for preparation but also for more time to collaborate with other staff.

What are common negative reactions to an appreciation approach—either from faculty and staff themselves or principals and administrators?

When a program (like a meeting about recordkeeping or safety issues) is scheduled, it throws everything out of balance and sometimes makes us feel like our jobs are not as important. These meetings are important, but they take away from what we need to do for the kids. So when a “we appreciate you” program is required, it has the same negative resistance. “Thanks, but no thanks!”

When have you seen appreciation start to make a difference?

Appreciation makes a difference when it is personal, deserved, and meaningful.

I think sometimes appreciation is more about the climate of the building than the act itself. The way the leadership (principals, counselors, administrators) communicates on a regular basis makes the faculty and staff feel respected and professional. A positive tone and cheerful demeanor when communicating with staff goes a long way to laying a foundation for a healthy work environment.

What are some guiding principles for implementing appreciation with school personnel?

Understand that teachers do not clock out after the last bell. They work with kids after school and most take work home every night, as well as spending several hours on the weekend grading and preparing.  It’s absolutely crucial to recognize that every teacher works extremely hard, because it’s a calling, a love for the profession of teaching. Understanding this makes all the difference when it comes to communicating appreciation.

Are there pitfalls or mistakes to avoid?

“Fairness” seems to be a big issue within schools. Teachers and staff are quite sensitive (probably overly so) to “who gets what” and whether another teacher is getting more of the assistant principal’s time than they are, or if one team member seems to win prizes more than would seem random at celebrations. Be aware of gossip and pockets of grumbling; try to address the concerns directly and as quickly as possible.

Are there some positive action steps or approaches to take that will help overcome the common challenges?

Give the staff a chance to get to know each other. With everyone being so busy and focused on their own personal classroom and students, it is not uncommon for teachers to rarely see each other, especially when they have different planning periods and lunchtimes.

Conclusion

Work settings differ significantly, creating both windows of opportunity and potential barriers for applying the 5 Languages of Appreciation. But we have found that by making a few “tweaks” and working with the structure of the organization, authentic appreciation can become a vital part of any organizational culture and help create a healthy, vibrant workplace.

For more practical suggestions for showing appreciation in unique and specific settings – including schools, military, medical, ministry, long-distance, government, and non-profit – get The Vibrant Workplace or take a tailored version of the Motivating By Appreciation Inventory.

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