Teacher Appreciation Year
Once a week in May, Teacher Appreciation Week rolls around schools across the nation. This is a week wherein which teachers are showered with gifts, food, and numerous things to bring a smile to their face. (For some I should say because there are teachers out there who experience none of this during teacher appreciation week, but I digress.)
I wanted to offer another perspective in hopes that school leadership teams actively and consistently think about ways they can show teachers they are appreciated year round. Why? Because teacher burnout and teacher turnover is a REAL thing. There is also a growing trend of this stress leading to mental and physical health issues, something that I have personally experienced. The fact of the matter is that while teachers really appreciate Teacher Appreciation Week, we’d love to be appreciated all year round!
Below are ten actionable ways schools can readily implement and infuse a year-round culture of teacher appreciation. I want readers of this to read this post and let it marinate. The goal of this article is not to impulsively implement these strategies next week. A school leadership team must really be intentional about and think through each of these points, in order to create a sustainable plan. Also, please note that while I did not list increasing teacher salary (due to the fact that that is not something that can be readily implemented by school leaders), this is vital. Appropriate and fair compensation is a very important way that highly effective teachers can be retained and feel valued as employees.
Notice your teacher’s strengths. Oftentimes we have untapped resources right in our building, I’ve often been one of them. As leaders, you must find ways to be on the lookout for teacher’s strengths, determine ways to cultivate it and leverage it in a way that it is mutually beneficial to the school community and to the teacher. Yes, read the last part again. If you are going to utilize a teacher’s strengths in a capacity that will make your school a better environment for teaching and learning (something that as a leader you would also benefit from when it comes to compensation/recognition), ensure that you are helping that teacher to benefit from that too. While we don’t do this for the kudos and recognition, teachers deserve to have their strengths noticed in a way that can help them to utilize their natural gifts and strengths in an empowering way.
Create a way for teachers to share their feedback and voice in a safe space. There is a strategic way to do this so that it doesn’t turn into a gripe session. Establish norms and protocols so that teachers can share their honest thoughts and feedback. Job security is one reason why teachers don’t speak up. Retaliation is real and it comes in many forms. Instead of worrying about someone’s influence on your staff and finding ways to get rid of teachers who “are not a good fit” due to them having a powerful voice, create a space for this. Recognize the difference between a “toxic teacher” and a “woke teacher with expertise”.
Don’t play favorites. Just don’t. Teachers notice everything. They notice whom leaders consistently say “yes” to or what teachers are asked to take on leadership opportunities or whom they allow certain accommodations for. Periodically ask your leadership team to stop and evaluate this practice. Who are the perceived favorites? Why are they the favorites? What are you doing for the rest of the staff? This might also be a great time to unpack your own biases and ways of thinking when it comes to providing certain privileges and opportunities to certain types of staff members, instead of others.
Provide teachers with protected time to do the things their position requires. This should go without saying but unfortunately this is a huge issue in education. Teachers need time to lesson plan, make copies, call parents, grade papers, enter papers in grade book, organize their classroom, respond to emails, update trackers, write feedback on their student’s work, internalize upcoming lessons, read texts for upcoming lessons, analyze data, create an action plan to address data, complete paperwork, conduct research on an instructional strategy, breathe, use the bathroom, eat lunch etc. Fiercely protect that time for them. That sends a clear message about what you value.
Provide teachers with high-quality professional development. Ensure you are hiring the best of the best instructional leaders to lead any professional development that addresses the needs of your school and staff. This should be based on student data, teacher data and for teachers who are strong instructionally, teacher interest. Everyone should have the opportunity to sharpen their toolkit whether that be in classroom instruction, classroom culture or leadership development. Let me stress that this professional development should be well planned and executed by someone who has a rich understanding of best practices and the content they are presenting on. It doesn’t have to only be a school leader or outside expert, there are often experts right in your building.
Ensure that every meeting is purposeful. Teacher’s time is precious. Show them that you value their time by purposely planning for meetings. Teach others how to do this as well. Everything doesn’t warrant a meeting. Determine with your leadership team (which I hope includes teachers) what warrants a meeting and what doesn’t. The key is to be intentional when planning for meetings. There should be a clear purpose. There is a difference between a meeting and a PD. Teachers should know what they are walking into when they enter meetings. There should be clear norms, an agenda, meeting roles, and follow up after the meeting. By the way, snacks are always a plus!
Respect teachers out of school time. This is done by refraining from sending emails that require a response, texting or calling teachers, outside of work hours unless it is an emergency. Do not make the assumption that folks are checking their emails after work hours. Some of us are intentionally trying to create boundaries and a healthy work/life balance. Respect that.
Provide teachers with consistent high-quality coaching and mentorship. With many educators entering the field with minimal training, this is vital. But this is also important for seasoned teachers as well. We also want to grow and be better at our craft. There is nothing worse than having no coaching/mentorship or ineffective coaching/mentorship. Be strategic with whom you hire to serve as your instructional leader. They have a huge impact on teacher development which then has an impact on student achievement. To put it bluntly, If we want our students to have the same access to high-quality instruction as their counterparts, we must ensure we are placing people in these positions who have demonstrated that they know high impact instruction and have the results to back up. We want instructional leaders who know how to build relationships with teachers, have empathy and most importantly know the art of coaching teachers. That means there should be a rigorous process in place to find the right people for positions like this.
Find ways to celebrate staff and opportunities for them to fellowship year round. This is vital. I know that oftentimes school leaders can be very busy so this is a great opportunity to tap into teachers strengths by creating a “sunshine” committee or a committee for teachers who really enjoy spreading joy throughout the school year. Allow them to craft out a yearlong plan for truly bring joy into the professional while providing teachers with meaningful opportunities to connect with one another.
Get to know your teachers. I’m not saying you need to be all up in their business but you should know your staff. Ask them how their children are doing. Know if there is a certain time of the year that they might be triggered due to a loss. Know their quirks or if they are a morning person or not. Notice when they seem off and respond to this. Say good morning to them. Ask them how they are doing. Check in. Get to know your staff and let them know you care about them as people.
At the end of the day, teacher burnout and teacher stress can lead to teacher turnover. Teacher turnover leads to children seeing teachers come and go. For many students, this is a sad reality and can trigger many different emotions for them. I remember making the decision to leave a school because of not feeling valued and feeling like my growth was not being cultivated. I decided to go back to visit at the beginning of the next school year to see my former students and one of them refused to speak to me. He was upset that I left and he purposely didn’t look at me when he saw me there. I called his name and tried to speak to him and he ignored me. I will never forget that moment. I didn’t want to leave my students but I knew that wasn’t the best place for me to be as a teacher.
Schools have to make it a priority to ensure they are being intentional with doing this work. Part of the work is supporting, valuing, empowering and having empathy towards our teachers. It’s realizing that teachers are not robots. We are human beings who wake up every day with the hopes of making a difference. Many of us are up for the challenge and truly want to do this work to the best of our ability so that our students can be set up for success. While doing this work, it’s nice to feel like we are valued and appreciated.
Shoot me an email and let me know what other ways schools can make teachers feel appreciated and what action steps will you taking to address this topic! Stay tuned for Part 2 where I will share my thoughts on what society can do to show they value and appreciate teachers.