We all know that teachers should feel appreciated every day. As a former high school science teacher, I was filled up by the positive notes from students, small gifts, and verbal affirmations received during teacher appreciation week. Recognition is an important way for teachers to feel appreciated; we believe that in our four essential elements of teacher belonging (Agency, Development, Equity, and Wellness), appreciation is relevant to all categories, especially Development and Wellness.
In schools with strong teacher development, leadership provides meaningful feedback, recognition, and opportunities for growth. Similarly, leaders can also lean into appreciation through the lens of wellness, by creating wellness programs, spaces, and systems. If we used teacher appreciation week as inspiration to build recognition and appreciation into the fabric of our schools, we would simultaneously establish strong foundations for teacher growth and retention.
The fact is that more than half of teachers say they do not experience a great deal of support or encouragement from leaders. Regular and targeted encouragement and validation is essential, as 76% of millennials say they will quit if they feel unappreciated. Thus, teacher appreciation cannot just be one extra thing, but a planned, systematic component within the professional structure of our schools.
Here are some ways to weave teacher appreciation into the day-to-day, as the months and weeks go by:
One way to begin validating staff, based on their preferences, is to survey them on their ‘recognition languages’ and identify ways (small and large) that these needs can be met on a more frequent basis. Everyone has one or two languages, or mediums, of recognition that they value above all others. People feel more appreciated when it is given in the style specific to their preferences. The key to showing your colleagues powerful recognition is knowing which is their primary language.
As you will see in the recognition languages tracker there are many categories of recognition from tangible rewards to visible impact. Consider which methods you have tried before, what category do they fit into? Can you plan something you have tried once or twice before into an aspect of your existing schedule? Additionally, consider methods that center the lift of appreciation on the whole staff community, like group affirmations in a staff meeting, rather than one administrator.
Pair new teachers with experienced ones, providing new teachers with affirmation on success, advice on navigating daily challenges, while providing leadership opportunities for others. The strategy of mentorship can be a simple way to facilitate the feedback process between a veteran and a novice. By providing the simple structure of a mentor, we can support teacher wellness by giving them spaces to decompress, bounce ideas off someone else, be affirmed, and even receive actionable feedback. Implementing the mentorship system does not need to be complicated; it can be as simple as pairing up every new teacher and providing veterans with a simple, conversation-based protocol to get the conversation going.
Create a formal structure for school leaders and colleagues to debrief and map out the relational, emotional, and intellectual highs and lows of their day. The map creation process can take the form of a quick visual image where teachers can share when and why they experienced specific highs and lows. Often teachers can feel isolated in their own experiences; by using a focus group or even a quick check-in process at the beginning of a staff meeting, you can build space for collective processing. A form of wellness is understanding and being heard, when teachers have an environment where they can outline the experiences of their day, they can process and better understand the steps by which to move forward.
Teacher development is supported by these forms of recognition, along with meaningful feedback, and opportunities for growth. By making components of development a habit, the feelings of belonging that teachers feel during appreciation week, can live on all year long.