Of course you do numerous things to show your staff that you appreciate them. I always believed it was the daily interactions, done consistently with love and care that showed I valued all staff and their contributions to our students and school. While grand gestures are nice, and they have a place in the way we celebrate, it is the day in, day out connections that I had with staff that made the bigger difference. Really, you can’t be a jerk most days of the week and then try to make up for it with a special treat or event on Friday.
A habit that I picked up early in my career came after a professional learning experience with Todd Whitaker. If you ever have the opportunity to attend any session run by Todd, I highly recommend it. So many practical ideas and the energy he gives out each time he speaks is tremendous. You will walk away inspired.
I don’t really remember what he called it, but I adopted it and started calling it Thank You Thursday. It is a practice I did for over twenty years.
In my work calendar I put a standing appointment every Thursday called Thank You Thursday. While I know you should not use your calendar as a to do list I put this as an all day event in my calendar because it had to be done on that day. It would be the first thing I would see when I reviewed my calendar but obviously over time, it was just Thursday, and I did this every Thursday, so even though is was written down, I did not need to be reminded.
Every Thursday I would write three hand written thank you cards. Most times they would go to staff members, but every once in a while they would go to a parent in our community, the crossing guard, bus drivers, even students.
We had cards made up that included our two school logos and our mantra of Work Hard, Be Nice, Make a Difference. Inside I would write a note thanking the individual for living our beliefs.
During the week, at the back of my notebook, I would capture something that I had seen, or heard about a staff member going above and beyond and on Thursday I would write up a card and place it on their work desk, mailbox or work area.
Any time we had a new staff member join our school I would write a note to welcome them to our school, also to say goodbye, but most of the time it was for a small, yet powerful random act that they had done. I always connected it to our saying of Work Hard, Be Nice, Make a Difference in order to continue the common language and to model our beliefs.
Many times it was a positive, heartwarming or comforting interaction I saw with them and a student.
Or a particular lesson that I saw when I came around into their classroom.
Watching them interact with parents outside during drop off or pick up times.
How they used break times to run a club, or provide a safe place for students to hang out.
I started to notice that the cards where kept, they had value for those that were receiving them. They were placed on desks, or hung on the bulletin board close to their work area.
Those that became administrators from our school and were going off to be leaders on their own would often ask me if I recorded who had received them and did I try to make sure I got everyone. We had over 130 staff members, so only doing three a week would not get me everyone during the year but I did share the following strategy.
We all know the staff members who could get one every week, it is in everything that they do, you catch them being fantastic all the time. So I did keep track and I did attach a staff list in the back of my book. I would often scan the list of names to see who should be getting a card or most importantly those that I noticed ‘needed’ a card. The cards were always sincere, never made up just to get one done. I would not write one just because a name I saw had not received one recently. But it did light a fire under me to go out and catch them being amazing. My belief was that everyone in the building was a fabulous educator and were there for the right reasons. It was my fault for not finding the opportunities to recognize this. You have never done a card for someone? That is my problem as a leader. If I didn’t know much about a staff member I put that on me that I had not made it a point to get around to see them
I had heard once about Superstars and Rockstars.
The Superstars are the teachers that do amazing things in the school, and really stand out. Their presence is felt and everyone knows them. You hear them at meetings and in the building. The parents know them. They stand out in the crowd.
Then there are your Rockstars. Solid, like a rock. They are not looking to stand out. They create magic in their classrooms and their purpose is not to be noticed. They are one hundred percent in it for the students and their families. And unless you have systems in place to share good practice and get people into classrooms to see what others are doing, no other staff really sees the incredible work that is being done by your Rockstars.
You need both in your school, but I have always believed it is the Rockstars that are most important. Thank you Thursdays highlight to you and to them their importance, their value to your mission and acknowledges that you are so glad they are there with you. This is why I did Thank You Thursdays. To acknowledge all those that fly a little under the radar but do such amazing things for their students and their families.
Another habit that formed because of this was during my walk abouts. I would make sure I had a pen and post it notes with me. Going into a classroom I always interacted with the students, asking them what the learning goals were, how they knew they understood, to teach me back etc. When I left a classroom I would jot down a positive statement about the lesson, class, atmosphere, something, not feedback, just an affirmation and I would stick it on the teacher desk, or work place over their binder, on their phone, in a spot where they could see it. Something like, ‘These students are on fire with this concept!” ‘Awesome student participation’. ‘I really like how your students interact with each other’. ‘What a lovely feel you have in this room’. A thirty second task on my part that acknowledges and affirms.
Recognize your staff every way you can. And if you like this Interesting Idea, give it a try. Every Thursday! Three hand written cards! Less than five minutes of your time! Show them that you notice. And for you, giving actually feels pretty good as well.