Administration & Leadership

Making Everyone on Staff Feel Appreciated

Administrators who routinely show gratitude boost morale and productivity in their schools.

August 31, 2023
alvarez / iStock

With many states around the nation facing a teacher shortage, veteran and novice leaders are tasked with finding creative ways to retain teachers, boost performance, and raise morale. Gratitude in the schoolhouse may be a viable solution. Research suggests that showing gratitude to staff is the easiest, fastest, and most inexpensive way to improve performance and enhance enthusiasm about work. Leaders can demonstrate gratitude through meaningful affirmations, and they can afford their staff quality time through meaningful interactions.

Most people love to celebrate good times, and things worth celebrating are occurring all the time throughout school buildings. The great news is that leaders can create a climate and culture that perpetuates consistent praise. Leaders can celebrate teachers’ pedagogy and work ethic via consistent words of affirmation and quality time.

These things cost a leader nothing and go a long way. Acknowledging a staff member of the week in the weekly updates; giving staff shout-outs via email; praising teachers during staff meetings; facilitating gratitude conferences; getting to know each staff member as an individual; being visible, accessible, and approachable; having an open-door policy; and celebrating milestones are all ways to provide words of affirmation and offer quality time to your staff.

Ways to Show Gratitude

One way to show staff your gratitude is through gratitude conferences. The purpose of these meetings is to give staff authentic praise via personalized and specific gratitude statements. I recommend that leaders utilize a calendar to allocate time each day for these conferences, so that they become a priority and then a routine. Having a plan of action is key.

In addition to being gratitude cheerleaders, school leaders are charged with being coaches who are responsible for developing their staff’s capacity. How can a leader show gratitude while still being intentional about developing all of their staff members and engaging them as individuals? At the start of the school year, leaders can facilitate 15-minute meetings with every staff member to learn about their strengths, areas of growth, and professional goals, and how they prefer to be coached.

The purpose of this getting-to-know-you protocol is to give each staff member your undivided attention and gather data about how they prefer to be engaged, coached, and praised. This is vital when authentically coaching staff and devising tailored professional development plans.

After conducting initial one-on-one meetings with each staff member, it’s highly recommended that leaders set quarterly follow-up dates that afford them the opportunity to meaningfully engage with staff every 45 days. Meeting frequently with your entire staff may sound overwhelming and time-consuming; however, when leaders make it a priority and adhere to a protocol, it can be accomplished.

A Reluctance to Show Gratitude

Unfortunately, research shows that leaders in higher level positions tend to express gratitude less than their subordinates. A survey conducted by OnePoll found that nearly 60 percent of people have never had a boss who “truly appreciates” their work.

Why is it so hard for some leaders to express gratitude? Perhaps it can be attributed to what researchers Paul Rozin and Edward Poyzman coined as negativity bias, a cognitive bias that explains why negative events or feelings typically have a more significant impact on our psychological state than positive events or feelings, even when they are of equal proportion.

Leaders can manage their negativity bias by practicing mindfulness, self-awareness, and positive thinking. In doing so, a leader is more likely to highlight the positives and be more grateful for the contributions of their staff.

The lack of gratitude expressed in the workplace has also been tied to several factors, including leaders being too busy, task focused, or uncertain about what to say; not receiving appreciation themselves; and holding the belief that appreciation is not needed. Leaders can overcome their hesitancy to show gratitude by embracing the fact that appreciation in the schoolhouse is vital for retention, productivity, and morale.

Plus, showing gratitude can be extremely simple. A Harvard Business Review article, “The Little Things That Make Employees Feel Appreciated,” calls on managers to regularly take time to check in on employees, give them positive and constructive feedback at different times, discuss what the future may hold for them, and make showing appreciation for them routine.

The role of a school leader is not easy, but when a leader is intentional about showing authentic gratitude and meaningfully engaging their staff, teacher retention, productivity, and morale increase, which in turn makes leading easier and more rewarding.

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