I cannot count the number of times I’ve heard a colleague advise a student to do what makes them happy. Yet I wonder often how many teachers are happy in their jobs. In a 2012 survey, job satisfaction was at a 25-year low, teacher turnover is alarmingly high and costly, and morale is constantly under assault by social and political commentary. But who needs statistics? Just look around during a staff meeting to see the weight educators carry.
In an effort to counter these patterns, stakeholders need to build systems of support for each other. It’s even better when those support systems are grassroots efforts instead of mandated. One way I’ve done this for the past several years is through what I call the Hump Day Bump, a compilation of staff-to-staff notes of gratitude and compliments (bumps) emailed to staff each Wednesday.
I started the Hump Day Bump as a way to spread much-needed positivity in my first urban school. Poverty, violence, and limited resources overwhelmed the students. A sense of defeat pervaded the staff, compounded by low scores, exacting evaluations, divisive cliques, and grueling hours. Internal and external pressures exacerbated tensions between administration and staff. The Bump email gave us all a chance to read good news in our inboxes, observe good things in each other, and share those things in a nonthreatening medium.
However, the Bump is not just a tool to counter pervasive negativity in our field—it’s also a way to build capacity. First and foremost, a viable adult culture based on mutual respect is critical to a school’s success. It’s nearly impossible for an educator running on empty to give the absolute best to students, and a healthy adult culture helps keep our tanks full.
Additionally, hearing affirmation for what part of our pedagogy and professionalism is effective boosts teacher efficacy, another critical component of both the happiness of teachers and the achievement of students.
Most importantly, to capitalize on the aforementioned benefits, our field is in desperate need of teachers who are in it for the long run. A revolving door of teachers benefits no one—neither students nor schools. Teachers who feel valued for their contributions are more likely to stick around. I know I am.
Implementing the Hump Day Bump
Planning your inaugural Hump Day Bump is straightforward. (Feel free to pick a different name, of course—I have a colleague who calls this Bump-Ups.) In your email system, set up two folders: Fishing and Hump Day Bumps. Pick a small group of colleagues in different departments or grades with whom you already collaborate frequently. Send them an email that describes how and why you plan to implement the Hump Day Bump. Ask them for bumps, notes with compliments and/or expressions of gratitude for their peers. I call this the “fishing” email.
Here are some recent bumps I’ve seen:
- “I am in awe of all the untapped resources in the Library, and truly happy that you are there to help. You are now my Yoda!”
- “...for putting together a wonderful Trick or Treat Street!”
- “Thanks for being willing to cover my class so I could collaborate with another teacher.”
- “I might take up choir lessons just to try and be as cool as you. From conversations about TOK and panels, to living in this crazy city, it is so easy to be around you!”
As your colleagues respond, keep all those emails in your Fishing folder.
When you have some time (it usually takes 10–30 minutes, depending on the number of bumps), copy and paste all the fishing responses into the body of an email. Make each bump a separate bullet point, and format them so names stand out (using bold, for example). Delete the emails as you copy and paste (to keep yourself organized).
Now the fun part: Send your inaugural Hump Day Bump to the full staff. To avoid unnecessary reply-alls or distracting applause for the sender, it’s best to use BCC for this. Give an overview of what the email is, why it matters, and how you’ll approach it each week.
Once you’ve done this for the first time, set a routine. I usually send fishing emails on Friday for the following week’s Bump. If I don’t get enough responses, I’ll send a reminder on Monday or Tuesday.
Either Tuesday night or Wednesday morning, I synthesize bumps into an email, which I send out on Wednesdays. I typically end that email with a call for shout-outs for the following week, as well as some kind of funny image, meme, or video. Keep the Hump Day Bump emails in your designated folder.
Make it work for you! Here are some modifications and precautions: You can include students as recipients or authors of bumps, or do this activity in your classroom. You can also use a verbal version to start collaborative meetings.
Elicit specific bumps for certain educational holidays—e.g., Secretary Appreciation Day.
Keep track of who is not receiving bumps, and reach out directly to their colleagues for something to add in the next edition. If there’s a downside to the Bump, it’s that it has the potential to highlight those staff typically highlighted and ignore those typically ignored. Tracking involvement can help mitigate this. Or send emails to department and grade level heads so they can make sure no one is overlooked.
Eleven years and four schools later, the Hump Day Bump is still going strong. In fact, not only have I carried it to all my schools, but so have several of my colleagues. The Bump is spreading, and I hope now it can provide some positivity in your schools.