George Lucas Educational Foundation
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For decades, my grandmother boycotted Mother's Day. "Mothers should be appreciated every day!" she'd argue. By the time she was in her sixties, she surrendered, figuring she might as well be doted on once a year.

I'm all for teachers being appreciated, don't get me wrong, but Teacher Appreciation Day (May 5) ruffles my feathers. Teachers deserve such massive amounts of appreciation that to cram it into one day, or even a week, just feels dismissive.

As a teacher, I never felt particularly appreciated by my principal, colleagues, students, or parents. When acknowledgment of my work came, I relished it. It's just that it was so infrequent. The thing was, I knew that my school community appreciated me, but I don't think we knew how or when to express it. There were few structures to support recognition of our work.

Of course, those administrators, colleagues, students, and parents are not an exception in our society, and they themselves rarely feel appreciated. In general, we're a very unappreciative bunch of humans. Our attention is not drawn to strengths and successes -- we're compelled to focus on weaknesses, to demand more, to be unsatisfied. We're equally hard on ourselves and often our own worst critics.

In the Classroom

When I taught, I worked diligently to build a classroom community where kids appreciated each other. A favorite activity for my elementary students was to draw the name of a classmate in morning circle, secretly observe that classmate during the day -- looking for behaviors to appreciate, and then in our closing circle each student would reveal the name of their buddy and appreciate him/her. For example, a student might say, "During math today I noticed that Gustavo helped Karina on a problem that was hard. He was very patient with her and even when she got frustrated he kept on helping her."

Imagine, please, what this was like for our class -- the way kids anticipated receiving positive feedback at the end of the day, how this motivated them to be kind members of our community, how they started focusing their attention on what their classmates were doing well, and what it felt like for all of us to hear 24 declarations of appreciation to close the day. My students came to insist that we do "Secret Appreciations" several times a week. Of all the community building activities I did, I think this one had the greatest impact.

Colleagues Appreciating Each Other

Many years later, while instructional coaching at a school, I suggested this same activity -- but with and for teachers. The first time we tried was at the start of a three-day, back-to-school retreat. On day one, teachers drew the name of a colleague whom they secretly observed throughout the day. And at the end, they shared appreciations -- recognizing a behavior or action that had a positive impact on the group.

It was equally powerful and felt equally as good as it had felt with my students. The teachers requested that this practice continue on day two and three of the retreat, and then they carried it into the school year. Now they draw the name of a colleague at their staff meeting each week, observe the colleague throughout the week, and share the appreciation at the start of the following week's meeting. I might argue that this simple practice has profoundly changed the staff culture.

Truth Be Told

Teacher Appreciation has to go beyond the single day. It needs to be expressed in a myriad of ways (including monetarily) and by just about everyone in our society. It is also something that teachers and principals can cultivate. We need to build cultures of appreciation in our classrooms and schools in order to do this.

We need to develop structures through which students can appreciate each other, and those who support them at school -- including those who clean the bathrooms, fix their lunches, and monitor recess. Principals need to appreciate their teachers -- and in more ways than the occasional bagel-breakfast. And teachers need to appreciate their principals (I don't think there's even a bagel-equivalent for them).

But really, I'd argue that it can be very simple: A short verbal appreciation goes a long way. What if every day we all appreciated five (or even ten!) colleagues, students, and parents? If nothing else, I know that I'd feel good doing it. If this was the case, I think I'd actually enjoy Teacher Appreciation Day a lot more.

Edutopia Community: How is appreciation expressed at your school? What practices do teachers, students, and/or principals use to appreciate members of the community? What would you like to see happening in the way of appreciation? Please share in the comments section below.

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Teacher Appreciation Day

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Brenda Stevens's picture

Reading this the morning after Mother's Day really hits home about how these two professions (mothering and teaching) are so similar - dominated by women, underpaid and under-appreciated, the expectation being that we'll sacrifice and martyr ourselves "for the kids."

This was a really good article. I will send it to my colleagues.

retzerk's picture

I am lucky that the teachers I work with every day and our principals make sure we know how appreciated we are. I know I am making a difference with the kids I am working with. I have used the in the classroom activity before and my kids all enjoy it. They will remind me too if it has been a while since we have done the activity.

LaurenV.'s picture

Too often the focus is on how teachers are failing. Rarely teachers get the appreciation that they deserve. Like the article mentioned, positive feedback is very motivating. Overall, the teachers who are working hard every day and night (are overworked and underpaid) often get overlooked. It would be nice to feel appreciated - even something as simple as a 'Thank you' would be nice. Teachers don't want a special day . . . we want people to better understand that teaching early childhood isn't a babysitting job - what we do is important and makes a huge impact on our future. Teachers have the power to advocate for themselves and their profession as well as take care of one another. I agree that every individual has the power to impact the social culture - positively or negatively. Be good to the teachers - spread the encouragement and support.

AlisaD's picture

I really appreciate this article. I have taught in schools where I felt so unappreciated - it was just the general climate. Now I teach in a really special school. It's hard to explain what it is that my principal does but I just know that my work is appreciated, that I'm repsected. It's the little comments and what she notices and talks about, it's the way I'm allowed to make decisions. If I wasn't here, I'd have probably quit teaching. I just couldn't stand the general atmosphere of disrespect and unprofessionalism. Thank you for this article. I just read a lot of your other ones on here and they're really good.

Miss Courtney's picture
Miss Courtney
Lead Preschool Teacher from Albany, New York

What an enlightening article and it's so true! I experienced my first "Teacher Appreciation Week" this year. It was filled with pot-luck- lunches, flowers, candy and small tokens of appreciation. I enjoyed being spoiled, until I pondered the true purpose of celebrating "Teacher Appreciation Week". It wasn't until the end of the week, I realized I hadn't received one genuine "thank you" or an authentic form of appreciation. Thank you for the ideas and a clear perspective on the true meaning of "teacher appreciation". In my professional learning community, I hope to build gratitude and positive attitudes, on a regular basis. I love the idea of the compliment box. This is similar to the Secret Santa gift exchange, hosted by my school at Christmas time. However, the compliment box revolves around acknowledgments, instead of presents, and occurs more than once a year!

Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT's picture
Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT
Middle school English/Digital Design/Broadcast Media teacher

We start every staff meeting with appreciations -- teachers stand in front of the group, thank a staff member for something, and then toss them a chocolate kiss. Our principal provides the bag of chocolates. Sometimes there are many appreciations, sometimes just a few. But the impact is felt, as the stress and chaos of the day becomes a more peaceful, positive tone. It has also helped us get to know our colleagues -- we are a big school (50+ teachers), so it's really hard to know what is going on with all the teachers on campus.

Sherry W.'s picture
Sherry W.

These are all great ideas! Thank you for sharing them. As a counselor, I frequently get parents asking what they can do to thank a teacher for enriching their child's life. I always tell them that a thank you note written to the principal or superintendent praising the teacher is one of the most touching "gifts" a teacher can receive.

Karen Bloom's picture
Karen Bloom
7th Grade Math and Special Ed Math Teacher

Our middle school recently started sharing an "All Purpose Award" trophy, given first to a teacher who enthusiastically danced onstage with students during our Lip Sync Contest, then passed from one teacher to another at our monthly staff meetings. It's been so fun to learn about the things that each one has done and share the appreciation of their efforts.

TeacherSara's picture

If there is a "Leadership" group on your campus - either students or staff or a combination, it's a great idea to create a committee within this group that is focussed on "Staffulty" recognition. We focus on both student and staff recognition on our campus and it has done wonders for the school community! Celebrate, recognize, and appreciate ALL YEAR LONG!

Jen @ MemberHub's picture

Loved this piece, Elena. You're right on target that the "one and done" nature of Teacher Appreciation Day/Week can be more hurtful than helpful.

I particularly liked your suggestion about the kids noticing one another--there is no better way to appreciate something (or someone) than to truly focus on all the great stuff they're bringing to the table in their own unique way.

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