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Perspective | Leading in the ‘new normal’ — Staff appreciation

Practitioners Melissa Altemose and Lauren Lampron created a mini-series about school leadership during COVID-19. In week one, they expounded upon strategies for building trust during COVID-19. In week two, they shared resources around the power of intentionally fostering open communication during COVID-19. Last week, they shared strategies for making staff feel seen during this challenging time. This week, they share ideas for how to build in joyful moments of staff appreciation.

“The roots of all goodness lie in the soil of appreciation for goodness.” 

Dalai Lama

Historically, educators have been asked to take on diverse roles, attempt new strategies, and embrace the newest initiatives. During the most traditional and predictable school year, implementing novel experiences can feel exhausting and overwhelming for teachers. For all that education demands of teachers, there simply are not enough hours in a day. 

COVID has exponentially increased the requests we have made of teachers. And the most incredible thing to witness is that teachers, whose plates were already full, have stepped up in ways to not only meet these challenges but to truly be superheroes for their students. We have never felt more gratitude for the educators in our community. We recognize how important it is to ensure that teachers know that they are amazing. 

In our final post of this mini series, we share resources and strategies to create opportunities to celebrate staff and create a joyful school environment. There is no denying how hard being an educator is during this time, so it is important to remember the power of a smile. Taking time to build opportunities for staff to experience moments of joy makes all the difference and reminds us why we do this work.

Here are four grab-and-go resources to help school leaders celebrate their staff.

#1 Find out how your staff likes to be celebrated

Send out a survey to staff to determine their interests, what kind of snacks and activities they like, and any allergies/food restrictions they have.

Why: Last week we shared resources to use to make teachers feel seen and supported in this work. Nothing makes people feel more seen than when they recognize they are individually thought about by others. By polling staff for their favorite snacks, activities, and food preferences you can individualize the ways you celebrate staff and ensure any celebration you plan is inclusive for all.

What it looks like: Share the survey with staff. When planning any appreciation events use the survey responses to tailor your planning to your staff preferences.

#2 Celebrate family members of staff

Mail a hand-written thank you note to the family members of staff.

Why: The family of staff members are the individuals who provide the constant encouragement and support to staff; invest time appreciating the unspoken heroes of your school.

What it looks like: Use the survey listed in idea #1 to include a section of emergency contact information. Ask for the individual’s name, address, and relationship to the staff member. Then, write a thank you note to the emergency contact to celebrate their support of the teacher. 

#3 Create a staff culture plan

Use data and research to build a plan for how you will intentionally build staff culture each month.

Why: By creating an outline of appreciation for the rest of the year, you have a roadmap to follow each month to ensure you are intentionally creating moments of joy throughout the month for teachers to be celebrated and to enjoy time with each other.

Virtual painting as a social event helps build staff culture. Courtesy of Melissa Altemose

What it looks like: Use Teacher Working Conditions or other survey data to identify ways in which your school can grow to improve staff culture. Use research about staff culture building to guide your plan (we used “The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace” by Gary Chapman to guide our work). Then, identify all culture building events you want to celebrate each month. We include in our plans national appreciation days, birthdays, a monthly staff social event (virtual painting led by our art teacher was a big hit!), a peer shout out mechanism, staff meeting ice breakers, and random appreciation events. 

#4 Implement the staff culture plan

Meet monthly with a team to plan out appreciation events each month.

Why: Scheduling a monthly meeting with a core team to plan appreciation for the month will help keep appreciation regularly on the agenda and ensure your culture plan is fully executed.

What it looks like: Enlist non-teaching members of your staff to be a part of a staff culture committee. In each monthly meeting, plan out the items listed for the upcoming month from your staff culture plan. 

#5 Increase the joy factor

Model laughing and smiling.

Why: The job of a leader is to provide staff members with permission to be passionate and joyful at work.

Principal Lauren Lampron reminds students to maintain the distance of one adult kangaroo. Molly Osborne/EducationNC

What it looks like: Never take yourself too seriously. Work hard. Play harder. An example of a joyful school is encouraging social distancing by a friendly reminder of a six foot adult kangaroo between each student instead of grumpily telling students to maintain the COVID-required distance. The outcome is the same; however, the joy makes all the difference. 

Melissa Altemose

Melissa Altemose has taught in both traditional public and public charter schools in eastern North Carolina and Washington, D.C. While in the classroom, Melissa received the Innovative Educator award from Future of School, was named a Capital Commitment Fellow by D.C. Public Schools, and was awarded the Cutting Edge Innovative Educator award from Edgecombe County Public Schools. She also completed a human centered design Essentials Fellowship with 4.0 Schools. Melissa is currently serving as an elementary school assistant principal in Battleboro, NC.

Lauren A. Lampron, EdD

Lauren is completing her 7th year as a school administrator; she is currently serving as principal of SouthWest Edgecombe High School in Pinetops, NC. She is a Standards Institute Leadership Facilitator through UnboundEd and serves as a principal panelist on the #PrincipalProject, and is a Principal Advisory Board Member for Schools That Lead.