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Ending a Challenging School Year with a Positive Vibe

How can we finish off 2021-22 in a way that leaves teachers and staff feeling proud of

the work they have done across this challenging school year and hopeful about the start of next school year? I took this question to Amber Teamann, coauthor of Lead with Appreciation: Fostering a Culture of Gratitude. Here are some highlights of our conversation.



Amber Teamann is the Director of Technology & Innovation for Crandall ISD, a fast-growing district outside of Dallas, Texas. She is the former principal of Whitt Elementary School in Wylie, Texas. Committed to helping other education leaders, Amber and her coauthor Melinda Miller facilitate two Facebook groups in support of principals:



Sue:

How can we finish off the school year so that teachers feel proud of the work they’ve done and hopeful about the start of a new school year?

Amber:

It’s so important for teachers to feel seen and valued, especially in this season of stress! If we evaluate the different facets and tenants of what leadership is, we all know that we need to show appreciation to our teachers on a regular basis. Teacher Appreciation Week is great but our teachers need more than that, especially this year.

One concrete thing we can do right now is to help our teachers step back from the busyness of their work and personal lives and reassess priorities. All of the tasks on a teacher’s plate are not equally important. And when a school leader acknowledges this reality, teachers feel seen and recognized. The act of deciding what’s most important is always affirming and empowering because it reconnects us to our personal “whys.”

​Teacher Appreciation Week is great but our teachers need more than that, especially this year. @8Amber8 Click to Tweet



Activity: What’s on your plate?

  • At a faculty meeting, give each teacher a plain paper plate and sticky notes.

  • Ask teachers to write down all of the tasks and responsibilities currently “on their plates,” one per sticky note, and then stick these notes onto their paper plates.

  • Now encourage teachers to review their sticky notes and make decisions about which tasks are less important and can be removed or delayed.

  • As teacher are reprioritizing their responsibilities, look for tasks on teachers’ sticky notes that you can “take off their plates” by establishing that a task is no longer a priority (e.g., eliminating a procedure or report that has outlived its usefulness) or by taking on a task yourself (e.g., picking up a teacher’s after school duty).

  • Close the session by asking teachers to reflect on the value of regularly reviewing priorities in work and in life.




The Research Base for Teacher Appreciation


When people are aware of their personal strengths, they can then use these strengths to best advantage and apply their unique gifts in service of the goals and well-being of their organizations. Research based on Gallup Strengthsfinder tells us that individuals who make use of their strengths are more likely to be more productive and actively engaged at work and less likely to quit their jobs (Lead with Appreciation, p. 2). Acts and expressions of appreciation help teachers to become aware of and capitalize on their individual strengths.


The Happiness Advantage author and researcher Shawn Achor says “When we are positive, our brains become more engaged, creative, motivated, energetic, resilient, and productive. This discovery has been repeatedly supported by research in psychology and neuroscience, management studies, and the bottom lines of organizations around the world” (Lead with Appreciation, p. 65). Appreciation triggers feelings of positivity and happiness, setting in motion a chain reaction of benefits for teachers and their students and schools.

Sue:

You are a big proponent of individualizing teacher appreciation. Why is this so important?

Amber:

When we personalize our acts of appreciation for individual teachers, we actively demonstrate that we value teachers as people. In their book The 5 Language of Appreciation in the Workplace: Empowering Organizations by Encouraging People, Gary Chapman and Paul White identify five different types of appreciation:

  • Acts of Service

  • Tangible Gifts

  • Quality Time

  • Words of Affirmation

  • Physical Touch (Appropriate for Workplace)

Individual teachers need different forms of appreciation in order to feel genuinely valued. Taking time to determine the types of appreciation that are meaningful to each of our teachers is true servant leadership. It creates a school culture of pride and encouragement.

Having a plan for appreciating and recognizing teachers spotlights the strengths of your school community. @8amber8 Click to Tweet

Sue:

What about leaders? The end of the school year, especially this year, is stressful for school leaders too. What do you suggest?

Amber:

As school leaders, it’s critical that we remember to take care of ourselves. You can’t fill other people’s buckets when your own bucket is empty. Having a plan for appreciating and recognizing teachers and staff also helps. It puts you and others in a positive frame of mind because it spotlights the strengths of your school community.


Three Action Steps for Self-Care

  • Find one self-care activity that you enjoy. It can be free, expensive, superfluous, or necessary. You get to decide.

  • What are the signs that your tank is running on empty? Which colleagues and friends can help you see that it’s time for a reset?

  • Write your chosen activity on a sticky note and place it in your planner, next to your coffee pot, or on your bathroom mirror. It will serve as your visual reminder to yourself to take care of you! (Lead with Appreciation, p. 127)



Read Amber’s advice to school leaders in How do you decide what gets done? Reviewing Leadership Priorities




Connect with Amber on Twitter.

Learn more from Amber by attending her sessions at the Learning Forward Texas Annual Conference.


Lead with Appreciation

What does it take to cultivate a positive culture, while encouraging our teachers to be and give their best for our students? Positive recognition and appreciation can transform your school from a place where people have to work into one where they want to work and enjoy bringing their best every day. That transformation starts with the leader!

Your staff pours time and energy into learners every single day. As a busy PIRATE leader, you know that even the best crews need the direction of a great captain. But what does that look like? And how can you provide meaningful recognition and encouragement when your schedule is full and your budget is limited?

Motivating Your Staff for Empowered Change

Who struggles as a leader when it comes to managing the many, many hats we're required to wear? Let's talk about the ways you can build morale, support your teachers, ALL while empowering your learners to help achieve at high levels. As we lead through uncertainty, how can we establish a culture where both students and staff can thrive? How can we work to overcome fear and fail forward when things don't go as planned? How can we ensure technology plays its proper role, and “innovation” doesn’t become a graveyard of tech tools? We'll explore an accountability cadence, strategies to build your instructional leadership, and ways to exceed that tricky growth measure without anyone feeling stressed or sacrificing love for learning.



Sue Chapman is a professional learning consultant and author of MathVentures: 33 Teacher-Coach Investigations to Grow Students as Mathematicians. Learn more about her at SueChapmanLearning.com and connect with her on Twitter at @SueChapmanLearn.


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