How leaders can show authentic care during Teacher Appreciation Week and beyond

There are many conversations impacting the education profession right now. As educators, much of the noise can be tough; it can pollute our perspective on the value of the time and heart we’re pouring into our practice every day. Our work unfolds on a human timeline, and the full impact we make in students’ lives often isn’t fully visible day in and day out.

Given all of this, I believe one of the best things a school leader can do is create a campus climate where teachers are consistently reminded that the work we are doing matters. While most of us know deep down that we’re doing important work, we can lose our perspective on that feeling sometimes. An intentional administrator can hold up the mirror to reflect it back to us and say, “Wow, look at all the good you’re doing for our students.”

As a teacher, I want to share some of the moves that leaders can make to create a year-round culture of authentic appreciation and care:

Be specific in your appreciation.

The most authentic words of appreciation are linked to specific examples of something you saw a teacher do that made a difference in the life of a child. Blanket statements that we’re all accustomed to don’t go as far as a leader closely observing my work and saying, “I noticed that when you said this to this student, their eyes lit up,” or “I noticed in the hallway how, when this student passes you, they always want to give you a hug,” or “I noticed that you are always present in the cafeteria giving high fives, and I see how the children respond to the warmth that you show.”

When leaders notice how I am nurturing my students within and beyond my instruction, those words stick with me and help sustain my passion for our work.

Notice and ask about aspects of teachers’ lives beyond the classroom.

When my principal remembers the people most important in my life outside of school, I know she cares about me as a human being in addition to caring about how I’m teaching and connecting with students. My principal does an excellent job remembering things about her staff members – she’s the queen of care, in that regard. For example, my daughter is a high schooler at a different school in our district, and she recently had dance tryouts. My principal remembered and asked, “Hey, how did the tryout go?” Just the fact that she recalled this detail, brought it up with me and joined me in celebrating how my daughter navigated those tryouts meant a lot – because that’s my kid. And while I’m at school serving other people’s kids, I’m also working to be present for my own child. It’s meaningful that a leader noticed and honored that.

Write down your affirmations.

Years ago, a school leader suggested that we keep a “Smile File,” and I took her advice. Now, I hold onto the cards and notes that families and students write to me – and I always keep the handwritten notes that school leaders leave behind on observations. I even print their affirming emails. I’ve received gifts and flowers and tokens of appreciation, and they’re all lovely, but for me, affirming words offer more lasting impact. When a leader writes down an affirmation, they give me the opportunity to revisit those messages later, in moments when I need a lift or need to ground myself in the importance of teaching.

Remember, it all comes back to showing real care.

I don’t want to encourage leaders to be fluffy in their shows of appreciation or “sprinkle kindness like confetti.” That tone doesn’t always feel authentic and no amount of confetti is a substitute for genuine concern.. We all have to remember that in our current climate, the currency is care. The currency isn’t cookies and cakes and things like that. Those things are sweet, both literally and figuratively, but I think that the real currency is authentic care. I’m blessed with a principal who understands that. Now, we get treats, too, don’t get me wrong. We love our cakes and cookies and pasta salads and coffees. But those things can’t really help to grow and sustain someone’s passion for teaching.

I take responsibility for my own growth and passion- and when I know that my leader cares about me as a person, I show up with a different level of energy and commitment to the work.

My principal isn’t one to blaze past us in the hallway. She’ll stop and ask how our families are doing and how we’re doing. She’ll notice if we look a little off and ask, “Are you okay?” I’m sure she has countless things to do, but she doesn’t let her countless things get in the way of showing genuine care and concern for the staff. It creates a culture of care from the top down.