It’s no secret that when people feel valued, supported, and appreciated, their engagement, job satisfaction, and sense of well-being all increase. The simple fact of the matter is that adults, regardless of position, like to be recognized for a job well done. The same holds true for teachers and school staff members as well.
A Gallup analysis from 2015 revealed that people who feel valued and recognized are:
- Three times more likely to report having an excellent quality of life;
- Six times more likely to be engaged at work;
- 8% more productive; and
- 15% less likely to quit their job.
I share these statistics to show the power of recognition in boosting morale. And as someone who focuses on educational leadership and teacher morale, I share them in the hopes that school leaders understand the extent to which such recognition contributes to a dynamic teaching and learning environment.
In my 27 years in education, I have never met a teacher who wanted to be a bad teacher, and I bet you haven’t either. And because most teachers are conscientious and work hard, they want to be appreciated for their efforts. Now, this doesn’t mean that you should be recognizing or rewarding everything your teachers do. Showing up on time isn’t really something to celebrate; it’s an expectation. But keep in mind that teachers who receive regular recognition and praise will be more productive, more engaged, more likely to stay with their school, and more likely to receive higher satisfaction from students and parents.
Praise for a Positive School Culture
It’s also important to remember that showing appreciation reflects that you value your staff and their work. Praise not only makes them feel valued, but it raises the expectations and standards of the whole team. In my work with schools, I have found that the following strategies for recognizing, praising, and appreciating your team will encourage educators to do their best and create a positive school culture.
1. Make recognition timely.
Recognition is a powerful, positive way to reinforce action or behaviors you want to see again and again, but that power is diluted the longer you wait to recognize someone. Be sure to share your detailed, specific praise soon after the event worthy of recognition. For instance, if you observe a teacher delivering an amazing lesson, don’t wait until the end of the day or week to let them know. Leave a note as you leave the room, send an email as soon as you get back to your office, or even verbally praise them in class as you leave. Recognizing great work is not disruptive to the learning process but an important part of it.
2. Be specific.
Giving generic praise, such as “You did a great job in class today!” is meaningless. What does that really mean? What did they do that was great? Be detailed in what they did. Compliments that are too generic tend to seem insincere. The more specific you can be, the more likely the action you are recognizing is to be repeated. Also, don’t cloud it with anything extra. Remember to “leave the buts behind.”
3. Be sincere.
Praise must be based on a true appreciation of, and excitement about, the other person’s success. Otherwise, your thanks may come across as less than genuine. Make sure you deliver meaningful praise in a meaningful way. If you hand write a note to a teacher, then they know you’re not just checking a box that you recognized them, but that you are sincere and value them. Some teachers will keep these handwritten notes stashed and pull them out on a bad day, and they will feel reenergized when they remember you are there for them.
4. Make it frequent.
Recognition should never be viewed as a “one-and-done” task or something you put on your calendar to do monthly. Just as recognition should be timely, it should also occur every time you see exceptional behaviors, actions, or outcomes. Do whatever it takes to get in the habit of praising your teachers.
5. Acknowledge individuals.
Each of your teachers has unique traits and strengths. Some may thrive by working independently (sans micromanaging), while others may need constant reassurance that they’re doing a good job. By remembering there’s no one size fits all when it comes to motivating and improving teacher morale, you can garner better results. When you lead based upon only your preferred work style, you risk mismanaging people who have different strengths and need different levels of support. Ensure you’re adapting your style to fit their needs. Even if you have introverted teachers, you will know how to best recognize them and let them know they are valued. If you want to give a physical token of appreciation to a particular team member, make sure it’s unique and meaningful.
6. Focus on team effort.
Teachers notice the great things their colleagues do for their students, so ask them to share those with you. If you’ve already fostered a culture of positivity through your willingness to openly praise your staff, they’ll follow your lead. Or better yet, create a team that focuses on things like morale, appreciation, and celebration.
7. Recognize effort, not just results.
We are used to rewarding results. If someone achieves a goal, then we reward it. However, if we truly value innovation and curiosity, then we must recognize effort as well. We know that not everything a teacher tries will be successful, but this doesn’t mean that the effort shouldn’t be recognized. In fact, when we focus on accountability or results, then we lose sight of innovation and outside-the-box thinking, which is what we hope to teach our students, not just our teachers. When teachers try challenging or innovative things, they may not meet our expectations, but the willingness to take risks still needs to be recognized for the effort shown.
How to Support Teachers
When teachers feel like they are valued, supported, and made a priority by their administration, then they work that much harder to take care of their students. The reality is that students should not be the only reason a teacher loves their job, but administrators should be one of the major reasons, too.
As a school leader, you can’t control everything related to a classroom teacher’s job. But there are some things you can control. In my work with thousands of teachers over the years, I have found that many have sound advice for how school leaders can effectively support them:
- Don’t add to teachers’ plates without first taking something away.
- Make them part of decisions that affect them and their students.
- Appreciate the effort that teachers put in and show respect by acknowledging the staff.
- Provide support and encouragement.
- Be present and make yourself available.
- Ensure planning time is sacred and not used for covering classes or holding excessive meetings.
While all staff members influence school culture, as an administrator, you set the tone for your school. If you as a school leader take care of your teachers, then they will do their best to take care of the students. Seek out ways to support, encourage, and praise them and you’ll cultivate a team that will give their all every day.
Brad Johnson is an international speaker on education and leadership. A former teacher, middle school principal, and college professor, he is the author of several books including Principal Bootcamp: Accelerated Strategies to Influence and Lead from Day One.