Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Do my teachers know how amazing they are?

Our school is fortunate to have so many amazing educators, but I recently shared with one of my teachers that I wanted to nominate her for a teaching award in our state.  To complete this nomination process, a teacher must be nominated, but then needs to turn in recommendation letters and write an essay.  Because there would be work on her part, I asked her if she would let me nominate her and gave her time to think about it (I did say I could easily get those recommendation letters).  She was honored at my thought to recognize her, but didn't feel she was a viable candidate for the award.

At first I was amazed at her humility, but as I thought more about it I became more reflective of myself.  How can an amazing teacher not realize how amazing she is and why haven't I let her know she's award-worthy before? I have many teachers that I could say the same about...would they be thinking the same thing if I asked each of them?  How can I do a better job as the principal and lead-learner to let my teachers know how amazing they are?

I have written in several posts how I strive to give coaching feedback to my teachers as often as possible, which is a struggle with everything a principal has to do on a daily basis. I try to highlight the positive things that I see each and every day, but what else can I do to fill my teachers' buckets? ("bucket filling" is our school theme this year). How can I do a better job of letting my teachers know that they matter?  I'm going to make a new personal goal to start out each day by writing a positive note to a staff member. I would love to hear what other principals do?

What a better way to end this thought than with Angela Maier's You Matter Manifesto?


  1. I really hate to push back on this post because there is SO many important things here that really do matter and I know your intent is great, but I do have issue with some thing.

    I know from reading your work that their is a huge importance on collaboration, teamwork, and culture. Telling someone that they are important or "matter" is great, but do we really have to nominate them for some award? What will that say to others in your organization? That they matter but not as much as someone else? I don't know if I would be comfortable doing this students but I know that these types of things can create conflict and actually bring down culture.

    I remember being in a school that had a "teacher" of the year award that they would give to one person. The talk all year was about "team" and "collaboration" but at the end of the year, one person was recognized for being the "best". The first thing that I thought, as well as many others, was "why not me?", and then I started to question my own value as a "team" member. I was not alone in that feeling. Many would often question not only "why not me", but then they would start to question, "Why her?". Some might not care at all, but what tone does that set?

    The other thing that I have an issue with is that the teacher was already doing great stuff. Do they really need an award to continue on for it? Is not a card with some meaningful writing enough to show to them that they matter? Some kind words coming from the principal? I guess when we tell someone that "you matter" in such a public display that comes from our organization, how many people does it tell that they don't? The teacher may be great, but she is probably great because of others in that school who have lifted her as well.

    It is just something that I would be cautious about in my opinion. It is my job to always be aware of the culture of our school and all of the amazing people that are in it.

  2. Hey Jessica, as I said on Twitter... we often feel the need to do more to recognize people that we believe are doing more.... when, in fact, we are likely already doing enough. Jessica, this teacher is flourishing under your (and others') leadership... the conditions you are creating are enough for her to do some great things. This makes the award unnecessary... and like George said, creates a potential unintended consequence of harm to others on the team.

  3. Although George has a very valid point, I think it should be said that it is a great idea to write notes to thank the teachers for all that they do well. They may not need an award but often recognition is sorely lacking. Having it in a written form gives them something to keep. Parents are getting more and more critical and perhaps this is what is eroding the confidence of teachers. Keep up the good work, Principal J.

  4. Hey Jessica,

    I agree with your theme that we need to spend more time recognizing the hard work and effort that our teachers are putting forth. I would also echo that many of my top notch teachers don't always believe how good they truly are. I think it is part of our role as principals to make sure that we are doing this. I am trying to find better ways to do this as well as I currently don't do enough in this area.

    I also understand George's concerns that he posted as well. He is right that we need to be careful when we are embarking on this type of recognition system. However, that being said, I think we often let our concern about how others are going to feel about someone being recognized for excellence derail us from doing anything. We can't let that happen. We need to recognize excellence when we see it. The key is creating an environment where people expect and accept that recognition is occurring all around them.

  5. I will respectfully disagree with Chris and George's hesitance for public recognition and awards for educators. There are awards that are specific to educators, so why wouldn't we nominate someone from our own staff if they are worthy of serious consideration? Any teacher who would win such an award would certainly mention their fantastic schoolmates during any thank you address they would give.

    Recognition is not a zero-sum entity. Just because one member of a school would be recognized, it does not take away the appreciation for all the other members of that school. If wide-spread jealousy did rear its head when one staff member was recognized, then there is a culture problem in that school. The leader likely has not been doing a good job in establishing a culture of celebration and has not done his/her part in praising the staff (publicly and privately). If you truly have a collaborative culture in a school, then the large majority of the staff would gleefully celebrate the individual recognitions that occur.

    I speak from experience as one of my administrative colleagues was honored for a state-wide "...of the year" award. The rest of the team was not jealous or felt left out. He's a great guy who does fantastic work. He deserves the large-scale recognition and we certainly know his success has roots in our collective efforts.

    We need to put an end to "tall poppy syndrome" in education. We have a wonderful vocation, and increased praise and recognition will have far more positive consequences than negative.

  6. I know of one private school that actually gives a monetary reward (bonus) to teachers and the amount is dependent on your perceived value or improvement. I think this might be even better than a pat on the back or an award which might cause conflicts among staff. I appreciate that you are trying to let your staff know how great they are because like a headmaster I had in the end of year speech that includes ´you are good but be BETTER' just does not cut it. I know that simply an unexpected sincere positive comment from a superior would totally make any teacher´s day! Most principals don´t make the time to do this. I am glad that you are :)

  7. Wow - I have started following your posts. I wish I worked for someone like you, who appreciates and voices their appreciation of their staff. What a positive and enriching place to work. Kudos to you for inspiring and encouraging (and acknowledging) your staff!! Keep up the great work! A+


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