There seems to be a pervasive undercurrent of jealousy within education. Ask most educators and they will have a story to share of how they didn’t tell others about about an accolade they got, an award they were nominated for, or even praise they had received. Shying away from the positive lime light can sometimes feel like a national sport for teachers. Yet, I am surrounded by people who want nothing but the best for each other. I have been before. So why is still that we tend to hide away our accomplishments, rather than share them with those we work so closely? Why is it we downplay ourselves so that others may not get jealous? But more importantly, how do we change the culture within our schools that seems centered on a “gotcha” mentality, a negative one where tear downs are the norm, to a “good for you” community where all receive praise, and no one has to hide what they do.
Working in my district, Oregon School District, that goes out of its ways to share the feel good, has given me a few ideas. Some I have heard about from amazing colleagues, some I have experienced, and some I hope to experience. All of these ideas are simple. All of these ideas will make an impact. It is up to us to change the culture within our schools. It is up to all of us, not just administrators to create an environment where we genuinely are happy for one another, not wonder why that person gets all of the attention.
- Taking 5 minutes to acknowledge. When an administrator or colleague takes the time to stop by and say great job, congratulations, or I have noticed that…it changes the way we feel. Taking 5 minutes to actually acknowledge someone else every day, or even just 1 minute to shoot an email, can create an incredible change, and it starts with the superintendent. When my students and I were featured in an article in our very small paper, my superintendent sent me an email thanking me for shining a positive light on all of the great work that happens in our district. I have never received an email like that before and I can tell you, it made me smile., and it made me want to pass on that feeling. No matter how busy you are, take 5 minutes every day simply to thank people for what they do.
- The staff restroom gratitude poster. This idea comes from another school in my district. Every Monday someone (perhaps the principal) leaves a poster in the staff restroom with a heading such as “Tell me all of the reasons we are thankful Mrs. Anderson is a teacher here.” Next to it is a marker encouraging everyone to add their thoughts, and boy do they ever. As one of my friends told, this little poster is a ray of positivity in everyone’s day as they get a chance to express their gratitude and see what others say. Every week it is a new staff member, every week no one knows who put it there.
- The sneaky student compliment paper. Today, I had every class write compliments to one of our team’s teachers. My team had no idea I was doing this which made it even better. It took me less than a minute to explain to the students who then quietly circulated the paper around filling it with gratitude for that specific teacher. At the end of the day, I gave each paper to their respective subject.
- The “I have noticed…” Vox or email. I know a lot of principal that are on Voxer even if their staff is not. This idea is courtesy of Leah Whitford, an incredible principal in Lancaster, WI. As she walks through the school, she will quickly vox herself (Voxer is a free walkie talkie app for your phone) whatever she has noticed about someone’s classroom. At the end of the day she can then email the audio recording to that teacher. They don’t even have to have Voxer to get it. If you are not on Voxer (which you may want to be), how about a quick two line email. We often don’t know when someone sees something great happening, think of how powerful it would be to get a quick compliment like that.
- The applause section of the newsletter. This is an idea from my principal, Shannon Anderson, who is a driving force of positivity. Every Sunday she sends out an OMS newsflash that includes information about upcoming events, her schedule, a great article, as well as an applause section where she highlights small and big things that people deserve praise for. Anything from winning an award to helping others out gets highlighted, and she encourages us to submit names as well. Too often recognition only comes from huge events that happen to few people, it is vital that all of the little things that make our school run also get their day in the sun.
- The compliment cork board. Hang a cork board in the office, put note cards next to it, add markers, and voila – the compliment cork board. Encourage parents, students, or staff to leave a quick compliment for anyone they choose. Think of the message that sends to any visitors that enters your school as well.
Be a model of praise yourself. I try every day to thank someone, acknowledge someone, or praise something I have seen. It doesn’t happen every day, but it happens more days than not. Change starts with us, so if we want to work in a culture that celebrates the accomplishments of others then we need to step up to the challenge. Remember; it only takes person to take the first step.
I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA but originally from Denmark, who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade. Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day. The second edition of my first book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” will be published by Routledge in the fall. Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press. Join our Passionate Learners community on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.