5 Ways School Leaders Can Make Educators Feel as Important as They Are

The month of May is Teacher Appreciation Month. Appreciation and recognition of our teachers, or facilitators, is so important. We often see this manifest in the form of breakfasts, lunches, coffees and other treats. As a previous school site leader, I did everything from washing facilitators’ cars and arranging for a professional masseuse to provide 15-minute massages. I loved doing these things, and we should keep doing things like this for facilitators. However, what if we created systems and environments that made all staff feel important every day?

Here are five areas to help facilitators think about making appreciation more authentic:

Creating a Culture of Facilitator Support & Appreciation

If you ask facilitators, most will indicate that they do want appreciation and recognition for their hard work. However, they will also often say they’d rather that appreciation and recognition were ongoing, sincere and spontaneous versus an official event or specific days on a calendar. I always tried to focus on not only good facilitators but outstanding facilitation. Of course, this was about appreciation and recognition, but it was also intended to inspire others.

Learning, especially deeper learning, is based on inspiration as well as close working relationships and high levels of collegial collaboration. It’s well known that site leaders need to be in classrooms on a regular basis in order to increase learner achievement.

But this is not the only byproduct. Indeed, if site leaders truly embrace being instructional leaders, they will also learn who their facilitators are, what they need, what motivates them, what challenges them and ultimately how the organization can provide appreciation and recognition. If site leaders prioritize education and facilitators, others will notice and learn from that modeling and leadership.

Autonomy

This might seem like a scary idea, but it’s paramount. Autonomy is about freedom, trust and ultimately professionalism. Facilitators feel when they have control over their own destiny. A few years back a “quality of life” survey for facilitators indicated that one of the top reasons people leave the profession is related to not getting enough support and respect.

This doesn’t mean facilitators don’t want expectations, standards or feedback. They do want those who work with them to trust them as co-professionals. No one likes to be micromanaged. It’s counterintuitive to owning and improving one’s craft. If we believe in creativity and growth, we need to focus on autonomy. We need to model and practice this by offering choices – choice on how to accomplish a goal, whom to collaborate with, how to professionally grow, what technologies to incorporate and so much more. Student “voice and choice” is a vital part of project-based and deeper learning. If we want to truly embrace this pedagogy, facilitators need to have “voice and choice” too. Too often, our communication and collaboration with facilitators is prescriptive (“Do this,” “Do that”) instead of being inquiry and challenge-based (“How could we do this?” or “What would be a great way to make this happen?”).

Flexibility / Saying ‘YES’

If we want personalized learning for learners, then we need to also welcome personalized learning for facilitators. This can be supporting them as they reach for various professional and personal goals.

If you want the best facilitators at your school sites for your learners, then you need to embrace the best. And the best comes with some new challenges. When facilitators, especially amazing ones, want to attend a conference or meeting off campus, collaborate with others or visit other school programs, or take on new roles within or beyond our organization, we need to find a way to not only say yes but to facilitate their growth.

I had many facilitators who were invited to speak, present and lead various professional development opportunities. When you have rock star facilitators, others will want to learn from them, host them, collaborate with them and maybe even steal them.

This last idea – “stealing them” – leads to our next point. Many facilitators are going to find themselves either wanting to pursue new opportunities and/or be offered new ones. The days of facilitators primarily staying in one classroom, at one school site and with one organization are starting to fade. The world of learning is moving too fast for that model. Good facilitators will stay, and many good ones will leave. At one time, that would have been frowned upon (and in some cases still might be). But I tried to model that I wanted my facilitators, just like my learners, to go wherever their talents, skills and dreams will take them. It’s a gift to have a great facilitator even for a short time.

Digital Appreciation

Technology can also add some diverse and special ways to make facilitators feel more appreciated and recognized.
It allows us to extend beyond that annual Teacher Appreciation Week. It can start with personal emails or texts recognizing outstanding work in and out of the classroom. But it can expand to using social media tools, school websites, blogs and other tech outlets to feature our facilitators. This allows others, not just their peers, but also the learners, parents and community to see the fine work our facilitators are doing. It demonstrates to the facilitators, as well as the other audiences, that we are paying attention and prioritizing not only appreciation but also outstanding facilitation. It contributes to modeling, fostering and creating a culture of recognition.

Ideas for sharing appreciation for our facilitators include weekly facilitator spotlights via blogs and videos, which staff and families would love to watch. Verbal appreciation is important and can be very personal, sincere and appropriate. Written words, including via technology, can have a long-lasting impact. A facilitator can turn back to a note, letter or card for inspiration for years, especially when they need it the most.

Let the Learners Do It

Finally, maybe one of the best things we can do is to get the learners involved. Many learners like to recognize and appreciate their facilitators and are looking for processes and systems to do just that. We can recognize learners and then invite them to pay it forward. If I had a facilitator out sick or out of the classroom, I would often visit that classroom with a preprinted template with the facilitator’s name on the page and just invite learners to write them personal notes of appreciation. Not all did, but many would. And they would write sincere, personalized and unique words of appreciation that facilitators would cherish for a lifetime. It was simple, fun and worthwhile, and this could easily be translated to social media appreciation posts as well.

With these five ideas held close, it’s possible to create a school culture in which staff feel more appreciated year-round – to the benefit of learners and the entire learning community.

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