I joined a new school community this spring as a brand-new instructional coach. I aspired to this role because I know how hard teachers work to support and encourage students, and I believe a key part of instructional leadership is being a supporter and encourager of teachers. That’s why I created a “teacher appreciation mission” for this year.
My teacher appreciation mission is inspired by a new instructional leadership strategy my school community is using to promote teacher growth and student success: lesson rehearsals. We get the teaching team together, and one teacher demonstrates a new lesson while fellow teachers, coaches, specialists, principals and APs play the roles of students. It’s a great chance for our whole team to grow: The teacher who’s demonstrating gets to see how students will progress toward the learning goal so they can work out the kinks before they go live, and fellow teachers get to pick up insights for their own classrooms. Afterward, I love hearing teachers say, “I’m so glad my new activity was successful” and “I can’t wait to adapt that exit ticket strategy for my students” – but beforehand, teachers can feel nervous about it, and it takes bravery to do it. So, I decided to connect our school’s instructional leadership strategy to my teacher appreciation mission. I found four ways to intentionally, systematically shout out and lift up the teachers in my school community.
I’d recommend these strategies to any instructional leader looking to get really intentional about showing your team just how much you appreciate them! That’s why I’m excited to bring you my approach:
1. Public showcases of teachers’ professional commitment and growth
If we want to encourage teachers to take risks in order to grow their practice and promote their students’ progress, one of the most important things we can do is celebrate that risk-taking. That’s why I made it a priority to create a badge system for making teachers feel recognized for their courage in lesson rehearsals – and their commitment to promoting growth for themselves and their colleagues. When they demonstrate their first lesson for the group, they get a badge that celebrates their work, and they pin it on their door. When they do a second lesson rehearsal, they get a second badge. When they inspire a fellow teacher to adapt one of their strategies for another classroom, they get a badge for that, too. It’s simple, but it’s really meaningful for a teacher to earn a badge: It showcases how valuable their teaching expertise is to our instructional leadership team and our whole school community. I love hearing teachers talk about how they can’t wait to get their badge and exactly where they’re going to put it on their door. And I love seeing how it gets teachers excited about sharing their insights and helping their colleagues grow. When we take steps like this to celebrate an educator’s expertise, we show them just how much impact their work has on us, our students and our school.
2. Thank-you cards and gifts to celebrate teacher wins
Just as it’s important to celebrate teacher growth publicly, it’s important to make teachers feel celebrated personally, too. In my building, the badge on a teacher’s door is a way for our whole school to validate a teacher’s accomplishment in lesson rehearsals – but I wanted to find a way to share some personal validation as well. That’s why I write a thank-you card for each teacher. For example, I recently wrote: “I understand how unnerving it can be to step forward like you did yesterday, and I want to let you know that you really shone! You stood in front of fellow teachers, specialists, and even our principal and APs, and you shared not just your areas of strength, but also your areas of growth. You really modeled what teacher leadership is, and you brought so much inspiration to our team – and I’m so grateful!” I also share little gifts that feel personal, to close out the lesson rehearsal experience with positivity and joy. The teachers in my building love Japanese mochi, so I try to pick out shapes that will resonate. The other day, a teacher taught an amazing lesson and got great feedback, so I gave her a little mochi shaped like a cake. She looked at it and said, “Because that was a piece of cake!” Every time we take the time to show up at a teacher’s door and create a special moment of celebration for all they do, we show them just how appreciated they really are.
3. Newsletters to spotlight teachers and shout out the team
Any time you’re taking an opportunity to celebrate the teachers in your building, I recommend ensuring that you’re making people feel recognized as individuals and as team members. That’s why I use my monthly newsletter to highlight one educator’s work and to praise the work that our teaching team is doing as a whole. First, I amplify the work that the team is doing to support an instructional priority, and then, I shout out one person’s work in a “teacher spotlight.” For example, if we’re all working on integrating formative assessments into lesson plans, I might spotlight one teacher who planned some formative assessment activities around student voice, and share the ways that boosted student engagement and growth. I’ll finish up the spotlight by saying something like, “If you’re interested in learning more from your colleague, reach out to schedule a class visit so you can watch them in action – and to share your own approach, too!” By connecting one teacher’s great work to the team’s great work, we can make everyone feel valued as a community – and that’s a powerful way to strengthen staff culture.
4. Invitations for teachers to shine on a bigger stage
In my earliest years as a teacher, no matter how much growth I demonstrated as a teacher or promoted in my students, I wasn’t encouraged to share my expertise beyond my own classroom. That’s why I recommend that everyone in an instructional leadership position take some time each month to research and share opportunities for the teachers in the building to step out and shine on a bigger stage. For example, our district is looking for presenters for a professional development day, and I know so many teachers in my school community who could provide powerful learning, so I made sure to amplify that invitation in my last newsletter. The day-to-day work that teachers do to inspire students is so valuable inside the classroom – and that means it’s valuable outside the classroom, too. Any time we spot an opportunity for one of our own to step out into the wider world, share their expertise and experience recognition for all they do – let’s shout that opportunity out!
Every time teachers step outside their comfort zone to grow their practice, they demonstrate so much commitment to supporting growth for our team, our school – and above all, our students. We educators are used to getting up in front of students and throwing our energy into a new lesson (I’ve done so many fun, silly things to get kids excited about learning!) but it takes a lot of bravery to speak up and share expertise in front of colleagues and leaders. Whether they’re stepping up in a team meeting, a classroom observation or an instructional group, that courage and commitment make a real difference in our school communities. That’s why I care so much about making all my fellow educators feel valued and celebrated – as a colleague, a coach and a friend. And that’s why I hope you’ll try one of my strategies to show the teachers in your school community just how much they matter – this Teacher Appreciation Week and every week.
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