As we approach the end of another school year and reflect on everything our students have accomplished, it is difficult to find an adequate way to thank teachers for all the work they do. Teacher Appreciation Week is traditionally celebrated in May, but appreciating and celebrating teachers should be an everyday habit for school leaders.
There is incredible value in weaving intentional appreciation, recognition, and positive feedback into the fabric of your district and culture. A broader, year-round focus on Teacher Appreciation positively impacts an organization’s ability to attract, grow, and retain highly effective educators. Below are a few examples of how school districts can make Teacher Appreciation a priority every day:
ATTRACT: Invest in Early-Career Educators –One of the best ways to set new teachers up for success is to encourage coaching and mentoring relationships with experienced staff members. Veteran teachers have a wealth of hard-earned knowledge to share, and they are happy to pass it on to their younger counterparts. School leaders can influence these positive mentoring relationships by strategically building teaching teams, ensuring representation of both early-career and veteran teachers within grade-level teams at the elementary level, and within departmental teams at the secondary level. This year, Montgomery ISD launched MINT (Mentoring & Induction for New Teachers). The goal of this program is to offer consistent and purpose-driven support to new educators. This inaugural MINT cohort includes 20 teachers in their first or second year. The individuals attend four workshops throughout the school year and are provided resources and relational support as they navigate the day-to-day responsibilities as a classroom teacher. Workshops are facilitated through the district’s Curriculum & Instruction Department, with veteran teachers and administrators leading sessions to offer advice, organizational techniques, and answering questions to help support new teachers. The program fostered incredible mentoring relationships in its inaugural year, and is also a valuable recruiting tool, offering new teachers access to a formalized support system on day one.
GROW: Invest in Quality Professional Development – Successful leaders understand the impact when you go beyond listening and demonstrate support with action. When a survey of teachers indicated a strong interest in professional development that was job-embedded and relevant to specific classroom needs, our district piloted the Montgomery ISD Summer Summit. The event, held in August 2022, was a two-day professional development conference built especially for MISD educators and staff. The event offered over 160 diverse sessions spanning all grade levels and curricula, something for every MISD educator.
The event provided teachers with dedicated time to get quality, job embedded professional development. With such a vast array of professional development choices, educators could easily participate in sessions that were interesting and relevant to them. The atmosphere surrounding the event – with prize raffles, food trucks, exciting and engaging presenters, and quality professional development – left teachers energized and excited about the new school year.
Teachers were empowered to decide which professional development opportunities were most meaningful, related to the specific needs of their classrooms. The event was particularly well-received by new employees, who felt welcomed by district staff, describing them as kind, friendly, and excited to participate in an innovative professional development event to kick off a new school year. Targeted grade-level training sessions offered an opportunity for teachers to get timely professional development and collaborate with counterparts from other campuses, sharing best practices specific to Montgomery ISD curriculum and making meaningful connections with one another.
RETAIN: Invest in District Culture – During my first 100 days as Montgomery ISD’s Superintendent, I set out on a “Listening and Learning Tour”, to learn as much about the district as possible from a variety of stakeholders including a large contingency of teachers. This exercise revealed many areas of strength as well as opportunities for improvement. Most notably, while many employees agreed that the district’s workplace culture was good, there was consensus that it truly had the potential to be great.
Data from a confidential employee satisfaction survey was shared with a committee comprised of employees from across the district, with representation from every level, were tasked with defining what an ideal workplace culture would look like for our school district and to encourage the buy-in of their fellow employees.
The result of the committee’s work is the MISD Culture of Respect – an initiative to ensure that Montgomery ISD is a place where employees not only want to work, but also feel like their contributions matter and all voices are heard. Whether working on a campus, or in a district building or facility, employees should always feel that the work they do, and the way they are made to feel while doing it, is valued. Employees should have confidence that when the need arises, they have a safe place to share concerns and speak openly when doing so. Employees should be encouraged to give honest feedback, because continuous improvement is not possible without the input of all district employee groups.
The Culture of Respect initiative was shared with our employees during back-to-school meetings at the beginning of this school year. Other tools in the Culture of Respect initiative include the Let’s Talk platform, which gives employees a way to communicate concerns and ask questions, with accountability in receiving a response from district leadership, and #BeOneTeam Shout Outs, a social media campaign that allows staff members to recognize those among them who go above and beyond to enhance the workplace and school environment in MISD.
In addition to weekly check-ins with campus principals and frequent visits to campuses, I also meet quarterly with a group of teachers from each campus in our district who bring forth input, feedback or concerns submitted by their colleagues. Giving employees a variety of ways to share input, with the expectation of follow up from district leadership has been a critical component of improving workplace culture districtwide.
Teacher Appreciation Week is a truly special time to celebrate the dedicated teachers who are the difference makers for our students. Effective school leaders embrace this attitude of gratitude for teachers every day, not just a designated week at the end of the school year.