When was the last time that someone sincerely celebrated all the hard work and success you have achieved in your career? Hmmm…..can you remember back that far? In education especially, we tend to skip this step.

Here’s how school improvement and reform efforts usually go: pick a researched reform method, include it into the school improvement plan, implement the program with minimal professional development, collect data throughout the effort, say “great job” at a team leaders or staff meeting and move onto the next idea for the following year. Repeat ad nauseam.

Does this sound familiar? The crucial step that so often gets dismissed or dropped during any new initiative is celebration – which is why I think most new initiatives fail.


Rethinking Initiatives

Here’s the thing: initiatives are fueled by people. People have the innate need for recognition and/or appreciation.  You’ll find that you can work a staff of people to the brink of exhaustion and if you sincerely thank them, they will come back for more.

At the same time, you can take your initiative so slowly that a snail might actually win the race and it will fizzle out and die without recognition of the efforts that were put in.  For a profession that specializes in working with people (aka: students), we are amazingly dimwitted when it comes to retaining high morale within our staff.

We get so caught up in moving forward that we lose the critical element for success: acknowledging and celebrating the reasons for that success in the first place.


Examples of Sincere Celebration

The ways in which you decide to celebrate your staff are as varied as they are important.  It can be as small as handwriting a note of thanks for a great lesson and leaving it on the teacher’s desk or mailbox.  Or, it can be as large as a whole-school exhibition of the initiative.  With our arts integration program, we have implemented both of these examples as well as a few others:

  • Showcasing teachers/lessons that have been successful during staff meetings
  • Creating a movie highlighting the program initiative using teacher and student interviews and videos/pictures of student work samples.
  • Having a parent night where the parents come to the classrooms and participate in an arts integration lesson with their children.
  • Inviting teachers to share their experiences at district and state conferences.
  • A whole-school end of the year celebration with galleries of student and teacher work.

Each time we celebrate the accomplishments of our students and our teachers, we refuel our program.  It is truly critical for re-energizing our efforts and being able to grow our program.


Sincerity Matters

Please be mindful, though, that the key to celebration is to be sincere.  People can spot platitudes from a mile away and teachers, specifically, can’t stand them.  The last thing your teachers need is another fake pat on the back.  What they really need and crave is for someone – anyone! – to truly recognize the effort and time they put into a program and authentically thank them for it.

So while the grand gestures above have refueled our efforts, the single biggest factor that keeps our program going is the 3-4 sentence thank you notes that I put into people’s mailboxes when I randomly see or hear about a great lesson.  It is unexpected and sincere and lets people know that what they do matters.  And this is what we all want – to know that we matter in our small corner of the educational world.  So, THANK YOU for encouraging this movement and for all the work you do with your teachers and staff.  You definitely matter to me!