'Empowering those around you to be heard and valued is the difference between a leader who simply instructs and one who inspires.'

More Than 'Thankyou'

How do you provide genuine recognition for all of your teams hard work at the end of a busy school year? 

With all of your staff working so hard, sometimes 'thankyou' just doesn't seem enough. At the end of the year, feeling drained, I would do my best to commend the staff for their hard work, provide gestures and say thanks, only to feel like it really wasn't hitting the spot.

As my years of headship progressed, and with a loyal and hard working team, I felt that I managed to successfully create the right opportunities for more sincere acknowledgement. This discovery was what made the difference. The idea that teachers and school staff thrive on recognition. I've found that this is the single most motivational thing when seeking to ensure that someone can leave the school feeling valued. This leads us to considering what our channels for recognition can look like, and all too often, they're not great. Sometimes this is to do with workload, more often, it's to do with the fact that they may not have given due consideration.

'This leads us to considering what our channels for recognition can look like, and all too often, they're not great.'

A good way to start is to consider all stakeholder groups. 

Recognition from parents
This is one of the most powerful opportunities for feelgood feedback. Logistics often create limitations, but it can be done. I created a form on the website for staff feedback. I then pushed it out, asking parents to take a minute to submit something if they were grateful. The responses came to my email and I forwarded them on to each member of staff. I pushed and promoted this across the year, and if a parent told me something nice, I asked them to send it over via the website so that I could do justice to the opportunity.  

Recognition from pupils
We did assemblies at the end of the year about gratitude. The PSHE theme for all pupils at the end of each year was 'Thankyou' (We started with the word 'Belong'). I showed the children some of the letters and cards that I had received from the children of yesteryear and how much their words meant. I made clear that this time and effort was far more meaningful than spending money of gifts, especially when there may not be much in the piggy bank. Like most teachers, I have a box at home full of these. Sometimes now on Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter, I still receive special thankyou messages from ex pupils. That's the legacy. 

'This is one of the most powerful opportunities for feelgood feedback. Logistics often create limitations, but it can be done.'

Recognition from colleagues
We did that thing in a staff meeting where we passed round pieces of paper with the staff members name at the top, adding to the list of things that you like and admire about them. Engineered maybe, but from my experience, creating a positive culture will require some construction. Giving people a chance to feel the benefits, and then we can build from here. We can then talk about how we can all contribute to a culture of mutual care and respect. I also think that this is a good way to make a big school, feel like a small school. 

Recognition from Governors
It's the heads job to talk to the governors about aspiring to be a school where the channels for feedback are important and that you are seeking to secure a culture where feeling valued is a priority. The benefits for individual staff and the organisation can be discussed and unpicked, and there are many. The starting point is knowing the staff, seeing what they do, and then recognising that the time taken to provide recognition is important. I used to have a governor who wrote short notes for me when he heard or saw something positive about what I had done. It was incredibly motivating and I still have them now. 

Recognition from the headteacher
I'm not into head massages or hot chocolates, but I do take my duty of care seriously. I think that the most significant opportunity for sincere and meaningful feedback is after you have been in someone's classroom. Making feedback and validation a priority. I don't mean twice a year for the benefit of appraisal, I mean the chat that can occur after a drop-in, learning walk, book study or within the school day. The time taken to identify good practice and to look someone in the eye and tell them that you think that they are a good teacher. I loved doing this, and would happily leave the building last if it meant that I could have meaningful professional dialogue about teaching and learning. 

Consider your channels for recognition. There's more no doubt and it really is the thought that counts. Now is a good time of year to think about how to secure these interactions and communications. By the time that you do sit in the staff room and wish everyone a great summer, they should already know how important they are, the difference they are making, and how valued they are within your school community.


The biggest win will be the impact with regards to how each individual staff member feels. If we can get this right, the collective benefits, and hey presto, we're creating cultures!

The first win is how any teacher feels when they leave school each day. Seeking to move beyond more casual gestures and comments and becoming good at identifying opportunities for recognition. This strengthens your relationship with each teacher. This relationship is then what will serve to secure trust and transparency, as well as those other lovely things, like laughter and success.

The second win is how the collective behaves in response. Having a team that know that they are individually and collectively talented and valued. This is the the end goal and is the backbone for any future success. Staff become loyal and the school becomes an attractive employer. More importantly, the children benefit as a direct result. Nothing puts the spring in a teachers step more than recognition.

About the Author

David Rushby

Former Teaching Assistant.

Photo capture observations, learning walks, book studies and parent and pupil surveys for your ipad or tablet

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