Much has been said and written over the past several months about the pressures, disappointments, and difficulties educators are facing. They are navigating crisscrossing political currents, frequently changing pandemic mitigation measures, and the conflicting expectations of multiple publics. Any one of these forces can get in the way of doing one’s best work, but the combination can feel overwhelming.
Of course, as leaders we need to do all that we can to shield staff from the distractions and block out the noise. We can provide flexibility in use of time where practical, lighten the load of responsibilities where possible, and provide the support we can where needed. Yet too often this still is not enough, particularly viewed in the context of the predictable stresses and pressures that accompany the final months of the school year.
We might ask ourselves what else can we do to lift spirits, restore energy, and renew hope to carry through to the end of the year? Surprisingly, there remains an often underutilized but powerful source that can significantly lift morale and performance.
For some, the answer may seem too simple or obvious and be easily overlooked. The answer has to do with sharing and receiving gratitude. A recent study on the power of gratitude reported in the Journal of Applied Psychology involved healthcare workers who, as much as anyone, have had to bear the brunt of the pandemic. When workers heard and felt the gratitude of patients, their spirits lifted, they experienced greater satisfaction in their work, and incidents of burnout dropped. Another less formal study at the Warton School arranged for a customer who benefited from the services of a call center to speak to workers at the call center about his gratitude for their efforts and support. The impact of hearing the difference they were making led to a 20% increase in revenues for the call center.
The point is that gratitude matters. During rough times when feelings of appreciation are in short supply, finding ways to help educators and others associated with education feel gratitude can be especially important. The effort may be even more impactful if other steps to improve working conditions and lessen stresses are already in place.
So, what are some ways we might arrange for our educators and other staff to experience the gratitude of those whom they serve? Here are six ideas to get started:
- Invite a current parent or panel of parents to a staff meeting to share how their children are being supported, nurtured, and protected during the pandemic and how they have grown as learners and young people despite the challenges of the past two years.
- Arrange for a panel of recent graduates of your school to reflect on their experiences as students in your school and how staff relationships, guidance, and support have helped them to succeed as learners. Their reflections might be a part of a staff meeting or recorded and shared with staff.
- Work with student leadership groups to plan a surprise appreciation week for staff. Hall decorations, a special assembly to honor staff, and notes and letters of appreciation are some ideas to stimulate planning.
- Invite parents to record brief videos describing the difference school staff have made in the lives of their children.
- Invite students to record short videos describing how staff helped them to have “their best day of school.”
- Invite support staff to a faculty meeting to be honored for the contributions they make to a smooth operating and successful school. Be sure to cite specific examples and describe tangible differences they make.
Of course, gratitude makes the greatest difference when it is genuine, specific, and timely. Gratitude can also become an impactful habit. We like being around people who are quick to share their gratitude. We also feel better when we share our gratitude with others. It is a classic “win-win.”