#SendAFriendACard: The Power of Praise

#SendAFriendACard: The Power of Praise
Darri Stephens February 6, 2020

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Let’s face it. Teachers get little recognition for what they do. It’s true — in the grand scheme of things, while teachers’ daily hard work and contributions may be appreciated, they are often unacknowledged except for once-yearly Teacher Appreciation Week.

When I was younger, I used to say that I wanted to be a teacher when I grew up and I still have tucked away somewhere a quote from Time Magazine that my dad cut out for me. As he handed it to me, he lamented, “Things will change by the time you need to get into teaching.” 

In a completely rational society, the best of us will be teachers
and the rest will have to settle for something less.
– Lee Iaccoca

Sadly, I don’t think teaching as a career has gained much traction in terms of professional clout despite its daily intricate inner workings. A school is a wonderfully complicated and dynamic machine of processes and operations that rely on and intertwine with one another, which reminds me of Shel Silverstein’s illustration in his poem, The Homework Machine. There is so much depth and complexity (see what I did there?) to the running of a school and yet, at its very center, is a human in order to make it all work:

And that little hard-working individual deserves a little applause now or then. We know teachers don’t teach for the kudos. However, a word of kindness, an expression of gratitude, or a line of support goes a long way. To write down this praise is a meaningful way to cement, even immortalize, such recognition. Don’t you remember the thought you’d put into annual yearbook signings? Not only can written words be powerful, but a note represents that someone took time to pass along their feelings and it is something that one can go back to and revisit time and time again. Meaning + time = memories.

Like many of you, I have boxes of notes and cards from my students. But being in the weeds together as educators, we don’t always acknowledge what one another — our peers — are doing in our school’s classrooms or for the school community as a whole. We are ever battling the issue of time, but a note — just a quick one — can really have staying power:

  • During my fifth year teaching, my new school showed me just how amazing an Open House for families could be. Before the showcasing night, we would parade around all the classrooms, weaving in and out of each others’ rooms to see the kids’ (and teachers’) work. When I returned to my room that first year, one of my colleagues, Ms. Aupperle, had left behind a bright sticky note saying how wonderful my room looked. And she didn’t just do this for me, but she added a different note to each teacher’s desk. I remember being surprised and amazed at her thoughtfulness. And her quick note had a lasting effect on me.
  • One of my most memorable acknowledgments came from my last school’s custodian, Mr. Mickey. Now Mr. Mickey was the night-time custodian so he often came and went, working his magic, like a shoemaker’s elf. I rarely saw him. Into the second month of school, I was teaching a unit on Native Americans, when I came in one morning to find a year-old calendar on my desk adorned with a Christmas sticky bow. Mr. Mickey evidently had seen the notes on my whiteboard, the library books scattered about the room, and the beginnings of students’ new work samples on the bulletin board, and he had found a discounted calendar all about Native Americans. Talk about kindness! And it didn’t end there. Throughout the years, Mr. Mickey would often leave a calendar on my desk, which I would hack apart, laminate, and then use for years to come as room decor for my social study units. It wasn’t a written note, as he was a man of few words, but it was an enormous note of recognition in Mr. Mickey’s own way.
  • A few years later when I worked at an educational nonprofit, one of my team members came up with the idea of “sur-praising” each other. Each month, we would quietly pick a colleague within the entire organization to “sur-praise,” and we’d adorn his/her desk with a plethora of personalized sticky notes exclaiming how grateful we were for that person’s talents, contributions, and hard work. It was an exemplary moment of “it’s better to give than to receive” when we’d see our peer come in first thing in the morning to a desk covered in kind words. Many left the notes up for weeks, underscoring just how meaningful these simple notes of affection were.

I share these memories in the hopes that you might want to jot a quick note or sur-praise someone you work with. Think about your teaching team, someone in the front office, someone behind the scenes in the lunchroom, or your own Mr. Mickey. Consider how they have made an impression on you or supported your classroom of kids. Drop them a note of acknowledgment, as we all know just how complex the inner workings of our schools are. Check out these downloadable printables for your own quick note and remember… even a sticky will do!

Darri Stephens is a former member of Teach for America and a seasoned educator, with more than 10 years’ experience in Los Angeles and New York City public schools. She’s a published author, who has also worked for education-focused media companies including Nickelodeon, IMAX, EdSurge, and Discovery Education. With master’s degrees in education from both Harvard and Stanford, she’s passionate about creative curriculum development that pushes boundaries, especially considering the influx of today’s technologies. Her most recent positions as Senior Director of Content at Common Sense and Director of Education at Wonder Workshop underscore her love of instructional design, writing, and the ever-changing edtech world — so much so that she has now founded her own content consulting agency, Darrow Ink.

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