After 34 years in the education profession and 15 years at the same junior high school, I continue to be amazed at the fact the staff members still enjoy getting positive notes in their mailboxes about what they do at our school and for the students. Over the course of several years, I have altered or changed the process I have used for this positive messaging and modified how I did these messages to fit the personality or needs of each staff member. When you walk around our school you will see these notes attached or posted in each staff member’s room, by their desk, on the side of their computer monitor, or posted on a board behind their desk.
Positive Notes Set the Tone
As a teacher, I always used personal comments and sometimes stickers on student work to recognize their efforts, but as a school leader, the notes had to be on something other than work, as the staff work was always their behavior and actions and not on a paper or turned in to me to grade.
Finding the Right Fit for Staff and Me!
Some of the first things I gave were long formal letters that went into personnel files as well as given to the staff member. I’m sure they were appreciated, but they were never seen by anyone else. In our district, personnel folders are housed at the school main office and looked at once a year by the administration and staff member. So I then went to traditional boxed thank-you notes with a personal message specific to the teacher. These also ended up never being seen by anyone.
Finally, I found a couple different things that were easy to write quick, short, but specific messages on that had a quote or some positive message on one side. The cards were small, about the size or a business card; however, even simple index cards could be used as well. These have been a huge hit with the staff and can be seen all over the school as staff members post them near their computers or desks. I have used Pop-Up cards as well. These are small cards with a positive thought on the front, and a space on the back to write a short message. Once the recipient gets the card, they open it up and a quote or message is inside as well. These have been fun to give, and teachers have even asked to order some to give to students as well. You know things are a great idea when others want to use them to help send positive messages to students too!
Sample Comments to Improve Morale
More important are the messages written on each note. The messages must be personal, specific, positive, and relevant for each individual staff member. The messages can’t be just “good job” or “thanks for all you do”. You need to send a message just as you would personally say it, and you want the written message to be direct as well.
- “Love the questioning strategies you used with the students today.”
- “Your opening objectives were detailed and in student-centered language.”
- “Thank you for the extra time as you chaperoned the dance on Friday.”
- “Love your contributions to the leadership team.”
It takes time to write them by hand, but they are always more appreciated when handwritten. Staff members often say how much they appreciate the gesture and recognize the time spent to write them.
You Need to Make Time
We all know the amount of time we have in a day is never enough to get everything done. To help me make time for this necessary activity, I have these small notecards on my desk at work and also have some on the end table next to my sofa at home. This allows me to write a few each week before I go home on Friday, and I also can write some while I relax watching TV at home any day. The short time it takes to put a few positive, thankful words on a card and then give it to someone is worth all the time it takes. Staff members are then grateful for the recognition, kind words, and praise and will do mostly anything asked of them because they know they are appreciated. I even keep a list of staff members handy so I can keep track of who I have given notes to so I can include everyone on staff. This helps me look for the great things all people do, no matter how big or small.
Personal Birthday Cards Sent Home Help Too!
One additional thing I do is to send personal birthday cards to each staff member’s home. This is also well-received and appreciated. Every staff member personally thanks me for the card, and they know that someone noticed their special day and made a point of taking time to send the card. I have always done this out of my own personal funds and feel it has paid me back in spades.
Remember, it only takes a few minutes each week to recognize and write a positive note of thanks to someone or send a personal birthday card. These small messages will pay off later as teachers and staff members feel appreciated and part of the school team or family. Building relationships in this way will help get everyone on board and hopefully help them stay positive when working with students in our buildings.
Jamey Hood is a 34-year educator who has spent her entire career working with junior high school students. She is principal at Garrett Junior High school in Boulder City, NV, serving a population of 485 students. She is the 2018 Nevada Principal of the Year. Follow her on Twitter @msjameyhood.