In May, teachers are recognized nationwide in a grand event named Teacher Appreciation Week. During this week, educators are sprinkled with gifts, kind words, and delicious baked goods. Personally, I love Teacher Appreciation Week; it is my second favorite holiday. However, it does not have a long lasting and meaningful impact on teachers’ sense of belonging and value. Instead the impact is fleeting and superficial. Just as we all know the perfect Christmas celebration does not fix dysfunctional family dynamics, the perfect Teacher Appreciation Week does not fix underlying problems. To build an authentic sense of appreciation, schools need to focus on interpersonal relationships.
Education is about relationships. It is about the relationship between students, parents, teachers, support staff, and administrators. Maintaining healthy, productive relationships between all stakeholders is important work. This emotional or "touchy-feely" work is not just kumbaya nonsense; it is hard science. Brene Brown, a researcher on the topics of vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame, identifies trust as the foundation to a strong relationship. Her research can be used, in conjunction with Starbucks cards, to show teachers authentic appreciation. These strategies can be used by administrators and teachers themselves to increase their sense of belonging and worth within the workplace.
Brene Brown uses the acronym BRAVING to describe the seven key elements of trust. In each element, there is a simple strategy or idea you can use immediately to start building trust in your schools.
Boundaries & Reliability
As teachers, we want to say “yes” to everything. It is in our nature to be accommodating and helpful. Being overly helpful can be at your own expense and can even be harmful to others. Think of that “put the oxygen mask on yourself before assisting someone else” analogy; it perfectly illustrates the potential harm in helping others before helping yourself.
Teachers have a finite set of resources: time, money, and emotional energy. You cannot say yes to everything. You need to know your limitations and express them because setting boundaries increases your reliability. Teachers need to support each other in this process by removing the act of celebrating overworked teacher and replacing it with celebrating the well-balanced teacher.
Repeat after me, “No, I cannot ___________. Thank you for thinking of me as a candidate.” Here is the key, do not ramble on with excuses. You do not need to give an excuse. Keep it quick and simple. On the flipside, you should provide room for colleagues to set boundaries with you. If they say “no,” respect it. Do not push.
Hold yourself accountable. If you make a mistake, you should make amends. Recognizing mistakes and repairing the damage as a means to move forward is important relationship work.
As we all know, a quick “sorry” doesn’t cut it. My favorite way to apologize is by saying “thank you.” For example, “Thank you for waiting for me.” Rather than, “Sorry that I’m late!” It flips a negative, mistake focused conversation into a positive, gratitude driven conversation. If you’re an overachiever, you can even describe how you’ll do better in the future - “Next time, I will use Google Calendar to set an alarm for our appointment.” Boom! You just practiced accountability.
Instantly, we can name the teacher with “the inside scoop” …teacher with all the juicy gossip. That teacher makes me nervous and uncomfortable. If they talk about everyone freely, I am certain they must also talk about me. Even worse, some administrators participate in this powder room chit-chat.
To end this cycle and build trust, you need to become a vault. Private information should remain private. It’s that simple! Well…yes and no. We have all been in tricky social situations where a nosy-Nancy wants all the details. When probed for private information, I just casually say, “That’s not my story to tell, but you are welcome to speak to ______.” Having this trusted phrase in my back pocket helps me navigate those awkward conversations.
“You choose courage over comfort.” - Brene Brown
Often, teachers bite their tongues; scared of offending their colleagues. Although it may be uncomfortable, respectfully speaking up will create a culture of vulnerability and transparency.
Have you ever felt completely judged by your colleagues? You are not alone! With such high expectations for teacher and student performance, many teachers feel self-induced shame for not meeting deadlines and benchmarks. We need to support each other by practicing “nonjudgement.”
Lead with empathy. This means listening to understand, rather than listening to fix. Use visual and verbal clues to show that you are attentively listening. This could be nodding, eye-contact, or paraphrasing their experience.
When analyzing the intentions of your fellow teachers and administrators, generously assume positive intent. Give them the benefit of the doubt. This is an internal process that has external rewards. Have you heard of the “self-fulfilling prophecy” or “placebo effect”? The power of belief is immense, and it has a huge impact on outcomes. If you believe you have a good relationship, you are more likely to HAVE a good relationship.
Hopefully, you can use the information provided in this blog to develop and maintain strong relationships during and long after Teacher Appreciation Week. If you would like to learn more about how the work of Brene Brown can help you continue to grow as an educator, check out our sister company’s graduate level, continuing education course using her popular book, Daring Greatly: OL 5101: The Practice and Power of Vulnerability in the Classroom.