What would it feel like to be part of a profession that is authentically appreciated not one week a year, but all year long? I imagine this space exists somewhere between free burritos and invitations to the White House. What if authentic appreciation permeated the culture of all schools and the communities they serve? What if it moved the students we teach today to join our profession, so that they might be a part of something universally respected and valued?
Note: This post originally appeared in The Standard,
the official blog of the National Board.
Teacher Appreciation Week. That one week a year when social media explodes with gratitude for educators across the country as we collectively #ThankATeacher. A week when we pause to appreciate the profession that makes all others possible.
The event was filled with energy, laughter, tears, and camaraderie as we watched in awe as one of our own received the crystal apple. Her excitement and authenticity made us feel as though we were watching a colleague from down the hall, an educator we have known and trusted for years, receive this honor.
That unbridled enthusiasm carried us beyond the gates of the White House and into the night. It carried us home to our respective states, districts and schools. It will carry us through this school year, into the summer, and the school years yet to come.
And we hope to carry the experience of what it feels like to be surrounded by accomplished teachers back to our colleagues who were busy teaching, learning, and leading this past Tuesday.
It will be hard to top this year’s Teacher Appreciation Day.
And yet I wonder — what would it feel like to be part of a profession that is authentically appreciated not one week a year, but all year long? I imagine this space exists somewhere between free burritos and invitations to the White House. What if authentic appreciation permeated the culture of all schools and the communities they serve? What if it moved the students we teach today to join our profession, so that they might be a part of something universally respected and valued?
Here, four NBCT colleagues who shared the White House experience with me offer their ideas for creating a culture of authentic appreciation for educators:
In order to develop a culture of authentic appreciation, teachers need not only to be invited to the table for policy discussions but should have a regular place there. It is imperative that our expertise be recognized and utilized. President Obama challenged us Tuesday to move beyond cookie-cutter solutions. He challenged us to teach with enthusiasm and creativity, to set high standards and to utilize our stories to reach students and help them see in themselves what they have not. When teachers are viewed as professionals who have the best interest of students at the forefront of our work and are valued for our part in shaping lives, teacher appreciation won’t be relegated to a week in May, it will permeate our communities as we partner with parents and policymakers to improve our schools and the lives of our students.
President Obama stated, “We’ve got to be willing to be honest when something is not working and say, all right, let’s try something different.” When it comes to shifting the culture of appreciation for educators, every professional needs to ask themselves: “How am I creating a negative culture for students and for colleagues? What can I do differently? How can change start with me?”
For example, instead of complaining, speak with positivity. Instead of feeding an individual ego, embrace collaboration and learning from others. Instead of fearing failure, take risks and learn from what went wrong (and what went right) to improve next time. Most importantly, instead of low expectations for students, set high expectations, for each and every student, no matter the zip code or background. Then, instead of celebrating success privately, share with colleagues, offer an example and create change.
During his remarks at the White House in celebration of Teacher Appreciation Week, President Obama acknowledged that teachers choose this profession because it is the one in which they can potentially make the greatest difference. As educators, we can begin creating a culture of authentic appreciation within the profession by encouraging and empowering one another as we commit to courageously living out our purpose of achieving our greatest selves through servant leadership in education. We have a responsibility to build and model the culture of appreciation that we seek from those whom we serve. We must do more than believe that we can make a difference in our students’ lives; we must believe that we are the difference in our students’ lives. We must appreciate that difference and share the power of that difference with one another.
Authentic appreciation begins with teacher empowerment. While many teachers rightfully complain about pay scales and working conditions, others create space for their own and other’s empowerment by becoming leaders in their schools and districts. The National Teacher and State Teachers of the Year represent professionals who take it upon themselves to create leadership opportunities. Accomplished teachers can follow their example and elevate the profession by mentoring novice teachers, leading job-embedded professional learning, and advocating for the profession. Schools need to create structures for making time for teacher leaders to work in a variety of roles. Even highly accomplished teachers need advanced training in mentoring and advocating. We should take advantage of language in ESSA and advocate for developing more teacher leaders. These passionate and gifted educators can be a key component in transforming teaching and learning.
The common thread that unites these ideas is our belief that authentic teacher appreciation begins with us. If we seek understanding and appreciation from the communities we serve, accomplished teachers can become ambassadors for the teaching profession. Our actions and language, within and beyond the classroom, can serve as a catalyst for change. While hearing from the president firsthand was inspiring, ongoing daily inspiration for educators is fueled by our colleagues in our schools and our extended professional learning networks. We hope you will join ours.