PART of my duties during my years of service in the education field have involved some form of coaching and mentoring of other teachers.
Sometimes this was in a formal setting and at other times not. Lesson observations were also part of the process.
Feedback sessions were especially significant, and it was during this time that we could discuss their progress, talk about what they were doing well and what could do with more attention.
Personally, I have found that while teachers were almost always receptive to suggestions for improvement, the real connection began when it was time to tell them about the things that they were doing well – the “appreciation” or “praise time”.
It seemed as if the atmosphere had suddenly changed and all at once they were really listening to you. It almost felt as if you were giving a drink to someone who had been thirsty for a long time.
The teachers hung on every word of encouragement and praise, as if they really needed to hear something good about themselves and what they were doing.
The end of these sessions made me think a lot about how overlooked the act of giving praise and showing appreciation was in our school working environment.
Sure, teachers are told time and again, encouraged, directed even to demonstrate positive affirmation, or have reward systems for their students.
We are reminded about how important motivation is for students to progress their learning.
And yet it doesn’t seem to have the same emphasis in the boss-employee relationship where many schools are concerned.
Well, some may argue that there is strictly no real boss-employeee hierarchy in national schools, seeing that we are all civil servants but teachers know that they are always answerable to those in senior leadership positions.
They in turn are accountable to those who oversee them in the state or national education departments.
But we do give a lot of affirmation to those under us in the system, many school leaders may protest.
We make it a point to say a big thank you to the staff after any major school event like sports day and even after results of major exams are announced. But that’s just it.
Apart from the general statements like thanking the entire teaching staff for helping the school ranking to go up, personal messages of appreciation to teachers from their leadership team are not too common.
And as most teachers will agree, collective announcements of appreciation only have a tiny fraction of impact on the human spirit compared to sincere words of praise or appreciation which are spoken to someone personally.
Imagine the difference between these two speeches; The first is part of a principal’s speech during a post exam results assembly.
“I want to thank staff members who have been part of our school’s wonderful achievement.”
Compare that to a principal who comes up to a teacher and says, “I saw the way you managed the group of students in the last row in class 4B last Tuesday and I think you did a terrific job.”
The truth is, collective comments of approval or appreciation no matter how articulate or lengthy do not do as much for a teacher’s morale as a few words of individual appreciation or commendation delivered personally by those in charge.
People need appreciation more than criticism and appreciation goes a longer way in encouraging someone to go further.
Studies by online career sites say the same thing. Employees work harder and are more committed when their bosses show that they are appreciated.
On the other hand, no one wants to hear overstated or exaggerated outpourings of praise which are incongruous with the achievement.
These words simply ring hollow and people can usually sniff out insincerity after a while.
In classrooms, and with their students, teachers are encouraged to provide affirmation of positive behaviour by reward systems or praise.
However, it might seem a little odd for our school leaders to be pinning up reward charts for teachers on the staffroom walls or dishing out little star stickers to those who have excelled in their jobs.
There do exist of courses – special monetary rewards, bonuses and incentives to those who have performed exceptionally well but to quote leadership training guru, Dale Carnegie: “People work for money but go the extra mile for recognition, praise and rewards,”
More importantly, what takes most of us through the daily grind of work and keeps us going even when we feel like giving up is the knowledge that our work is being recognised and appreciated by someone who is above us.
Monetary incentives are important but not everyone considers it as important as the satisfaction of knowing that their hard work is really and truly valued.
You can’t put a price label on the feeling inside your heart when you know that what you have done is significant and held in high regard by those in higher authority.
Knowing that you are being recognised and appreciated for your work, your skills and talents and contributions in a sincere and personal way, keep you going on.
At times this can be the main factor that keeps you getting up to go to your teaching job or other places of work in the morning.
It makes you feel that what you are doing counts for something and that you are an asset to the organisation.
I have found that no matter how much some teachers loudly profess that they are not bothered about what their principal thinks of their work, deep inside them, it does matter.
At any age or in any setting, positive feedback always makes people feel valued and appreciated.
It makes all the extra hours and effort you have put in more meaningful and it certainly makes the work environment more enjoyable.
Something that employers including those in leadership positions in education may need to remember is that the lack of recognition is one of the main factors employees quit their jobs or look for greener pastures.
As former American Secretary of Defence Robert McNamara, once said: “Brains, like hearts, go where they are appreciated.”
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