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Holiday Season Appreciation: Strategies for School Leaders

It is now officially the holiday season. As the first half of the school year edges toward a close, the month of December marks a perfect time for school leaders to show their appreciation for teachers. While celebratory lunches or little gifts can act as temporary mood lifts, the genuine recognition of how teachers contribute to a school community should be far more profound. To ensure that the spirit of joy and gratitude lasts beyond the next few weeks, the following leader moves are geared toward creating a school climate that reinforces deeper relationships built on trust.

Be Helpful

If given the choice, most teachers would probably prefer to get some genuine help from school leaders rather than the usual holiday candy-gram or treat. To give a gift that truly expresses appreciation, think about where teachers experience the most stress. For example, offering to make copies for people will save them valuable time spent in line, or putting together mid-year supply packages might prevent a trip to the store on a teacher’s own dime to replenish pens or paper. To go a step further, it really goes a long way when leaders offer class coverage or at least some degree of assistance for part of an instructional period. The gift of time is far more precious than a passing token in an office mailbox. As an added bonus, teachers will feel increased respect for the instructional capacity of leaders who do not typically get as much of an opportunity to showcase their pedagogical knowledge, which further cements genuine partnerships. 

Spend Time Together

For a school leader, any given day is customarily devoted to triage mode as unpredictable needs crop up relentlessly. With so many demands on every individual within a building, how often do leaders and teachers get to spend unstructured time together? In many schools, there aren’t many opportunities to hang out in the same space without a meeting agenda or schedule. To develop the habit of being together more naturally, leaders can work to be more visible during the rare times they are free not just by being in the hallways more, but also by taking their work with them to the team spaces that teachers inhabit. By being a regular presence, leaders may find that teachers gradually engage them more in conversation that is both personal and professional. Learning more about the people we work with and having a chance to interact more creates a level of collaboration that is so much stronger, which is a true holiday gift that pays dividends for the months and years to come.


Too often, teachers and leaders work in isolation without much interaction. Beyond having conversations together, think about how working shoulder to shoulder with teachers can further develop mutual awareness of what each person’s job role brings to the table. There are several ways leaders can exert themselves to partner with teachers, whether it’s to co-plan (and ideally, co-teach) a lesson together or to be a regular member of PLC planning. Without more understanding of how teachers do their daily work, a significant gap in empathy exists between leaders and their staff. Just as important, it is difficult to move the work of a school forward and know what teachers would like in terms of professional learning if there is only a superficial understanding of what classroom instruction looks like throughout the building. 

Be Specific

Writing teachers notes of appreciation is always a good move, especially if thoughts are personalized and heartfelt. To make this practice even more meaningful, provide specific praise about what the teacher adds to the school community or the classroom that sets them apart. I remember a beloved department chair who sent me a card and shared that she was so excited by the writing games I shared with my classes, and how it developed both their skills and engagement. That card has a special place in my heart, and I always do my best to emulate the details she shared in the notes I write to teachers.

Appreciation should never be lip service at any time of year. Most people enjoy food or small gifts, but creating the kind of environment in which everyone feels valued requires more work than something that can be purchased. By spending more time with teachers in their own spaces and learning more about the important work they do, leaders can strengthen relationships and have a better vantage point from which to understand what goes on in their own buildings. In the holiday season and beyond, the practices shared above have the power to make a difference that lasts.

Written by Miriam Plotinsky, Education World Contributing Writer

Miriam Plotinsky is an instructional specialist with Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland, where she has taught and led for more than 20 years. She is the author of Teach More, Hover Less, Lead Like a Teacher and Writing Their Future Selves. She is also a National Board-Certified Teacher with additional certification in administration and supervision. She can be reached at or via Twitter: @MirPloMCPS

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