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Fostering Gratitude and Thanksgiving: A Guide for Instructional Coaches

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

The following piece by Donna Spangler appeared recently in SmartBrief. Donna served as coordinator of instructional coaching for Derry Township School District in Hershey, PA, before retiring after a 35-year career in public education. She is now an instructional designer for Edjacent and virtual coach for Sibme.

As November ushers in the season of Thanksgiving, it’s the perfect time for instructional coaches to reflect on the power of gratitude and its profound impact on the school community.

Gratitude is not merely a fleeting sentiment; it’s a transformative force that can shape the culture of your school or district. Instructional coaches can creatively support staff morale, help build a positive school culture, and show genuine appreciation for teachers’ hard work and dedication. By utilizing a combination of strategies that make sense in your building, coaches can contribute to a supportive and thriving school community where teachers feel valued, motivated, and empowered to excel in their roles. In this article, we’ll delve into the what, why, and how of making gratitude and thanksgiving a norm in your educational setting.

The What: Building a Culture of Gratitude

Making gratitude and thanksgiving a norm is about creating an environment where expressions of appreciation and recognition are not occasional gestures but integral parts of the school’s identity. It’s about embedding gratitude, recognition, and appreciation into fundamental and routine aspects of the school’s culture.

Gratitude is not just a sporadic or superficial gesture; it becomes deeply embedded within the school’s daily life. Gratitude as a norm means that acts of thanksgiving go beyond occasional events like Teacher Appreciation Week or holiday celebrations. While these events are important, a culture of gratitude extends far beyond them, permeating everyday interactions and relationships within the school.

The Why: Understanding the Significance

Making gratitude and thanksgiving a norm in schools is essential for creating a positive, supportive and effective educational environment. Instructional coaches should care about and devote time to fostering this culture because they play a crucial role in shaping the school culture, supporting teachers, and ultimately improving student outcomes.

7 reasons why it matters

  1. Positive work environment. Fostering gratitude creates a positive and supportive work environment. Teachers who feel appreciated and supported are more receptive to coaching and professional development. A culture of gratitude can create an environment where teachers are more open to growth and improvement. When teachers and staff feel appreciated and valued, they are more likely to stay in the profession, benefiting the school and students.

  2. Improved staff morale. A culture of gratitude can significantly boost staff morale. Educators who feel recognized and acknowledged for their efforts are more likely to be happy, committed to their jobs, and willing to go the extra mile to support students.

  3. Teacher support. Instructional coaches work closely with teachers, providing support and professional development. Cultivating gratitude helps create a supportive and trusting relationship between coaches and teachers, which can enhance the coaching process.

  4. Better student outcomes. When teachers are happier and more motivated, it often leads to improved teaching practices and, subsequently, better student outcomes. A positive school culture can positively impact student achievement.

  5. Enhanced collaboration. Gratitude promotes collaboration and teamwork among educators. When people feel valued, they are more likely to collaborate, share ideas, and work together effectively to achieve common goals.

  6. Reduced burnout. Expressing and receiving gratitude can reduce teacher burnout and stress. Feeling appreciated helps educators cope with the challenges of their profession and maintain their well-being.

  7. Role modeling. Instructional coaches often serve as role models and leaders in their own right. By promoting gratitude, they set an example for others, including building leaders.

Photo of Treat Trolley by Donna Spangler

The How: Ideas for Instructional Coaches

Creating a culture of gratitude requires intentional effort and commitment. Let’s explore how instructional coaches can promote and cultivate it within their schools or districts.

  1. Personalized thank-you notes, emails, and conversations. Instructional coaches can set the tone by modeling gratitude. Express appreciation for teachers’ hard work and dedication in your interactions and communications. Craft personalized thank-you notes to teachers and staff members to show sincere appreciation for individual contributions, highlighting specific actions or qualities that make the recipient valuable to the team.

  2. Teacher shoutouts. Encourage peer-to-peer appreciation where teachers acknowledge others’ accomplishments and successes and thank their colleagues. Instructional coaches can provide options for teachers to privately recognize others by providing items like high-five certificates or more publicly through buildingwide staff newsletters, or through publishing articles when teachers don’t have time to do that themselves. Privately or publicly recognizing teachers’ efforts boosts morale and reinforces a sense of value.

  3. Teacher appreciation events. Organize special events, breakfasts, or luncheons — not just during the official week — to show appreciation for teachers’ contributions. Teacher appreciation events randomly dispersed throughout the school year celebrate staff and boost their sense of belonging. You can even invite teachers to participate. I worked with a talented instructional coach, Christen Manari, and some ideas we included were a Teacher Treat Trolley on Friday the 13th; Sippin’ on PD With a Grateful Heart, where teachers enjoyed a hot beverage, wrote a card to another staff member, and took some inspirational stickers in the winter; and PD in a Pumpkin with access to some micro-PD in the fall.

  4. Peer recognition programs. Implement a peer recognition program where teachers can acknowledge and nominate their colleagues for outstanding contributions. Peer recognition reinforces positive relationships and strengthens the sense of community. We did ours at monthly faculty meetings where the recipients who were recognized the previous month awarded the honor during the current month. As the instructional coach, I created the three awards. We had the Running With the Bulls Award, the Houdini Award, and the Kool & the Gang Award.

  5. Staff game and contests. Incorporating staff games involves introducing enjoyable and interactive activities that encourage camaraderie, boost morale, and foster gratitude and appreciation among the school staff. Staff games promote team-building by creating opportunities for colleagues to work together in a relaxed and fun environment, offering a break from routine work. They can help alleviate stress, improve staff interactions, and strengthen relationships, leading to a more positive atmosphere. Christen and I created two games as instructional coaches for our staff: a staff Survivor competition and a staff Cluevivor competition the following year. We even started our Cluevivor competition with a movie trailer in which the staff would be searching for one of their former colleagues, Dave, who went to work at a nearby school district a few months before.

  6. Random acts of kindness. Encourage random acts of kindness among staff members, such as leaving surprise treats in colleagues’ mailboxes. Random acts of kindness create a culture of support and camaraderie. ”You’ve Been Sacked” was our choice as part of the staff Cluevivor competition that Christen and I created, but there are lots of ideas out there like “You’ve Been Booed,” “You’ve Been Mugged,” and “You’ve Been Elfed.”

  7. Allowing staff to solve their own problems. While this idea may seem out of place at first glance, it actually isn’t. Allowing teachers to collaborate to solve their problems is a way of demonstrating gratitude and thanksgiving because it values their expertise, contributions, and well-being. It is implicitly saying, “I value your knowledge and expertise.” It fosters a culture of trust, empowerment, and continuous improvement, which benefits the teachers and the entire school community. One way I have done this is explained in The Learning Professional article ”The Solution Is in the Room,” and another protocol is shared in an Edutopia article, ”Solution Summits Harness Teacher Knowledge and Expertise."

Working Together with the Principal/Administration

Promoting a culture of gratitude and thanksgiving in a school building is most effective when building principals/administration and instructional coaches collaborate. Together, they can set a powerful example for the entire educational community by sending a unified message about the importance of gratitude, reinforcing the commitment to fostering a positive school culture. Building leaders can participate in joint planning, provide resources and support for instructional coaches, and establish and oversee recognition programs that celebrate acts of gratitude within the school community, emphasizing the school’s commitment to appreciation.

If Building Leadership Isn’t Supportive …

When the building principal or administration isn’t supportive of creating a culture of gratitude, instructional coaches can still make a difference by demonstrating gratitude’s positive impact through their actions and interactions. While it may take longer to establish a culture of appreciation without full administrative support, consistent efforts can gradually shift attitudes and behaviors. Instructional coaches can:

  • Model gratitude to teachers and staff

  • Show appreciation in personal interactions, emails and notes.

  • Encourage peer-to-peer appreciation to foster a sense of community.

  • Introduce simple rituals into your interactions with teachers and during coaching sessions.

  • Recognize and celebrate instances of gratitude within the school community, even if it’s on a smaller scale.

You Can Cultivate a Culture of Appreciation

Remember, the power to cultivate a culture of gratitude and thanksgiving lies within your daily actions and interactions as an instructional coach. Whether you have the support of administrators or not, your commitment to appreciating others and fostering positivity can light the way for your entire school community. Every thank-you matters, and every act of gratitude creates a ripple of positivity that can transform your school’s culture. Do what you can, where you can, to make a difference in your building and your district. # GratitudeMatters # CultivatingThanksgivingAsACoach


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