My super-power is building community. I help people feel seen and heard. Yes, your people want autonomy and to work on creative projects. They also want to feel connected. They want to know they are a part of something bigger. Culture matters. My friend Jaime says “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”  Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so that must make culture really important. One challenge many leaders face is the fact that they are do-ers. They get stuff done. It’s natural to go back to strategy and then tactics time and again.  That’s because those ideas are safe. Leaders also feel like they’re in control when it comes to how the organization behaves. Before any organization is ready to the necessary work to become great, it must have a world-class culture. It can be messy. It’s emotional labor. Culture is about emotional intelligence. These so called “soft skills” will lead to high performance. Seth Godin says, “You get the culture you deserve.” That’s a tough truth for most leaders. If there is something off in your culture, then that lands at your feet 100% of the time. A great way to improve your culture is to show your appreciation. This post will show you how.  

Celebrate Milestones 

There are obvious milestones to celebrate like birthdays and anniversaries. Many districts celebrate years of service. When we read The Power of Moments in the mastermind, I realized just how many creative opportunities there are to appreciate staff.  What if we celebrated when an educator taught her 1000th student?  Why not celebrate the 27th day of school? We give incredible focus to the first day of school, pick some random days throughout the calendar and make those days special too.  

Self-Care Plans

My friend Karine is a wonderful school leader. One thing that I admire about her is that she creates a self-care plan with everyone on her staff.  Stress and burnout is a growing challenge for educational leaders and classroom teachers. Karine’s influence, respect, and trust is amplified because she makes it intentional to plan how her people will take care of themselves throughout the school year. I often tell leaders I coach, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.”  Take a page from Karine’s leadership and do self-care plans for your staff. And don’t forget to do one for yourself! If you could use help crafting one for yourself or your community, feel free to schedule a 1:1 coaching call with me.   

Use Video 

Video is engaging. I’m sure you’re using it to tell your school’s story to your stakeholders. Use video to express how much someone means to you and your team. Be specific about what you admire, what you notice, what makes that person special Keep it short. 30 seconds to one minute will do for this kind of video. Shoot it on your smartphone and send via email. Don’t over think it. Record it once and send. You’re not acting for a golden globe. You just want to honor your people. Here are two tools that will really help: Loom Bonjoro  
One other consideration for video: ask students to help. Asking students to tell a teacher how much they mean to them and why is a powerful video you can craft for a faculty member.    

Use Voxer

Like video, Voxer is a powerful tool to show staff appreciation. The Voxer app is mainly a walkie-talkie app and leverages the power of voice. You can express your enthusiasm and appreciation perfectly through this app. And staff members don’t even need the app to hear your message. Just record it in the “my notes” section, click copy, and paste the message link in an email. The recipient can hear your message straight from their mail client.  This is a great way to express initial ideas after a classroom observation or a simple way to share “I’m thinking about you and I hope you’re having a great day.” If you’re interested in other ways modern school leaders use Voxer, I wrote an article on that subject here.  

Directors of WOW

My friend Suzanne Mitchell started this program as a first-year principal. The idea was to form a team focused on building culture. The name of the group was important because it inspired the vision for what they were to accomplish. At the end of each month, could the group inspire the staff to say, “Wow, how cool is this?” through one of their activities. Suzanne told me that they rarely repeated the same type of creative ideas and if they did they mixed up the time of year to execute the idea. This kept the staff surprised each time. A few WOW-inspired ideas:
  • Snow Cone Truck hiding behind the buses on the first Friday of the school year. When the buses pull off the lot we turn on the music and start serving the treats.
  • Holiday Magic Week- different dress-up days for the faculty. Imagine the kids’ faces when the whole school is celebrating “Elf Yourself” or “Whoville Day” themes.
  • Red carpet leading the way to the auditorium. Serve popcorn and candy. Put the faulty’s name in stars and enjoy a movie together.
  • Photo booths are a must anytime the school has a dress-up day.

Handwritten Notes

In today’s world dominated by tech, a handwritten note is becoming a lost art. You can really set yourself apart from other leaders and show appreciation by taking the time to write a meaningful handwritten note.


Like handwritten notes, snail mail and postcards are a great way to surprise and delight people you serve. Every time I go traveling somewhere fun I come home with at least 50 postcards to send out to the important people in my life.   Respect their time  We waste tons of time in school. I think this is a result of not knowing a better way. Here’s a challenge I learned from Cameron Herold. Whenever you are planning a meeting schedule it for half the time you think it will take (e.g. a 60 minute meeting is scheduled for 30 minutes). It’s amazing how much you get done when you add a time constraint and get right to business. Cameron also notes to end each meeting five minutes early. This respects your people’s time. The worst thing to do is run over. Teachers have classes to get to and it is disrespectful to allow a meeting to drag on and force teachers to run to class without a break. They’ll be better teachers if they can decompress for a few minutes, hit the restroom, or grab a snack, water, or coffee.  You can also respect your staff’s time by covering a class or a duty. I used to cut faculty meetings short during PD days so teachers could go home early. There isn’t a lot of flexibility for school leaders to give back some time, but on PD days you can become a hero by giving some freedom to your people. 

Favorite Snacks

When my staff filled out their emergency forms at the beginning of each year I would always ask what their favorite snack was. Then I would use that data to surprise my team throughout the year with the exact treat they would want. I love giving gifts and surprising people this way.

Name That Tune

On that same beginning-of-the-year emergency form, I’d also ask what their favorite song was and who performs it. When faculty came to meetings I would shuffle a Spotify playlist that included everyone’s favorite songs.  We also would sometimes guess which person picked the song and I would give a small prize to those who correctly identified the song and the person who chose it.

Make a Dream Come True

I wrote about how school leaders could use bucket lists to make their people’s dreams come true in the chapter I contributed to Education Write Now: Volume II. You’ll have to get the book for the full explanation, but here is the gist:
  • Do a bucket list with your staff
  • Share your bucket list
  • Learn some new things about the people you work with every day
  • Make some dreams come true
Of course, you won’t be able to send someone on a hiking trip to Mt. Kilimanjaro, but you’d be surprised by what people want to accomplish before they die. Some of these items are in your control. When I did this with the mastermind, I was surprised to see how many people wanted to be a guest on a podcast. That was easy for me to make a reality.  Another leader, Jess, wanted to mentor a novice principal. So I sent an email to the 3000+ subscribers that are a part of the BLBS Ruckus Maker Tribe. After a short application process, Jess started to mentor Paya.  One thing I didn’t anticipate is how satisfied I felt helping others accomplish their dreams.  

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School Swag

This is a no brainer. Create some amazing tees, socks, sunglasses, whatever and give it away for free. People love to rep their school with cool gear.

Do Something Fun Together

This could be from volunteering to bowling to meeting at a bar for a few drinks. Do something fun together outside of school and after hours. These type of interactions build strong social ties which leads to a much greater culture. Here are 10 ideas of something fun you can do together:
  1. Volunteer
  2. Roller skate
  3. Bowling
  4. Kickball
  5. Card / Board games
  6. Paper-rock-scissors tournament
  7. Karaoke
  8. Go out for dinner
  9. Tailgate for a football game
  10. Hike through nature

Flowers & Chocolate

I started a strange habit in grad school. I worked with early childhood educators and would coach them to be better teachers at the University of Illinois. There were a handful of secretaries that coordinated quite a bit of paperwork for the team. I would show my appreciation by randomly bringing them flowers or getting them special chocolates from the local artisan chocolatier. I remember hearing when I was younger to take care of secretaries and your custodians and good things would follow. This has been true at University of Illinois and every local school I led.


Many masseuses will donate some time or give you a really great rate to come in and do 10-minute massages for your staff. What a great way to show how much you appreciate your hard-working staff than by getting them massages.

Potluck or catered meals

Communities love to gather around food. These can be formal, catered events where the teachers are spoiled, but I found that organizing a potluck to be more intimate and special. As a leader, all you have to do is name the time and space — and show off your cooking ability too! 

Looking for more resources? 

The best book I’ve read on culture is called The Culture Code. We read it in the mastermind in the summer of 2019 and it instantly became a mastermind favorite ????? A few other books that you might look at when considering staff appreciation ideas from a different angle: Never Eat Alone — a great book about relationships and using food to connect. The Art of Gatheringhelps you plan events with intention. Done correctly you can host some amazing appreciation events using the ideas found here. The Little Book of Hygge — this is a Danish term and adding a bit more Hygge to your school would be a welcome addition. The author is a Dane and also a happiness researcher. The Happiness Advantage The mastermind loved reading this book. How can we create happier work cultures?   Remember that sharing is caring ❤️If you found this post valuable then please share on social media. If you loved this post, then you’ll love subscribing to my podcasts: The Better Leaders Better Schools Podcast on iTunes and Spotify The School Leadership Series on iTunes and Spotify Connect with me on Twitter and LinkedIn.
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