In our last blog entry, Gail described her school faculty's year-end review of academic work and student progress. Other TLN Forum members offered similar descriptions of strategy meetings at the team, department or whole-school level to examine data and consider improvement plans for next school year. Eventually, though, our conversation turned to a different kind of year-end gathering -- the Celebration.
Dayle told us this story:
We don't have a meeting at the end of the year, but a total celebration! The last half day the teachers get in their cars and go off campus for lunch as soon as the students are dismissed. The destination is always somewhere different and has to do with our theme for the year. The principal taps business partners for the money and it's always a VERY NICE luncheon.
While the teachers begin to eat, the principal begins by reading letters that she has gotten from parents about how individual teachers have touched their children's lives. The teachers have not seen the letters and the principal doesn't identify who the author is until the end. Sometimes they are funny but usually very touching and heartfelt. I usually cry through most of them.
Then the awards start. Awards are always given to new teachers who have managed to make it through their first year, and to those that will be leaving us, and then to unsung heroes -- those people that so quietly go about doing miraculous things. There are always awards to risk takers: last year it was to teachers who embraced videostreaming which was live lessons broadcast to our professional development center. Various groups of teachers are recognized for their humanitarian efforts. And there is always a People's Choice Award that the faculty votes on -- the person they have admired most during the year. In years past, teachers have been honored for things such as changes in their practice, perfect state test scores, high Special Ed scores.
The last award is the Team Award and one of the highlights. "Team" can be any kind of team in the building. In addition to the obvious grade level and subject teams, over the years the office staff has been honored, the Special Education Team, the Intervention Team, and the Resource teachers.
The final highlight is our principal’s announcement of our new theme for the following year. It is introduced with a video that has the principal dressed as all sorts of characters. Two years ago she was a race car driver and last year a fairy godmother who flew through the air and used her wand to make magic. I can't wait to see this year's video and new theme.
Once we have "ooooh-ed" and "aaah-ed," offered standing ovations, and laughed and cried until you think you can't take any more, the afternoon ends with a PowerPoint featuring faculty and kids, and many of the memorable moments through the year. You can't help but remember all the reasons that you have loved teaching -- all the lives that have been changed -- and all the reasons you love what you do.
Teachers really look forward to this culminating event. It provides purpose and closure to the end of the year. I feel very fortunate to have a principal leader who is willing to go that extra mile at the end of an exhausting nine months of school. She writes the entire script which expresses deep admiration and love, and a sense of family and belonging. It just doesn't get any better than that!
Another TLN Forum member asked:
I'm curious. Does everyone end up getting some kind of award? Are there ever sore folks who don't get awards, or is the climate so positive that people generally don't feel slighted? At a faculty party at my school this year, the administrators made sure to give some kind of award to every faculty member. It was a little forced though, and some awards were not very meaningful. The vibe was a little tense. I guess a lot depends on the attitude of the leader.
Everyone does not get an award. If everyone gets something, is it really an award? And that's okay. If you award people who have not done the deal, what message are you sending? On our faculty, we also share the philosophy that at different times in your life, you have different needs and responsibilities. Maybe your mother was sick this year or you're going through a divorce or you had a baby or whatever, so this year you did good just to get through the year. But in those cases, others around you rise to the occasion.
The kids still only have 180 days a year and we need to use every bit of it. But we all know that working 24/7 only burns you out when you are being torn in too many other directions. In years when your colleagues are carrying too much of a load around you, then you are the one that has to step up. I hope that makes sense.
The awards are to honor those people who have stepped up that particular year and usually there is general consensus that those people are the ones who should be honored. You can tell from the spontaneous ovations and tears that there is a general consensus of support for the honorees. I am sure there is sometimes a faculty member who leaves and feels slighted, but in those cases most of their colleagues will be the first to tell them why.
I am in a school with a very strong, positive teaching culture that really puts children first. The culture itself pushes teachers out who are not ready for the work. Teachers feel uncomfortable at my school if they are not doing the deal and usually transfer themselves without the principal doing anything at all. It is a school where there is basically 100% buy-in and teachers have opened their practice to each other. There is trust.
I will say however, that these end-of-the-year celebrations began before we really had that kind of buy-in. Maybe by honoring those who did step up, and being very transparent about it at the Awards Ceremony, that in some way has helped shaped the culture. There is no question about what is honored, admired, respected.
I do know that I have never left that celebration without feeling deeply honored in years that I actually received an award -- and years when I didn't. And I have very rarely heard anything but rave reviews afterwards. For me, I have always left the event and the year with a satisfied feeling of a job well done.
We have an ending schoolwide faculty meeting which has a pep rally feel. This is a time we recognize our retirees and others leaving us. This is often pretty elaborate with PowerPoint shows, skits, etc. Last year, we had several teachers retire who had been on our faculty for many years. They had gotten together and pooled all their faculty/school spirit shirts and held a "sale" with the money donated to our Future Teacher Scholarship.
We award our Future Teacher Scholarships that day, too. For 10 years we have given a scholarship to members of our senior class who plan to be educators. The money comes from donations of faculty members and former faculty and from fund raisers held throughout the year. We always have drawings for great prizes for those who donate. This year one of the prizes is a weekend stay at a nearby Florida beach resort. Another prize is a set of Adirondack chairs. (All the prizes are donated!)
The Future Teacher Scholarship program is one of the best things we do together as a faculty. It really builds camaraderie.
Mary reflected over a long career:
The schools I've worked in have always had some sort of celebratory last faculty meeting. Generally, it binds the staff together and has a really uplifting effect. I think it is very important for ensuring that the faculty feels like "we're all in this together" and goes a long way toward connecting us to each other.
On the subject of awards, they can be good or not so good. The awards from the worst two principals I worked for backfired on both. The sentiment has to be genuine, or it can undo any good feelings at the end of the year. One principal pulled every faculty member up for an appreciation award. It was endless, boring, and meaningless. Nearly everyone threw their certificate of appreciation in the trash immediately after the meeting.
But the worst I saw was a principal whose theme was "Be an 11" (on a scale of 1 to 10. Get it?). At the end of his difficult first year, he actually made the statement: "I was going to give 11 awards for faculty who were elevens all year, but I could only think of 9." This in front of a faculty of 125. Very bad for morale.
My favorite awards were surprise awards that really had more to do with climate than test scores and built a sense of belonging and shared purpose. The school where we did this was early in my career, and members of that faculty still meet for dinner once a month -- some in retirement. Those teachers still feel like family or neighbors from long, long ago.
My favorite award from that school was the one they gave me for "Best Actress -- for faking labor pains to gain the class's attention." It was true that I had doubled over in order to get my chatty afternoon class's attention, but I was surprised and amazed that my principal, and most of the faculty, knew I had done that. Apparently the kids talked it up all over the school. It really made me -- a second year teacher -- feel like somebody had been watching out for me.
Susie noted the "I Stand For" activity, a powerful culminating event that several other TLN members have also helped organize in their schools.
The end-of-year activity I remember the most emerged from a conversation in another online teacher community I’ve been a part of for some years. During the “I Stand For” activity, teachers take turns rising and naming a student for whom they have made a difference in some way. It can be very powerful, and there’s a good article about it at the Education World website with tips about how to use the idea most effectively. And here are some teacher comments.
One teacher said (quoting from EW) that “the ‘I Stand Activity” works because it reminds teachers of why they entered the profession. It helps them to focus on the most important aspect of teaching -- the children themselves." This teacher feels that "the opportunity to point out students who need to be taken under the next teacher's ‘wing’ is also invaluable.”
If you’re a teacher reading this blog entry, use the Comments section to tell us how your faculty ends the school year.
Photo by Ron Richardson -- licensed under Creative Commons