Intentional Acts of Praise

As a second year principal, I’ve realized that leading a classroom and leading a building have many similarities.

  • Relationships are vital to the culture.
  • Praise must be specific, intentional, and acknowledging effort and correct responses.
  • Routines ensure calmness.
  • Clear, consistent two-way communication demonstrates that you value others input.

Being a relatively new leader in a building of 540 students and 70 staff members, these four have guided my leadership style. However, these take time to create and establish…and I’m not always known for my patience.

Reflecting over the summer, I realized that I needed to do better with specific and intentional praise. I wanted to acknowledge staff in a way that they could be proud of themselves and yet, at the same time, know how much I value their work. While I love leaving handwritten notes, they get discarded soon after. I wanted something that staff could display as a reminder on a rough day.

  1. Create a canvas – Before the first day of school, each teacher decorated a small cork square with things that described them. Some teachers chose fun paper, others included pictures, and some just drew designs with markers.
  2. Display proudly – Each of our classrooms has a display case outside the door. Staff proudly displayed their cork board creations in their display cases.
  3. Decide what to praise – I strategically chose certain things to praise this year. My list included: leading a book study, serving on leadership team, achieving/meeting goals, going above and beyond, and having a positive attitude.
  4. Purchase the pins – I purchased pins from and Positive I had to be creative on some choices. For example, for leading a book study staff receive a lightbulb shaped pin that has wheel cogs on the inside. When staff earn this pin I add a note that says “Thanks for keeping our wheels turning!”
  5. Praise! – I give out at least 4 pins a week. I strategically look for staff who should earn a pin, and then recognize them in my weekly emailing with specifically what they did. I then write them a handwritten note and stick the pin in their mailbox.
  6. Create a monitoring system – My goal is that every staff member gets multiple pins throughout the year. I created a simple table to track who is earning which pins in each month.

Step six was the critical last step for me. This is where I again draw a relationship to leading a classroom. Did you ever have someone come in and track which students you never praise or call on? Crushing, right? The same is true for staff. Imagine how a staff member would feel if everyone around them gets recognized, and they don’t? As a leader, it is my responsibility to ensure that every staff member feels valued – because they are!

After three weeks of giving out pins, something started happening to the culture. I had other staff members emailing me or stopping by to share things their colleagues were doing and asking if I would give them a pin. Now, we are all looking for the amazing ways our colleagues are going above and beyond.

While this is new still, I’m excited to see where it takes the culture of the building. For now, it’s a game changer!

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