Better Alternatives to Teacher-of-the-Month Awards

Dear Rick & Rebecca: I’m writing for some feedback on a Teacher-of-the-Month program that I run at my middle school. I want to recognize exemplary service to the school and innovative teaching strategies. So each month, I select one teacher (or staff member) who gets to park in the spot right near the door. He or she also receives a gift certificate to a local coffee shop and a small write up on a bulletin board outside my office.

A number of staff members call the award winners the “Principal’s Pet.” I believe they think I’m selecting “my friends.” I want to recognize all of the great things happening, but I also don’t want to create any resentments. I mean to be helpful, fun, and positive with good intentions. –Signed,To Recognize or Not to Recognize

Dear “To Recognize or Not to Recognize”:

Sometimes, people don’t always see good intentions as that: a way to boost motivation and recognition among staff.  Here are a couple of ideas:

1) Set up a recognition committee where other nominating staff members or your department chairs can analyze each monthly recommendation by including positive comments about their recommended selection and the reasons for the selection.

2) Another  idea is to honor teams of staff members who collectively worked on a positive project or had an amazing outcome to something that was important to your school. This way, teams of people (not just one special person every 30 days) can be recognized. Then the benefits of motivating others can spread to more people who do great things.

3) You might think about placing envelopes or “buckets” in one main location for students to place positive things about the teachers and staff members who lead them every day. There is nothing more special than kudos from students. That will always trump a principal picking one person, each month, for one isolated victory.

You might even want to brainstorm ideas directly with your team. Give a fresh idea a try.

There are many victories happening each and every day. Certainly, we’re not contending that what you are doing is a bad thing; we are simply re-shifting where powerful recognition can come from, offering ideas on multiple forums for recognition, and thinking outside of the notion that the principal is the most knowledgeable person who should recognize who is doing the “best job.”

And never be afraid to tell it like it is. Let your staff know that you didn’t mean to cause any harm by creating a program that might be perceived as a Principal’s Pet Program. Your staff will appreciate your openness and empathy.

We hope you have fun continuing the conversation about the triumphs in your school. We applaud you!

Signed, R&R

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If you would like to share a challenge–or an additional good solution–send an e-mail to drjetter1@gmail.com.  Each week, Rick and Rebecca will choose their favorite question or nugget of advice for possible inclusion in a future column. That school leader will receive a coupon for a FREE book (up to $25), courtesy of Advanced Educational Products (AEP), a national supplier of books for K-12 schools and libraries.

Rick Jetter (@RickJetter; www.rickjetter.com) and Rebecca Coda (@RebeccaCoda; www.digitalnativenetwork.net) offer weekly advice on navigating the waters of school leadership. With more than 34 years of combined teaching and school leadership experience, Rick & Rebecca’s new book, Escaping the School Leader’s Dunk Tank, will be released by Dave Burgess Consulting Inc. in December.