AFFIRMATION AND SUPPORT OF STAFF NAD Principals’ Handbook Excerpt
Adventist educators have a heart for students, a passion for sharing Christ, and a commitment to excellence in learning. However, we must not assume that such dedication to the mission of Adventist education will sustain them. Like employees everywhere passion and productivity renews when leaders provide appropriate affirmation and thoughtful care in word and action. Recognizing the contribution of the whole staff as well as individuals can create a team spirit that fosters a positive learning environment. Affirmation is not only a best practice, but can reduce the expense resulting from frequent personnel changes.
Growing Team Spirit
Written by Steve Baughman | Principal—Indiana Academy
An interview with
Charlotte Green, Principal—Grand Rapids Adventist Academy and
Rosalie Rasmussen, Principal—Wisconsin Academy
Affirming and encouraging team members is a critical step in fostering buy-in to a program while simultaneously helping offset turnover. Two Lake Union Conference principals shared several ideas they use in their programs to build up their team:
Rosalie Rasmussen, principal at Wisconsin Academy (9-12 Boarding School), shared that her go-to methods of affirmation intentionally and publicly recognize staff members who have gone above and beyond, especially in staff meetings. "This helps accomplish a couple of things," she shared, "one, it recognizes the extra effort someone has put in amongst their peers, and two, it can help to motivate others that they can help make things happen, too." In a similar vein, Mrs. Rasmussen finds that whenever possible, if there is a unique interest or passion a staff member has expressed or demonstrated, that is an excellent opportunity to affirm and encourage a team member. When a staff member had expressed personal interest in a concept, Mrs. Rasmussen was able to allocate Professional Development funds to sponsor that staff member to attend a conference in the field. This support ultimately becomes a twofold benefit; the staff member is encouraged by the individual interest and support received from the principal, and ultimately may result in the staff member returning recharged or even ready to start a new program/class on campus. Though Mrs. Rasmussen cautions, "you want to uplift your team without expecting them to then take on more work, this can be a bit of a balancing act, but ultimately staff who feel appreciated are more likely to put extra effort into the school."
Charlotte Green, principal at Grand Rapids Adventist Academy (K-12 Day School), stressed the value of a personal touch "I feed my team, literally." Each month Mrs. Green prepares a homemade lunch that she brings to school for the staff to enjoy. During this time, they celebrate any birthdays that the staff members have had since the last "family meal". "Food is fellowship," explains Mrs. Green, "it doesn't always have to be something fancy—sometimes just soup and bread—but it has grown to become something the staff members look forward to."
Both Mrs. Rasmussen and Mrs. Green stressed the importance of recognizing that affirmation does not always have to be the giving of material things. One of the most affirming things a staff member can receive is the sense of being valued. This value can come in various ways, but both of these experienced administrators stressed the importance of valuing your staff and faculty members' time. "If it can be said in an email, why would I waste my team's time in staff meeting?" asks Mrs. Green. "I like to use staff meetings for time to share amongst each other, to let ourselves get to know each other and not just work through a list of announcements," she adds. Mrs. Rasmussen utilizes a technique she learned about from another administrator called Take Five. "There's times when you just need a break, and that's when my team knows they're allowed to come to me and ask to take five. I know as an administrator that there are times when I just need a break to breathe, and I want to provide those opportunities for my team," explains Wisconsin Academy's principal.
Ultimately, whether it’s token gifts of appreciation, acknowledgment of extra effort, or the more intangible gift of time, acknowledging and affirming your team can result in a renewed sense of program buy-in and a re-energized team, or as Mrs. Green calls them, "champions for the school.
Whether you are a seasoned, veteran administrator or you are still figuring out how to print directly from your laptop, odds are you have recognized just how important the team around you can be to your school's ultimate success. It is crucial as a school administrator to learn how to cultivate and build that team. While it can sometimes feel like a school administrator's only job is being the local "firefighter," an often overlooked and at least equally important role is being the team's cheerleader. This role may not mean bringing pom-poms to the next staff meeting, but it does mean being intentional in acknowledging, encouraging, and affirming your staff.
While each administrator may already have their own bag of affirmation resources, I have personally found that there's tremendous value in implementing just a few simple token gestures of appreciation. While there is never a bad time to acknowledge and affirm someone, there are certain days throughout the year that are specifically set aside for teachers. It would be wise for a school administrator to make a note of them: especially Teacher Appreciation Week (the first full week of May), Administrative Professionals Day (Wednesday of the last full week of April), and even National Nurses Day (May 6), which are all days where an administrator can easily acknowledge and affirm members of the team. Putting a little thought into fun ideas or ways to recognize these critical team members on their "special" day can go a long way to helping make sure they are not forgotten. For those lacking in the creativity department, a simple search on Pinterest will provide plenty of budget-friendly ideas to get someone started.
Beyond an actual gift, the other affirmation practice I have found tremendously helpful has been helping my team members understand each other's perspectives. I experienced this technique firsthand in a principal's training workshop years ago, and I have valued it ever since. A facilitator took the time to process through a personality assessment with the room of participants (in this case, it was a DISC personality test). After answering the assessment questions, we organized into the identified personality types and spent intentional time processing through the strengths, weaknesses, and quirks of our general personality types. I am not usually one for "fluffy" activities, but they opened my eyes to how other personality types might view my own, and vice versa. During my school's pre-session the following year, we spent a half-day working through this activity as a team, and I had multiple staff members express to me their newfound appreciation for their fellow teammates. While it may not be a practice you would use annually, every so often, it may be beneficial to take the time to help your full team better appreciate each other's qualities and affirm what they each bring to the team.
Not unlike the economic aphorism "a rising tide lifts all boats," a sense of feeling appreciated and affirmed can go a long way in producing the type of school environment that quality teachers want to be a part of…and even better, students want to be a part of, as well.