Do More with Teacher Appreciation

BY MAGGIE SLYE, Managing Director of Thought Leadership

Do a quick Google search for “Teacher Appreciation Week” and you will uncover dozens of pages broadcasting special deals for teachers, gift ideas for parents, and recognition events.  Now in the 35th year, this annual reminder that teachers are valued brings rare national focus to education as a top tier issue for five short days. We can never show too much gratitude for the 3,700,000 teachers who have devoted their lives to igniting the fullest potential in all of our students. And as a teacher and school leader for over 15 years who now supports teachers’ growth across the country, I can’t help but think we are missing the point. Teacher Appreciation cards, gifts, and events certainly communicate care, and there is much more we can do to show teachers how much we value their service.  

Let’s add these essentials to a national “Teacher Appreciation Gift Guide”:

High-quality instructional materials:  What teachers teach matters just as much as how they teach it.  The truth is the quality of teaching materials varies widely, and most curricula in schools today do not meet the highest of standards despite the growing availability of low- or no-cost options.  This means too many teachers resort to spending about 7 hours per week searching for materials online or creating them from scratch. Planning time should allow teachers to focus their energy on bringing strong materials to life, not figuring out what to use.  When school systems prioritize adoption of high-quality curriculum, they increase the likelihood that every student will have access to the content they need to learn and thrive.

Meaningful professional development: School districts spend nearly $18,000 per teacher, per year on teacher professional development.  Where that investment fails is it rarely connects to what teachers are actually teaching, missing the mark on  the student growth teachers want to spark. Instead, schools should support every teacher with consistent professional learning opportunities that facilitate building deep content knowledge and cultivating instructional practices their students need. Better yet, when teams of teacher engage in learning together, it fosters collective ownership of student outcomes across classrooms, allows teachers to pinpoint challenges that might be common to multiple groups of students, and land on timely, evidence-based solutions to implement rather than struggling alone.  This process, used in tandem with high-quality materials, equips teachers to drive a coherent vision for instructional excellence that accounts for the needs and strengths of all learners.

Think of schools as places where students and teachers learn: Schools were generally not designed with teacher learning in mind, and it might not be obvious why that matters.  Teachers experience frequent change as standards and expectations for student learning evolve to meet the demands of a rapidly changing global economy. Whereas other sectors, including medicine and engineering, take these anticipated evolutions into consideration through credentialing and training that responds to new research, teacher roles and working conditions have not been designed with continuous learning embedded. Shifting this reality requires creating sacred time for learning-focused collaboration, limiting school priorities, and distributing leadership capacity for timely feedback and coaching.

As educators, community members, students, and parents, we can build a system that supports students and teachers. This Teacher Appreciation Week, let’s commit our collective creativity, capability, and resources to do even more to honor our nation’s teachers.

Maggie Slye is the Managing Director of Thought Leadership at Leading Educators. Previously, she led Leading Educators' partnership with DC Public Schools to launch and scale LEAP, a job-embedded, curriculum-specific professional learning system. In her 20 year career, Maggie has served as an assistant principal, central office director, literacy coach, and teacher. She is active in conversations on Twitter about the future of teaching, curriculum, and learning standards at @MaggieSlye.