Give a Little Gratitude 


“Sour Patch Watermelon,” I said to Ainsley as I continued to walk down the hallway to my meeting. Ainsley asked me what my favorite candy was that day in the hallway. I didn’t think much of the interaction between Ainsley and I until a few days later when I walked into my office to start the day. On my desk was a wrapped box with a card attached. As I unwrapped the small box, I noticed a familiar pink and green design. Sour Patch Watermelon! I was totally surprised and excited! The hand written note attached served as a great pairing to the sweet treats. In the note from Ainsley, she explained how she remembered Sour Patch Watermelon being my favorite candy and she welcomed and thanked me for being her new principal this year. I was touched and impressed with her ability to remember something that I personally enjoy.

If people feel well, they will do well.

The way Ainsley made me feel is how staff should feel throughout the year. If people feel well, they will do well. The reality is many Michigan educators are feeling overlooked and unappreciated. Something needs to be done about this and it starts with the school leaders. The Psychology Today article, “The Transformative Power of Gratitude,” notes that expressing gratitude improves psychological, emotional, and physical well-being. Great things are happening in schools each day. We all know proud Michigan educators that make school fun, engaging, and enjoyable for kids. The question is, how often are you celebrating and recognizing the teachers and support staff in your school for all that they are doing? It should be frequent if you are serious about creating a positive school culture. Showing appreciation can come in a variety of ways. Here are a few ideas to celebrate staff members and express gratitude:

  • “Back to school barbecue.” Host this event for staff and their families. Staff rarely get the chance to come together informally with their families so seize the opportunity for fellowship and fun. A local park may serve as an excellent venue.
  • Winter Holiday Meal. Spread some winter holiday cheer by putting on a breakfast or lunch. Staff will appreciate the chance to come together over great food. Promote a staff member by asking them to give opening and closing remarks to the group.
  • Sweet Treats. Donuts or home-baked goods in the lounge area are sweet pieces of gratitude for staff. They taste even better when it is not a specific recognition, but rather just a thank you gesture.
  • Small Gifts. Spontaneously surprise staff with little tokens of appreciation. Be intentional. Perhaps you overheard a teacher talking about the seasonal Diet Coke bottles. If you happen to be at the store, throw a few of these Diet Coke bottles in your cart. The soda along with a quick note is bound to bring out a “Coke and a smile.”
  • Recognition slips. Encourage staff to write quick thank you notes to one another and place them in a central location. Use daily announcements or email to share the positive slips. This activity aligns very well with your school’s PBIS program.
  • Sticky Notes. Sticky notes are my favorite! There is something powerful about a sticky note left on a desk. Be intentional with your messages-looking to highlight something positive and specific you noticed. My first week of school was spent walking around and leaving sticky notes in every classroom. With the emphasis on texting and typing nowadays, taking the time to put ink on a piece of paper is a gift in itself.
  • Roll up your sleeves. Be a helpful hand around the school. Go outside for recess duty. Work in the cafeteria. Support the custodial staff. Sit at the front desk and answer the phone. Take over a classroom while the teacher gets a bathroom break. Show that you are a leader that will work shoulder to shoulder with your teammates.
  • Social Media Shout Out. Use social media to give your staff positive recognition. Use the popular hashtag #proudMIeducator when tweeting something positive in your school.

It is sad that many educators are generally not feeling the love in schools. The demands and challenges are great and at times may feel unmanageable. If you sense your staff may be feeling this way, start by focusing on what you can control-your building. Be genuine and thoughtful with your gestures. Your staff need to know that you understand them and you recognize all that they are contributing to the school. I’m sure you have a student like Ainsley that makes you feel special. Remember that feeling and pay it forward throughout the year.


Mr. Pugh & Ainsley, December, 2016.

#proudMIeducator is a Michigan Department of Education initiative that aims to acknowledge, elevate, and celebrate the work of great educators in the State of Michigan. This is a collaborative venture including any supporters in Michigan who want to celebrate our educators.

Celebrate Proud Michigan Educators – use #proudMIeducator to share your own stories!

Interested in writing a #proudMIeducator blog post or learning more about the campaign? Visit or contact Alaina Dague at