One principal’s everyday appreciation

“The feeling of being appreciated by administrators is the number one reason SPED teachers retain their positions.  The feeling of being unappreciated by administrators is the number one reason SPED teachers leave.” – me

This thing about feeling appreciated came from a TED talk about worker productivity.  It wasn’t even about teaching, it just sounded interesting.  I was floored when he showed research on the greatest predictor of employee effort: appreciation.  I sat there with my mouth open, thinking, “OMG.  That’s exactly right.”

For a couple years I worked under an incredible administrator.   She didn’t increase my classroom budget or give me more time for data collection; there weren’t any clever or monetary incentives to get me to do a better job.  She didn’t make sure I had the best materials in the building or even extra time for planning.   There was nothing extrinsic that I was given by her to be more or do more.   The only thing I can truly pinpoint is that she made me feel appreciated.

She once said that she knew that I “have the hardest job in the building.” She even told me on more than one occasion that I was appreciated.  She never dismissed me.  She never forgot me.  She thoughtfully considered my ideas.  She left me feeling like she believed in me.

The most significant moment came when I realized I was willing to do anything for her.  I had never, ever, felt that way about a principal.   This time around, I volunteered for things that I didn’t like.  I worked harder; I participated more.  I could’ve cared less about ‘jeans passes’ or raffles, I just wanted to be of service.

When she left the campus, it took some adjustment to go back to the old ways of relating.   As special education teachers, we are outliers in public education.  My emails went unanswered again.   My thoughts spoken aloud were dismissed.   Like the old days before that “appreciating” principal, I felt…  “politely ignored.”   This time was a little different, though, because I had lost something I hadn’t experienced before.

What is so eye-opening to me is that she did so little to make me want to do so much.   It wasn’t the things she gave me, it was the way she saw me.   Through her eyes, I was worthwhile.  This Teacher Appreciation Week, I challenge every principal to become more like her. Your teachers deserve it.


Ginny Matthew is an intermediate life skills teacher in Gilmer ISD and a member of Texas Aspires’ Educator Board.

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