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Staff Leadership and Management


The holiday season is upon us — a time of year when we recognize those in our personal lives we are thankful for. It is also a great time to think about recognizing those in our work life. Things can get so busy during the year that we forget to let those we work with know how much we value their contributions. That is why having a Recognition Plan can be so valuable.

Those that work in our after school programs, and with our most vulnerable youth, really benefit from ongoing support and recognition to feel engaged in the program and get through challenges. The best thinking and research in this area indicates effective recognition should:

• Have both an individual and team component
• Be aligned with organizational goals and values
• Increase employee engagement
• Create a positive work environment
• Reward innovation, attitude and performance
• Improve employee retention

It is important that recognition is meaningful, specific and connected with activities that staff value. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, but it should be personal and tied to the vision of the organization. Here are some practices from my experience to get you thinking about your recognition strategy:

Personal Approaches

Write a personal note to a staff member who has done something great, thoughtful, or supportive. It is so simple but often is the most meaningful. I remind myself to be specific about what I am thankful for and to connect it to our vision of supporting student success.

Create your own personal certificate to give to those who have an achievement, present at a meeting, or reach a certain goal. I got this idea from our Superintendent who gives out her own award, which staff often post on their walls with pride.

Invite an employee to coffee or lunch to celebrate an accomplishment. This provides some one-on-one time to acknowledge the accomplishment and make a personal connection and explore future career steps.

Find out what the staff person enjoys and get a gift that aligns with their interests/strengths. This can run the gamut but it is best when connected to the vision. As an example, I got a personalized coach whistle to thank a staff person who loves sports and organized a sports league in our after school program.

Provide, as a reward, opportunities for staff development to support career aspirations. I have offered a registration to the BOOST conference to staff who attain certain goals.

Honor those exhibiting best practices. This recognizes individual accomplishments and reaffirms specific program strategies and elements you want to see in your program.

Public Honors

Include appreciations at every staff meeting. At our staff meetings, we always conclude with an opportunity for staff to recognize each other.

Honor a Staff Member of the Month, create a “Catch Inspiration” Award to highlight inspirational staff/stories, or create a staff nominated “Wall of Fame” and post on social media. We have done a variety of these types of recognition strategies, usually focusing on our Facebook page, blog and newsletter. It is a great public recognition that the honoree can send to their families and friends.

Honor years of service along with personal milestones. This is an annual celebration at my organization. However you celebrate it, the recognition of time given to the organization is an important and motivating right of passage.

Honor innovation with a special award where the winner can challenge you to do something new. This is a great way to get more deeply involved with staff and it is fun and motivating too.

Team Rewards

Bring a care package to staff teams that have done great work, made it through a challenging time, or reached a milestone. We honor school site teams with care packages and gifts throughout the year in honor of accomplishments, with thanks for a job well done, and to appreciate the strength shown in getting through challenging times.

Organize a party to appreciate staff and provide time for personal connections. We have a committee that focuses on creating social opportunities and other strategies to support a positive workplace. It is great to get the whole organization involved and owning recognition—it encourages a culture of appreciation.

Some Other Ideas

• Have staff fill out a “Recognition Preference Profile” so you know what type of recognition is preferred.
• Keep an inventory of recognition strategies and what works well (or not).

I hope some of these ideas spur your thinking about how to support, recognize, and honor those who do this necessary work. Recognize!

I began my day with half a grapefruit, sourdough toast, and coffee.

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