Online Professional Learning and
Technical Assistance for
21st Century Community Learning Centers

Showing Appreciation for Program Staff

Y4Y recently caught up with one of our favorite advisors, Johanna Friedel, program director for the Afterschool Centers on Education (ACE) at the Greenville Independent School District (ISD) in Texas. We asked Ms. Friedel to share some best practices surrounding staff appreciation.

Y4Y: Thank you so much for agreeing to share your best practices around staff appreciation. It’s great to know that a healthy dose of validation inspires your 21st CCLC educators to reach for the sky! Can you please give us some juicy details on the kinds of programs you have instituted to show staff they are appreciated?

JF: There are so many dimensions to showing staff appreciation. Here are some avenues I like to take advantage of:

  • Training is first and foremost. Professional training for afterschool personnel is critical for creating a professional environment and for showing respect and appreciation for the afterschool professional.
    • Paying individuals for training, listening to their feedback on needed training, and allocating time for training is a demonstration of respect for the job afterschool professionals do.
    • Showcasing individual and team accomplishments at trainings creates pride and builds leadership capacity.
    • Asking staff to present something from their “wheelhouse” to their colleagues is one of the best ways to show appreciation.
    • Fun, inexpensive giveaways at trainings are a hit. I ask the district to donate stickers, T-shirts and pens, for example. I also collect items I receive from the state and other conferences I attend, such as bags, water bottles and little note pads. I personally purchase small gift cards, bottles of soda, chocolates and assorted little treats like that. We give these away during trainings to add excitement and appreciation to the meeting.
  • Awards, whether physical, verbal or virtual, always build excitement and bring smiles. For example, awards for outstanding presentations, such as certificates and trophies for Best Parent Information Table, Sophisticated Pumpkin Entry, and Winter Wondering entries are just a few that we’ve offered.
  • Showcasing afterschool individuals at board meetings, on websites and for district appreciation like Hero of Hope is a concerted effort we make. This demonstrates to district and community members the validity of the afterschool worker as a professional in a critical role in education.
  • We are regularly creating leaders by growing leadership capacity. We do this by engaging our staff to take the lead on various initiatives such as Facebook, Read Naturally, NASA, and our social-emotional program. Let go of some of your own control as a leader to allow others to build those critical leadership skills to build their own resumes, their morale, and their confidence.
  • Giving recognition to our staff on our Facebook page means our ACE community can rally and celebrate our staff in a more global setting.


Y4Y: How and why is it important to distinguish 21st CCLC staff appreciation from traditional “teacher appreciation”? 

JF: It is important to discuss and demonstrate how ACE aligns and supports core daily instruction and then takes it to heights that the time constraint and resources of the school day cannot always afford. Our district relies on our afterschool program not only to “fill in the gaps” that are created by standardized testing and state standards, but to take our student community to infinity and beyond by providing teachers and students opportunities to let their curiosity and imagination run wild with projects in 3-D printing, sewing, maker space, yoga, Raspberry Pi, augmented reality and with partners such as NASA, Kind Nutrition Bars, the Franklin Institute and Facebook, to name a few. We do this by hosting several Showcases a year and by presenting at board meetings where campuses and the district are able to view and experience all things afterschool. It is gratifying to all of us when we see their responses of awe and appreciation of the hardworking afterschool team. Giving our staff these unique opportunities is the ultimate show of appreciation, as it allows them to grow professionally, increase their skills, and add important skill sets and trainings to their resumes.


Y4Y: You probably don’t use formal rubrics to “collect data” on the outcomes of these initiatives, so instead can you share a few anecdotes about outcomes that you have seen?

JF: I’m very proud to!

  • Over 60% of Greenville ISD ACE employees worked for the ACE program last year, either part time in afterschool or as full-time employees.
  • The majority of Greenville ISD ACE employees stay with the afterschool program until they move on to full-time positions in educational settings. Our employees come largely from Paris Junior College, which is a located in Greenville, Texas, or Texas A&M Commerce, located in Commerce, Texas.
  • Our district and other districts routinely “cherry pick” our ACE staff to place them in higher paying full-time positions. That’s just one reason beginning educators strive to join our ACE afterschool team.


Y4Y: Y4Y has debuted a new course, Creating a Positive Learning Environment, which closely addresses program culture and climate. What key elements in this arena, specifically for staff, would you say are the MOST important place for programs to start?

JF: You hired them. You decided that they would be the best fit for that position. Now confidently go forward and expect great things. Grow them, empower them and enable them to reach their full potential. Expect great things and great things will happen. Look for the things that are amazing in your people and your organization, and grow those first. Because of your position in the organization, you can see the possibilities for them clearer than they can themselves. Help them to see those developed versions of themselves. If you doubt them, don’t let it show. You gathered great seeds. Now water them, fertilize them and ensure no one tramples them. You are the cheerleader. Be positive and confident in the success of your people and organization. 


Y4Y: For program directors who have struggled to fit staff appreciation in and perhaps face challenges around morale, do you have any words of wisdom in the spirit of a “quick fix” while they build up those staff appreciation muscles?

JF: There are many small gestures that can go a long way:

  • Smile often when doing classroom observations. Be transparent and positive about the great things you see in their classroom learning environments.
  • State specifically the amazing things you are seeing staff doing with children. Say it around groups of people. Say it around influential people.
  • Model these practices to site managers or coordinators. Make sure they walk with you so they will continue the practice when they do their own walkthroughs.
  • Share formal observations with staff, and stress all the amazing things you are seeing. If you see areas of concern, let them offer those first. They probably know already better than you the areas they wish to improve in. Allowing them to start the conversation ensures they will own that professional growth opportunity.
  • Always introduce your staff to persons at higher levels than yourself. Know and share their individual strengths and accomplishments. It will demonstrate to the staff person that you are keenly interested in their professional development and are confident that their accomplishments are of the caliber that will be of interest to the “movers and the shakers” of your district or community. Nothing says “I appreciate you” more than making another person the focus of positive feedback when you could take the limelight for yourself.
  • WRITE – not email, not text – personal notes of appreciation. Tape a Hershey’s Kiss to it.
  • Engage in fun rituals and traditions with your staff. We have an annual “Reindeer Games” event where we all bring appetizers and play board games. We also share a team Thanksgiving and Christmas breakfast. Beginning-of-the-year trainings include fun outings away from our campuses that align to goals we have put in place for the year.
  • Trust your staff. Know that if you give them a few extra minutes when their child is sick or their spouse needs support, you will get it back tenfold when you need it.
  • Do not micromanage.
  • Be their greatest defender, cheerleader and advocate. I let staff know that as long as they follow our rules, or try their best humanly possible, I will always have their back. I have the reputation of defending and fighting hard for my folks, and that is not lost on any of them. They know I HAVE and WILL put my own job on the line to defend them as long as they are doing what is right for our kids. That being said, I only intervene when invited by my site coordinators.
  • When staff members bring a problem to me, I ask them what outcome they want. I listen to them and support them as they work through the problem. I discourage campus administration from ignoring them and coming straight to me for resolution. In this way, they are the ones in control and in charge. That is VERY important to my site coordinators. They, in turn, pass down the same respect for the position to their frontline staff.

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