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Employee Recognition

Education Employee Recognition Programs: How To Cultivate Appreciation For Teaching Staff

Rebecca Noori

Late nights spent grading papers, long hours preparing for lessons, and honest discussions with students falling behind—teachers have a challenging job. Recently, they've also had the thankless task of adapting to virtual platforms to provide consistent learning support for students in remote classroom environments.

Educators play a crucial role in developing our youth, but their efforts aren't always appreciated, at least not formally. That's where education employee recognition programs come in, as a wonderful opportunity to show appreciation and gratitude for all the hard work that teachers and supporting faculty members put in daily. This guide digs into what education recognition programs look like, their benefits, and how to get started.

How Would You Recognize An Educator Doing A Great Job?

Spotting an exceptional educator can take some effort. After all, many teachers are locked out of sight in a classroom full of students, away from the public eye. Nevertheless, their busy work behind the scenes is incredibly valuable in supporting students and shaping their development. Here are some types of contributions to look out for:

Student Engagement

Applaud teachers who keep their students engaged and excited about learning. This could include preparing creative lesson plans and interactive activities or using innovative teaching methods that make learning enjoyable.

Student Results Improvement

Acknowledge teachers who have helped their students make significant progress in their academic achievements, whether through improved test scores, better grades, or hitting other performance targets.

Mentoring And Support

Recognize teachers who go the extra mile to mentor and support students, especially those struggling academically or emotionally. Their guidance can have a lasting impact.

Community Involvement

Highlight teachers who actively participate in community outreach or service projects, fostering positive relationships between the school and the local community.

Professional Development

Reward educators who invest in their professional growth by attending workshops, pursuing advanced degrees, or earning additional certifications. Their commitment to lifelong learning sets a positive example.

Inclusivity And Diversity

Educators must connect with and teach students from a variety of backgrounds. Recognize teachers who create learning environments where students of all backgrounds and abilities feel valued and respected.


Acknowledge teachers who collaborate effectively with their colleagues, sharing best practices and working together to improve the school’s overall education experience.

Parent And Guardian Communication

Reward teachers who maintain open and effective communication with parents or guardians, ensuring they remain informed about their child's progress and feel involved in their education.

Extracurricular Involvement

Acknowledge educators who actively participate in extracurricular activities such as clubs, sports, or arts programs, contributing to the holistic development of students.

Nine positive actions schools can recognize staff for.

Why Is Employee Recognition For Educators Important?

Educators in the United States are typically undervalued. There are some misconceptions about the benefits of the profession, such as the ease of the job and the amount of time off teachers get throughout the year.

These misconceptions lead to a career that isn't always as fulfilling as it looks and teachers feeling a lack of support from the public and school administrators.

Positive reinforcement could go a long way to making teaching a more enjoyable job, but let's look at how recognition could make a deeper impact:

1. Preventing Teacher Burnout

Teachers work long hours, often in schools or educational institutions where the ratio of students to teachers is significantly out of whack.

In a DonorsChoose survey of 2,600 teachers, 75% reported that their school is severely or somewhat understaffed. So, there's little wonder teachers are more than twice as likely to feel stress compared to adults working in other professions. Additionally, teachers are 40% more likely to suffer from anxiety than healthcare workers, 20% more likely than office-based workers, and 30% more than those in farming or military occupations. 

This stress and anxiety often lead to burnout, with K-12 teachers experiencing this condition more than any other working category in the US. 

Recognizing teachers for their work may not entirely reverse the risk of stress and burnout. But praise and recognition have positive effects on the brain, with neuroscientists finding that people process verbal affirmations similar to how they receive financial rewards. Recognition platforms can also provide wellbeing perks and rewards to support teachers' mental health.

2. Retaining Teachers

Teachers are leaving the education sector in droves, with the Wall Street Journal reporting that 55% exit the field sooner than planned.

Former teacher turned marketing professional Angela Snyder discusses her move away from the profession, which has been life-changing for her. 

Frequent recognition and associated rewards could support employee retention in the teaching profession by ensuring everyone feels appreciated and receives similar perks to employees from adjacent fields.

3. Attracting New Generations Of Teachers

Hanging on to experienced teachers is only half the battle, as many educational institutions are also experiencing a recruitment crisis. States like Arizona are struggling with one-third of vacant teacher positions unfilled, and it's a similar story in the UK, where only half of the required number of trainee secondary teachers in England are recruited. 

While salary is undoubtedly a factor in attracting new generations of teachers, it's also important to demonstrate excellent role models already thriving in the profession. It's a cycle:

  • Schools recognize and reward current teachers for their contributions
  • Teachers feel optimistic about their role and stay in the profession
  • The presence of outstanding employees inspires more teachers to join the ranks

Executive assistant Goodness Chetachukwu Nduleu notes the consequences when the cycle breaks and the younger generation is no longer attracted to the profession: 

“It's so sad to know that teachers aren't really appreciated as much as they should be. They are underpaid and undervalued. Secondary school students do not want to take on the teaching profession. They would rather be lawyers, bankers, tech guys, but who taught these people? Teachers!”

It's hard to attract new teachers, giving more positive feedback and recognition could help attract a new generation of educators.

4. Acknowledging Teachers Are Spending Their Own Money

In most work environments, employees receive stipends or reimbursements to cover the cost of resources required to fulfill their roles. However, the education sector is chronically underfunded, resulting in teachers dipping into their wallets to cover classroom supplies and support individual students with personal resources.

As a result, one-quarter of teachers work 10+ hours per week at a second job to support their teacher salary, and 8% work 20+ hours a week in another role. According to the Donors Choose survey, teachers have heavy resource needs. From basic school supplies to technology, teachers need various items for a better classroom.

Teachers need resources to do their jobs properly. A whopping 58% of teachers say they need basic school supplies to support their classrooms.

The average teacher spends $687 per year, but this increases in two categories:

  • Teachers of color who spend $714 per year
  • Teachers in equity focused schools (comprising 50% of students who identify as Black, Latino, Native American, Pacific Islander, or multiracial, and 50% of students come from low-income households) who spend $718 per year.

36% of teachers spend approximately the same amount on resources pre- and post-pandemic, but 40% admit they're now spending more.

Teachers shouldn't feel pressured to support their students financially. Those who do should be recognized and rewarded for their dedication, which may include receiving monetary rewards such as gift cards or financial bonuses to support educators with their finances.

40% of teachers say they spend more out of pocket post-pandemic.

5. Finding Potential Leaders

Recognition isn't just about retrospectively compensating teachers for excellent performance. It's also about taking a proactive approach to futureproofing your educational institution and setting yourself up for success. Education employee recognition programs serve as a valuable mechanism for identifying educators who consistently embody the core values and principles of the school. By spotlighting their exceptional dedication and contributions, these programs boost morale and nurture a pool of potential future leaders within the educational community. 

High-achieving educators often become influential role models, inspiring others and playing a pivotal role in shaping the institution's future direction and success. Look around: who are your organization's future principals and faculty heads?

Create a culture people won't want to leave with Nectar.

What Types Of Recognition Tools Exist To Honor Educators?

Recognition is a broad term, so let's nail down the different ways that education leaders can acknowledge the efforts of individual teachers, lecturers, administrators, and anyone else involved in supporting students' growth and development.

Shoutouts And High Fives

Highlighting a teacher's efforts can be a simple gesture, such as mentioning their contributions during a staff meeting, including their efforts in a regular newsletter, thanking them at the end of a hard day, or offering a "virtual high five." This type of recognition requires minimal effort but can be incredibly effective at showing appreciation and boosting morale on both individual and team levels. 

The University of Iowa offers a virtual high-five system for staff rewards and recognition outside its regular career development process. Praise-givers fill out a simple "High Five" form, providing details of the person they recognize, and the act they want to appreciate.

Recipients are posted on the university website, including this high-five offered to Susan Dickinson in the Office of Admissions.

University of Iowa high five recognition

Public Recognition 

According to O.C. Tanner's Global Culture Report, 37% of employees want to be praised and recognized for their work in a public setting. For example, leaders might call out the name of a hardworking staff member during a school event or present them with an award or trophy for longstanding service. 

Albuquerque Public Schools takes a highly visible approach to acknowledging its "amazing employees who consistently go above and beyond to make a difference in the lives of students and schools." APS honors employees of the month by displaying their images on electronic digital billboards all over the city and giving them a name on the permanent plaque at the APS Alice and Bruce King City Center.

Regular Educator Awards 

Encouraging employees to go the extra mile and rewarding exceptional performance is a great way to build engagement and loyalty. One way to do this is to hold regular Educator awards, as practiced by the San Diego Unified School District. Its HR team celebrates the contributions of employees in categories such as: 

  • Teacher of the Year to express appreciation and gratitude to educators for their invaluable contributions to the students, community, and district.
  • Classified Employee of the Year to honor the meaningful work classified employees do. 
  • Retirement celebrations as a final “thank you” for educators choosing to retire from the school district. 
  • Employee service year milestones to share appreciation for educators who have reached notable career milestones at 5, 10, 15, 20, 30, and 40 years in the field. 
  • Rookie of the Year to mark new educators positively contributing to the profession.

Celebratory Lunch

Leaders can make time for employee appreciation by spending time with impressive educators one-on-one. A great way to show appreciation is to invite them out for lunch, where leaders can get to know employees more personally.

For example, Albuquerque District Schools recognizes its Employees of the Month by inviting them to lunch with the Superintendent and/or the Chief of Human Resources.

Social Recognition

Social media is a powerful way to recognize educators and amplify their efforts. A simple post highlighting an educator can draw attention from the school's student body, parents, and local community members, as well as a larger network of educational leaders and professionals. As comments, likes, and reposts stack up, the recognized employee is bound to feel a sense of pride and accomplishment. 

For example, Oakland Schools set up a #DistrictStars campaign on Facebook to recognize the extraordinary achievements of individual teachers and support educators. The recognition post featuring Kim Forster, a teacher from Hazel Parks schools, prompted a heartwarming response from a substitute teacher colleague, Betty Lashbrook Nash:

"Wow, Kim deserves all this recognition! I used to substitute teach for her computer classes quite often. She was one of my favorite teachers because she always made me feel so welcome. She used to stay to help me get set up for the day's classes. She always left me a snack. I miss her and subbing for her. I used to look forward to seeing her at our ADK sorority meetings once a month but I think she was so devoted to her students that she dropped out of ADK to spend more time on her lessons and kids. She is the kind of teacher I'd want for my grandkids! So happy she gets this well deserved spotlight."

Oakland Schools District Stars shoutout

8 Ways To Create An Engaging Education Employee Recognition Program

A recognition program will only be effective for your teaching and administrative staff if employees buy into it. Here are some ideas for crafting a successful program that helps educators feel appreciated while simultaneously motivating them to continue their great work:

1. Define Clear Goals And Objectives For Your Educator Recognition Program

Before launching an education employee recognition program, it's important to define your program's goals and objectives clearly. What are you trying to achieve? Are you looking to boost morale or reward exceptional performance? Are you hoping to promote teacher collaboration or drive innovation in the classroom?

Setting SMART goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely can help you ensure that your recognition program is successful.

Example: You might aim to increase staff participation in your recognition program by 25% before the end of the year. Or you could set a goal of recognizing one teacher for their outstanding work every week.

2. Commit To Frequent Recognition

While "Employee of the Year" awards are an enticing accolade, regular recognition ensures educators know their employee achievements are noted and appreciated. Consistent praise keeps motivation high and sets a positive example for other staff members. We know from Nectar's recognition survey that employees who receive weekly recognition are 153% more likely to feel valued at work than those who receive annual encouragement. 

Ideas to ensure frequent recognition include:

  • Setting up an online portal where educators can give each other public or private kudos
  • Creating a “wall of fame” with photos or quotes from outstanding teachers
  • Reminding leaders to check in and praise their direct reports daily or weekly

3. Build An Inclusive Recognition System

If you're creating a formal program, ensure everyone in your establishment can participate. For a positive impact, this means extending your recognition system to:

  • Teachers, administrators, and support staff
  • Part-time educators such as student teachers or volunteers
  • Maintenance staff, including cleaners and grounds staff
  • Medical staff, including student nurses 
  • Special educators such as speech therapists or counselors

Creating an inclusive education employee recognition program means ensuring that teachers and staff members get access to your program.

4. Attach Rewards To Your Recognition Program

Being praised for outstanding work is an honor, but attaching tangible rewards to your recognition program will make it more meaningful.

Think about offering a range of monetary rewards, experiences, products, or other items that educators can use as rewards for performing well in the classroom. For example, Nectar offers five reward categories, including gift cards, charity donations, company swag, Amazon products, and custom rewards as part of our rewards program. 

Nectar Tip: You could also consider having a monthly "Draw Day" where recognized teachers can win additional prizes, such as tickets to a show or dinner at a restaurant.

5. Provide Career Development Opportunities

Praise and recognition are crucial for employee morale. Nectar's research of 800 US employees found that 81.9% agreed that recognition of their contributions improves engagement at work.

But words of encouragement, even as part of a structured program, should never be a substitute for investing in the professional career development of your educators.

Along with offering opportunities for teaching staff to further their careers through certification courses, conference attendance, and special training sessions, it's also important to provide constructive and positive feedback as part of a customized performance growth plan.

Provide structured check-ins between teachers and administrators to discuss performance targets, career ambitions, professional growth and development opportunities, and more. Think of praise and recognition as the icing on top of the cake.

6. Involve Employees In The Recognition Process

Engaging your teaching staff in delivering and receiving recognition builds ownership and buy-in for your program. This is a two-part process that involves:

  • Asking your employees what they want from your recognition program. For example, you might ask their opinion on the choice of rewards they receive or how regularly they want to offer praise to others. 
  • Encouraging employees to give peer recognition, including submitting nominations or recognitions for their colleagues and voting on recipients of awards.

Nectar Tip: Consider setting up committees of staff members to shape the recognition program. These could be a mix of teachers, support staff, and administrators who provide valuable insights into what would make for an effective program.

Peer recognition in the education space is a must. Other faculty and staff see things that administrators may not.

7. Measure Employee Recognition Program Success

Choose relevant metrics to track how successful your recognition program is. These will be related to the SMART goals you set previously. Your metrics could include:

  • Number of employees participating in the program
  • Total number of recognition awards given out in a specific period (monthly, quarterly, or annually) 
  • Drop-off rates of employee participation over time 
  • Increases in staff motivation and engagement metrics 
  • Higher job satisfaction scores from teachers actively involved in the program

These metrics can help you understand how effectively your program motivates teachers. Review them regularly to ensure your recognition program achieves its desired outcomes.

8. Invest In Employee Recognition Software 

There are numerous creative ways to praise and motivate educators in your organization, but one of the easiest ways to standardize recognition is to use a dedicated platform like Nectar. Digitizing your program is a time-saver and ensures that recognition fits seamlessly into your organizational culture without distracting educators from their work.

Here's how to pick a recognition platform that meets your goals:

1. Intuitive Interface

Ensure quick adoption of your recognition platform by selecting a system with an appealing UI and excellent navigation. For example, educators can use the Nectar feed to share shoutouts and points with fellow employees in a way that feels familiar to using social media platforms.


2. Accessibility

Increase involvement in your recognition initiatives by providing access from multiple devices, including desktops, tablets, and mobile phones. Many educational settings provide .edu email addresses for students and faculty members. However, you may also consider choosing a platform that accepts sign-ups from Yahoo, Google, and similar free email providers if you wish to extend your recognition platform to those with non-academic accounts.

3. Auto-Enrolment

Choose a recognition platform that integrates directly with your payroll or HRIS, ensuring that all new joiners will immediately be enrolled in your program with no extra effort on your part. On top of that, anyone who leaves your company will be automatically deactivated once they are removed from your HRIS, saving your HR team time and energy.

4. Reporting 

Select a platform with built-in analytics to track the metrics that matter, such as employee participation or recognition frequency. A quality platform will provide real-time data, giving you an immediate overview of your progress.

Keep your remote team connected and engaged with Nectar.

Recognize And Reward Your Educators With Nectar 

Nectar's comprehensive recognition solution honors your educational institution's hardworking and dedicated members. We offer a variety of features to foster a continuous culture of recognition in your workplace:

  • Recognition: Educators in any role or department can readily exchange praise and shoutouts, celebrating each other's outstanding contributions to the world of education.
  • Awards: Companies can create awards like “Faculty Member Of The Month” or “Educator Of The Year” and give them out through Nectar.
  • Challenges: Educational leaders can set up custom challenges that resonate with their institution's unique mission. These challenges may involve enhancing teaching methodologies, achieving academic milestones, or actively engaging in community service projects. Nectar's challenges features are a blank canvas so you can engage your team in a way that feels most meaningful.
  • Rewards: Employees can use their points to redeem gift cards, swag, or even custom rewards like extra PTO.
  • Discounts: Nectar's built-in discounts tab allows educators to save money at local and national retailers.

Are you ready to harness the power of appreciation within your educational community? Schedule a free Nectar demo today to shape the future of education.

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