Are you Speaking Your Teachers’ Appreciation Language?

We all express and feel differently, and understanding those differences can seriously help your relationship to your staff.

appreciation language

How big of a difference does it make when you make time to say “I value you as a teacher” or “I appreciate your contribution”? It matters. But what you say is not as important as how you show it.

In their book, The Five Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace, Gary Chapman and Paul White warn us that while we might assume our team members know we’re appreciating them, we may be wrong. Every one of us has an appreciation language that we value more than others when receiving a message of encouragement.

School leaders who consider the preferred appreciation language of their staff members will have a more positive school culture. Here are the five appreciation languages and how to use them with your teachers.

Words of affirmation

A person who uses this appreciation language uses words to communicate a positive message to another person. These people value words and like to hear they are doing a good job.

How to appreciate these teachers: 

  • Take time to acknowledge a teacher by name in a staff meeting for something specific
  • Put a handwritten note in a teacher’s mailbox
  • Give credit where credit is due

What to avoid:

It can be unproductive to overgeneralize this language. Generic praise like “good job everyone” is viewed as impersonal and does not have the same impact as individual recognition. Additionally, teachers with words of affirmation as their preferred language will interpret lack of praise as lack of appreciation.

Tangible gifts

A person who uses this appreciation language values the giving of physical items. These people value the time and thoughtfulness it takes to pick out a personal gift.

How to appreciate these teachers: 

  • Choose a trinket that reflects an interest or hobby of this teacher
  • Gift a school supply or tool that a teacher mentions or you notice might be needed
  • Deliver favorite foods or drinks to these teachers

What to avoid:

Food gifts are a common way leaders show appreciation. A word of caution—the teachers in your building whose love language is NOT tangible gifts often see this gesture as a waste of money, not as a token of appreciation.

Quality time

A person who uses this appreciation language values your full and focused attention. These people like one-on-one time.

How to appreciate these teachers: 

  • Stop by and check in with them regularly
  • Arrange for social events where you can chat with them undistracted
  • Initiate conversation to show interest in their lives

What to avoid:

If you are going to honor teachers in this language, be sure you are completely present when you are with them. Multi-tasking or allowing interruptions makes this group feel unimportant. It’s better to give 60 seconds of full attention than 10 minutes of a conversation filled with distractions.

Acts of service

A person who uses this appreciation language feels providing assistance to others is an act of respect. These people feel valued when someone makes an effort to take something off their plates or having something done for them.

How to appreciate these teachers: 

  • Create a schedule that honors a request for early planning time
  • Help teachers catch up on time-consuming tasks
  • Ask “How can I help?”

What to avoid:

Remember it’s not just the offer to help, it is the actual service. One sure way to lose points with these teachers is to make and break promises, leaving them to complete tasks they were counting on you to do. It also doesn’t help if it is not done right or well, so do your best to do jobs the way the teacher wants them done.

Physical touch

A person who uses this appreciation language values human-to-human contact. These people value closeness and are often labeled as labeled  as “huggers.”

How to appreciate these teachers: 

  • Create “secret” handshakes with them
  • Fist pump and high fives them when something is exciting or great
  • Give them brief hugs (especially in emotional moments)

What to avoid:

In the workplace, it’s important to keep physical touch at an appropriate level. If this tends to be your primary language, keep in mind that other people might prefer that you honor their personal space. Before getting too close, make sure you ask permission.

While we all give and receive appreciation within all of the five languages from time to time, each of us have one or two methods we value more than others. When leaders match the preferred method with their delivery of appreciation, the message is received loud and clear, creating a more positive school climate.

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Connie Hamilton

Posted by Connie Hamilton

Connie Hamilton Ed.S. is a K-12 curriculum director, former elementary and middle school principal, author of Hacking Homework, and educational consultant. She is passionate about school systems and quality instructional strategies. She lives near Grand Rapids, MI with her husband and three children.