Thanks but no thanks.


I have chatted to three other headteachers recently about a particular issue concerning leadership that irks me: giving thanks.

Now, forgive me for saying, but I think I’m actually quite a nice boss. I’m fair, honest, open, understanding and (for the most part and when I’m not being hilarious) calm. I have only shouted once in my career as a leader and felt like such an idiot afterwards vowed never to again. I don’t publicly or privately humiliate people and I never confront someone out in the open but if a challenging conversation is needed it is done sensitively in the privacy of a closed office.

I also tend to let people have their way. You want to go home early because your partner has booked a long weekend away for your birthday and he didn’t realise you were a teacher and can’t have time off mid-term? Alright. As long as you can get cover for your class sorted go for it, have a nice time. You’re going to find it difficult to get the Term 3 data in on time because it coincided with your cousin’s birthday and it’s been a busy term. Oh, ok, well as long as it’s done before the end of term that should be fine, I don’t mind spending my holiday reviewing it and I’m not reporting it to governors after half term anyway so yeah, don’t worry. Your reports are not going to be in on time? Well, I suppose I haven’t finished writing all of my comments on everyone else’s yet so if I don’t get yours until Monday that shouldn’t really be a problem, I’ll just rush them off in the morning, no worries.

You see? Quite reasonable. I don’t get cross, I don’t look disappointed. I just very quickly and rationally weigh up the pros and cons and think – if I can accommodate this will it be a real problem? Over the years I have granted such ad-hoc requests to pretty much every member of staff so I feel the balance and order across the school is at a constant equilibrium: there isn’t one particular member of staff who is ‘always’ making such requests (otherwise that would warrant one of those chats in a private office).

I don’t know if I am too lenient or more lenient that other headteachers. All I know is that I don’t like confrontation; as long as stuff does get done pretty much on time everything will be alright; as long as staff are independent and responsible for keeping themselves in the loop the school will carry on successfully; and I’m human. We all need a bit of leniency from time to time don’t we? From the mundane requests to work from home because a fridge is being delivered to the exceptional: going way above and beyond the standard number of days for compassionate leave because, well, it was clear they needed it. I see this as being an effective leader for the people and for the school, after all, look after the one and the other will be taken care of too.

There is also another, slightly more ‘senior leader’ aspect to me being the most gracious and wonderful leader in the history of schooling: I’m a banker. No, that isn’t a typo, I am a banker. I store all these requests that I grant, with a smile and a ‘don’t worry’, in my mental bank of back scratchers. For I know there will come a time when I request something that will require them to go the extra mile or will put them out of their comfort zone and I don’t mind doing that if I can back it up with past favours. This isn’t blackmail; I don’t get my little black book out and say ‘On the 14th May you asked if you could not come into celebration assembly because you wanted to book your travel insurance and I agreed; therefore you will stay here tonight until midnight or until all the children have been set up with individual blogging accounts.’ No, it’s more a case of getting everyone to accept that at times we rely on the kindness of others.

So what is it that irks me? Well it came to my attention recently that there is a perception, from some staff, that I don’t appreciate them and never say thanks or well done. I was genuinely surprised by this. I (honestly) think, that as well as being a very ‘human’ and compassionate headteacher, I actually praise staff all the time. I do so in staff meetings, in newsletters, in person and through the act of supplying them with more buffets a year than your typical wedding planners. And yet, there is still this perception that I don’t thank people. Interestingly, all the other headteachers said the same and commented that ‘no staff ever think management thank them enough.’ I find this simultaneously interesting, worrying and if I’m honest, bloody annoying.

What I find interesting is how far from the mark I have obviously been when it comes to how individuals want to be thanked. Clearly, being nice, accommodating, jolly, smiley, never getting publicly cross, creating a pleasant work environment and thanking people when they deserve it and doing all of this consistently for everyone, isn’t enough. Some people want more and this is also what I find worrying because I don’t know if I could ever satisfy their collective thirst for praise. Actually I can quench a collective thirst, it’s all the individual perceptions of how I should thank people that I’ll never be able to manage. It’s easy for them as all they have to worry about is one person: me. They all know what I want and how I work and my expectations. As for me? I’m expected to know and respond to every single employees personal preferences concerning how they want to be treated. My overall consistency isn’t good enough because it doesn’t tick all of everyone’s boxes. This, then adds to my annoyance. Not because I’m ungrateful or I feel undervalued but for the simple reason that it seems like the deck is not stacked in my favour.

No person in the entire school is as scrutinised and judged as me. Everyone will comment on my behaviour, choice of words, mood, facial expression and condemn me the moment any inconsistency arises and yet I am also expected to accept every single one of their inconsistencies and understand the hidden, personal backstory as to why they have acted or spoken the way they have or else risk being branded as ‘insensitive’. This seems not just unfair (and hey, I know I get paid more and it’s my job so I should just quit moaning) but more importantly it seems impossible. There is also, as one of the headtechers pointed out, the very real fact that we do not get thanked regularly by everyone (yes I know, and I refer you to the previous bracket concerning pay and job description and me getting over it) but shouldn’t staff feel some responsibility for the well-being of their headteacher just a little bit? I however, don’t expect thanks for just doing my job, so how much thanks should teachers expect for just doing theirs?

So I intend to spend the summer holidays reflecting on ways that I can show appreciation in the hope that people will value it. In doing so I have some questions to consider:

• How much may I have to change my perception in what to give thanks for?

• Do I care that some people don’t think I thank enough?

• What difference would a little more acknowledgement make – even for things that I don’t personally feel warrant it?

• To what extent should my staff accept my inconsistencies and quirks?

• What will I do if I change and I thank more but in a year’s time get told that I hardly ever say thank you?

13 thoughts on “Thanks but no thanks.

  1. Nicola July 31, 2014 / 4:34 pm

    This resonates really strongly with me; thank you for writing it.

  2. Bernie July 31, 2014 / 7:57 pm

    Just wondering if I’d written that!!! Amen! Totally agree . My last newsletter of the term was mostly thank yous and I still felt the urge to do more. I take biscuits and treats in when I feel energy is dipping. There are times when I think those kind of things become expectations and they’re not really appreciated for what they are! Rant over.

  3. Helen July 31, 2014 / 8:30 pm

    When I moved to my current school I was shocked by how positive the management are The (previous) head stopped me in the corridor: “Helen! Your reports…” I was terrified, oh no my reports must have been terrible for someone to call me out like this. “…you captured the essence of the girls so well”. Eh? A senior manager giving me praise, and not in a praise sandwich. Weird!

    What I love is that I do often get specific praise. And I would describe it as praise rather than thanks.

    However, I don’t think you can ever get it right as a senior manager. Often I am praised for things I don’t expect to be praised for. I am not ungrateful, but sometimes when I am praised it is as if management are surprised I can do my job!

    Good luck in striking the right balance!

  4. Mrs B August 1, 2014 / 6:15 am

    I feel exactly the same! I too mentally ‘bank’ all the requests for time off, I try to respect that everyone has lives and pressure points. Why can’t my staff respect that I need time sometimes too? I recently moved house and got married all within a couple of weeks, crazy I know! So I ended up ill! I staggered into school for a few mornings most to prove I was genuinely ill! They still moaned behind my back and implied I was taking the time to unpack boxes! I actually wouldn’t let the doctor sign me off! I wonder if I should have just gone sick? No one seemed to appreciate how much I was struggling just to keep all the balls juggling in the air and keep smiling!

  5. Lemonade August 1, 2014 / 7:05 am

    You sound like a good boss.

    One way to get this sorted would be to ask staff what makes them feel appreciated. You might not be able to personalise to everyone, but it would give you a range of ideas. No harm in letting staff know what makes you feel appreciated too!!

    Should staff get thanks ‘just’ for doing their job? Yes, absolutely. School staff often go the extra mile, and just the day job is very demanding. Knowing how to hit the mark with your appreciation could make it less onerous. Don’t forget they will pick up on it if you are just saying the words, not expressing a true sentiment.

    I like the comment about being thanked for unexpected things. It shows a head who is really paying attention to staff. That would make me go ‘oh, someone noticed’. It is also nice to have things pointed out that are strengths the staff might not be aware of.

    It doesn’t need to be a love fest. I wonder if being more specific in comments would help, it might be that general thanks are assumed to be a bit of a platitude and so get missed.

    It pays dividends, I had a very loyal staff (outside teaching), and it helped me get the right job to the right person having taken account of their strengths, and sometimes sharing the expertise in the team.

    Have a lovely summer, remember to get a break and go back smiling and thankful

  6. Lesley August 1, 2014 / 10:09 am

    If you don’t have too many staff, a little card at the end of the year with a comment about what they have achieved and a thanks may hit the spot or you could give them something like that during personal development reviews. A written sentiment lasts longer and if in card form often gets put on a shelf as a reminder of how well a person is thought of . It’s just human nature.

    • Bill August 10, 2014 / 5:47 am

      I love the card idea, that would be the best praise and as it’s not face to face it wouldn’t come across as patronising or cringy. As long as it’s personal to the individual teacher. It wouldn’t have to be a lot just something like “Brilliant results this year, the children have loved having you as their teacher. I appreciate all your hard work. Thank you”. Just be aware that the teachers will all be in staffroom comparing them. Maybe send them to their houses at the start of the holidays.

      Of course then you would have to do TAs as there would be uproar, they’re the biggest moaners of the lot (maybe a bit of a general statement but certainly in my school)

  7. Annalaw August 2, 2014 / 5:09 pm

    I think you are right – I am a class teacher and other teachers often moan that they are not thanked. The Head does thank us for our effort with displays, going on the Residential and for consultation evenings. He brings in doughnuts when we are at a low ebb and also lets staff pop out for appointments and have extra time off for family problems. You are management so I guess you can never win – they have to moan about someone! It is a tough job being a teacher but we knew that when we started.

    • Bill August 10, 2014 / 5:39 am

      My experience has found that the ones that do most of the moaning are the ones that sit in the staffroom all lunch time or spend ages chatting after school then claim they “work till 5”.
      To put it bluntly, the laziest ones

  8. Dx head August 4, 2014 / 8:33 am

    This is all so true, I do exactly the same with all my staff. I agree with the idea about asking staff about other ways they can be thanked but at the end of the day will it ever be enough for some people. My experience of teachers in general is that they are a very insecure species. Let’s face it we get criticised by government, parents, ofsted. Is it any wonder they want praise.
    You are doing all the right things. So on behalf of everyone and to all other headteachers everywhere – thank you!

  9. Bill August 10, 2014 / 5:35 am

    I’ve always read every one of your blog posts with interest but it has come a time when I really feel I need to comment and I hope you don’t (completely) disagree with what I have to say.
    Firstly, I am a yr6 teacher and core subject coordinator. Leading a core subject means I often have to deliver the good and bad news regarding my lesson observations, work scrutinies etc. However, when I give praise during feedback I try to be very specific with what went well. As another poster commented, this makes all the difference as it shows you have got to know them well and what their strengths are. I can see that you feel like you would like some praise too but as a ‘leader’ (even if it is only a subject leader) I don’t feel like people should be praising me for doing something I should be doing anyway. No one praises us for driving well, for not swearing or for eating 5 a day but we still do it. This might sound contradictory as above I talked about praise I give but the point I’m making is that we shouldn’t expect it as teachers or leaders unless maybe something particularly outstanding has been done.
    In my experience many teachers will never be happy and here’s some things that I hear in my school:
    “Yr 2 and 6 get a well done for their SATS results but what about us, our results are important” (despite the fact that management had no idea of their results as they had only just completed their tests)
    “We never get any thanks” (said whilst stuffing flapjack down her throat which the head had bought in to thank us for staying late for parents evening even though we are contractually obliged)
    “If they really want to thank us they won’t buy treats they would start paying us more” (this being said by the highest paid not SMT member who earns more than some of the management)

    You sound very flexible with regards to time off etc. something that your staff should be grateful for as this is not something that would happen in other schools. You will probably never please everyone and those that are complaining will never change. Some people are happiest when they are moaning. One day you will get praise and it will be from the right member of staff to make you sit back and think that you’re doing a good job.
    The most disheartening moment in my entire year was when the SATS results came in (I was over the moon) and the acting heads response was, “They’ll do.” I don’t like cringy over the top praise but an “Excellent results” or “Well Done” would have been nice at that moment. It did come a few days later but there you go.
    When the real head popped in to visit the first thing she said was, “well done, brilliant results” and that’s about all the praise I’ve had from her all year and about all I need as the rest of the time I’m just doing my job.

    I do have to disagree with your comment about being the most scrutinised person in the school. Just remember that every hour every teacher is in a classroom they are being scrutinised by 30 pairs of eyes watching their every move!!! (I mean this comment more as a joke, please don’t be offended)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.