Good Work: The Importance of Saying Thank You

Through grace we are helped not to stumble and through grace we know that we are being welcomed.  -M. Scott Peck
As a young superintendent, I ran around trying to fix things.  I remember a day that started with a 7:00 a.m. meeting with six union presidents, where they asked, “Do you know how bad morale is here?”  That meeting was followed by several meetings where teachers reminded me that I was so intent on progress and performance that I didn’t pay enough attention to culture building.  “Thank you is all they need to hear.”
In the next paycheck I included a simple letter to my staff that just said, “Thank you.”  It received the largest and warmest reception of anything I wrote as a superintendent.  After that I tried to be more conscientious about saying thank you and leaving a personal note for a teacher after a classroom visit.  It was a great reminder that people need acknowledgment of the work they do and the contributions they make.
There was a church in our district called Grace and they lived up to the name.  They hosted teacher appreciation breakfasts at the two elementary schools in their area and send volunteers on a regular basis.  They actively supported a back to school rally we held before the start of the school year.  They embraced schools and teachers and visibly showed their support and appreciation.
The lesson that I continue to relearn is that leading is more about relationships than it is about answers.   People often become leaders because they have answers and can solve problems.  And suddenly as a leader answers are less important than helping other people find meaning and purpose in their work, recognizing their contribution, and encouraging their hearts.  The joy and satisfaction of leading is vicarious, it is drawn from the pleasure and accomplishment of those served.  A simple word of thanks helps others make a difference.
Good Work is a series about finding and doing mission-related work.  It started as a series of  journal entries while serving as a public school superintendent.  Tell us about how you found your work and what sustains you.  

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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Thank you for acknowledging how simple, yet powerful, a simple expression of appreciation can be. Yet, what struck me the most about today's blog posting was your brief mention of Grace church. Do you realize what a treasure you have when so many in the community, especially the religious communities, portray the public schools as conduits of evil, ready to indoctrinate our precious children in all manner of Godless wickedness? At best, the schools and teachers (as if we had sole control of curriculum) are treated with suspicion (what are those teachers teaching our children?); at worst, the church community is openly hostile to schools and educators. As a teacher, I'm happy to hear from someone who is appreciative, even if you are not from my district (won't happen here, I'm afraid--several elements of our community are on the hostile/disdainful side). I feel what I do is important and worthwhile, but it is disheartening to plod on day by day being openly disrespected, mistrusted, and scapegoated. May your community and administration continue to be shining lights of example for all.


Tom Vander Ark

As an important strand of community building, I spent a lot of time in area churches. Few of the mainline churches embraced the school district--they remained neutral or hostile (although a Lutheran pastor was on the school board that hired me). The two Foursquare churches were the opposite--they embraced the city and the school district and worked hard to make both better. Their teacher appreciation efforts were especially important and effective.


Thank you. I hope I will remember to say "thank you" more frequently starting from today.

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