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10 Special Ways for Principals to Celebrate Classified Appreciation Week

Celebrating Classified Employee Appreciation Week in Your School

When is Classified Employee Appreciation Week and why do we celebrate it in schools?

In many states (including mine), Classified Employee Appreciation Week is celebrated the first full month of March. It may also be called Classified School Employees Week or another variation in your region. Spanning from Sunday to Saturday, school principals often plan several school days worth of celebrations to honor these essential teammates.

During the great space race of the 1950s - 1960s, President John F. Kennedy set the seemingly impossible goal of putting a man on the mood by the end of the decade.

As the story goes, one day the president was touring a facility where space equipment was being built. He approached a man who was sweeping debris off the floor. When asked what he was doing, the man replied, "Sir, I'm putting a man on the moon."

This story exemplifies the important work that our classified teammates do daily. I believe there is no role in our school that doesn't matter when it comes to achieving our great outcomes. At our school, if asked what a person was doing, I would hope my teammates would say, "We're getting kids high school ready!"

What exactly is a classified employee? Classified employees belong to a designated group of employees who do not require a teaching license for their position. Many do have degrees or other licensure/training related to their position. Classified employees differ from those who are "certified" or "licensed" as a requirement for their employment.

Who are our classified employees in the schools? These vital teammates include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • Administrative assistants/secretaries

  • Instructional assistants/paraprofessionals

  • Reading and intervention assistants

  • Nutrition services staff

  • Media specialists/librarians (though some are licensed)

  • Certified nursing assistants

  • Tech team members

  • Grounds, Maintenance crews

  • Custodial staff

  • HVAC, electricians

  • Bus drivers

  • So many others! (they vary by district and by school)

As a principal, I'm certain that our school wouldn't operate as smoothly, safely, and efficiently without these vital teammates. When I introduce parents and colleagues to my secretarial staff, I often say, "People think I'm the boss around here - this is who really runs the school." They laugh because it sounds funny - but I mean it with total sincerity. I'm proud every day of their hard work, patience, and multitasking, all for the benefit of our kids.

Our secretarial staff, along with my entire classified team, are the heartbeat of our school. The deserve tremendous recognition!

Here are some ways to bring attention and celebration to your classified teammates during Classified Employee Appreciation Week.

10 Special Ways for Principals to Celebrate Classified Appreciation Week

Note: Each of these ideas require planning and preparation. It's important to identify a few great teammates to help make these events meaningful and smooth. Consider parent/family volunteers, school leaders, or educators who wish to help make this special week a resounding success!

Idea #1: Plan a week's worth of fun

Every Friday before our district's Classified Employee Appreciation Week, I send a cute graphic to my classified teammates that outlines the special events that are coming up next week.

I do this for a few reasons. One, I want them to be able to plan accordingly when it comes to lunch, etc. Two, I really want my teammates to feel valued and special ~ this comes, in part, from feeling seen, noticed, and appreciated. I like them to know that I'm thinking and planning for them well in advance...not a last-minute plan on Sunday night.

Here's the exact version I sent this year:

How do I make these cute graphics for Classified Employee Appreciation Week? I use Canva PRO. You see, I buy a subscription to Canva PRO for my entire school every year and we get our money's worth out of it! Secretaries, Athletic Director, Music Director, teachers...Canva PRO is easy, intuitive, and has millions of ready-to-use templates and assets. Click here to get 30 days of Canva PRO for free and see what I mean.

In my Friday teaser email, I highlight a few things and also include survey links if necessary (such as asking what people would prefer for Friday's breakfast, like veggie or meat burritos).

Then my team and I (often comprised of other licensed folks and administrators) work hard to put something fun and meaningful in place for every day of the week. We never, never, never include a classified teammate in the planning or logistics. Even though my office manager wants to help, this is a week to celebrate her! So I leave her out of it.

The sky is truly the limit for planning and implementing a meaningful Classified Employee Appreciation Week.

Please post other ideas in the comments below, especially sharing what you do to celebrate your classified staff members!

Idea #2: Create a "thank you" video by students and parents

Timeless and precious - a "thank you" video for our classified teammates is a great idea, especially because you can share it on your school's social media pages.

WeVideo has absolutely changed the way I do business at school! I used to wonder how all those principals would find the time to make cute videos of students and the great things happening on campus.

Now I know - WeVideo! Check it out here - it's FREE:

Here are a few video ideas to get your started:

- A video collection of staff and students saying "thank you, staff!" Consider finding someone to thank each person, since their jobs are so varied among the classified team. For example, someone who works closely with an instructional assistant, or someone close to your media specialist.

- Invite parents to send a video thanking a classified teammate who has made a difference for their student

- Showcase each teammate in a brief video interview ~ ask them questions that are fun and age-appropriate. For example, at middle school, we might ask what your most used emoji is or your favorite road trip snack.

- Have students tell a story about how a teammate helped them succeed at school.

Idea #3: Adopt a Classified Teammate - "A few of their favorite things"

Hands down, this is the most popular celebration we do each year and it's held on Thursday. It requires some planning and preparation but is totally worth it!

Once you have a survey of everyone's likes/favorites, now it's time to have certified teammates and others "adopt" a classified teammate. I make a Google Sheet with everyone's name and a blank box next to it for staff to sign up. Then I go to my survey results and cut/paste each person's preferences.

Finally, I share the sign-up form with my non-classified teammates. It's a crazy scramble when it launches because everyone is so excited to celebrate and thank those who help them every day! We absolutely allow people to team up. For example, the counselors may adopt the Registrar and will pool their resources together for her gift.

Our teammates are tasked with bringing their gift (often with a limit of $20) on Thursday to a designated location.

Every classified teammate gets a few of their favorite things ~ their favorite soda, black licorice, a smelly candle, new shoelaces, one teammate even got Sonic ice because she said she loved to chew on it! - the sky is the limit. It's SO fun to see what people ask for and what they receive.

We have all kinds of fun rolling out the surprise to our teammates! This year, we invited all classrooms to line the hallways and class/cheer for our classified staff as they made their way to the Commons for "a few of their favorite things."

Music is a bonus ~ consider playing music over the loud speaker or on a Bluetooth speaker at your pickup location.

Idea #4: Have Students Create "Thank You" Cards for School's Classified Teammates

We'v done a few variations of this over the years. Sometimes we do genuine cards made of folded paper. This year, we used sticky notes that we attached to each classified teammates' door posters (see Idea #5).

Education is often a thankless job. Some of us go months, even years without hearing a sincere "thank you" for the investment we make in our students. (I know - we're not it in for the praise; we're in it for the kids!)

When our school writes thank you's, we challenge our students to speak from their hearts and to be sincere. Tuesday is the day when we hand-deliver the student and family thank you's to our teammates. I suspect it helps to fill their buckets!

Idea #5: Decorate Their Doors

This is probably the biggest endeavor of the week in our school. This is the "Monday" surprise for our teammates - arriving at work to find their office door is covered with a personalized poster, all for them!

The week prior, several of our non-classified teammates get together after school. We use the large rolls of colored poster paper and create "decorated doors" for each classified employee.

To save everyone time, I go hunting on Pinterest the weeks leading up to Classified Appreciation Week in order to find inspiration. Then, I bring the poster ideas (one on each page of paper) to the after school "door decorating party." Teachers each gravitate toward a poster they want to work on, and they make it happen!

To the "door decorating party" I bring:

  • Scissors

  • Several tape dispensers

  • Printouts of the poster inspiration (which I gathered off of Pinterest)

  • Craft paint and paint brushes

  • Glue and a hot glue gun

Every poster is created on a large poster, big enough to cover the door. Then we roll them up and store them until Friday afternoon. After everyone leaves, our team hangs these special door posters on the employee's doors.

They make for a perfect kickoff to the week, and a really nice surprise.

Idea #6: Decorate Your School with a Theme

Another fun idea is to set a theme for Classified Employee Appreciation Week, and decorate to the hilt!

Some theme ideas include:

  • Rainbows - You bring color to our school!

  • Stars - The brightest team in (name your city)

  • Hollywood - Future's so bright

  • Construction/building - Always building a brighter future

  • Sports - For the win!

Decorating your school with items related to your theme.

Other ideas:

- Use plastic table clothes of themed colors to tie ribbons around your school's trees

- Add a "Thank You Classified Team!" message to your reader board

- Have students write "thank you" messages in chalk on your school sidewalk

Idea #7: Make a Photo Montage of Students

Photo montages are so easy to make and are one of the best ways to celebrate any holiday or special event!

Consider having students hold up whiteboards with words that exemplify the traits of their favorite classified adults (ex. helpful, kind, nice, patient, etc.). Or have them write "thank you" on white cardstock and hold it up for the camera.

Photo montages are very easy to make, so long as you have the right tools! (Psst, they're free!) Check out my step-by-step instructions here.

You can also see my how-to video below. Be sure to click this link to get Canva Pro FREE for 30 days! It's the easiest tool for making montages and it's a risk-free trial.

Idea #8: Throw an Ice Cream Sundae Party

It's hard to go wrong with a DIY Ice Cream Sundae Party. It couldn't be simpler to implement.

Here's a starter shopping list:

  • Cute bowls and spoons like these...

  • Variety of sprinkles and toppings (nuts, crushed cookies, sauces like fudge, fresh fruit, candy - you name it!)

  • At least 5 types of ice cream or sorbet (consider a dairy-free option)

  • Maraschino cherries and whipped cream

  • Don't forget a few ice cream scoops

Idea #9: Buy Them a Meal

We've all heard of countless variations of this one! Some principals buy a take-home pizza for every teammate (dinner on them, for their family). Others purchase a take-away meal from a local restaurant or caterer.

We like to provide a delicious catered meal once during Classified Employee Appreciation Week, usually in the form of a breakfast burrito served with juices and hot beverages, home fries, and fresh fruit. Breakfast arrives in a take-away box; some teammates enjoy this for breakfast while others save theirs for lunch.

This is always a favorite treat!

Idea #10: Social Media Posts to Share with your Community

If you've visited the Open Door Principal Shop, you know that social media for principals is a passion! For example, in the March Power Pack there are several Classified Employee Appreciation Week social media graphics, ready for principals to post on social media sites.

This year, we went a step further. We used Canva PRO (free here for 30 days) to create a personalized graphic that highlights each employee. Three of us worked here and there during the week leading up to create these cute social media graphics. Then we posted them during Classified Employee Appreciation Week, one at a time.

Check out this example:

Feel free to include any information you like!

If it's easier and you're pressed for time, you can also create a graphic for each department. We have 24 classified teammates, so our graphic-making went pretty fast. If you have a larger school, it may be helpful to streamline and combine the graphics.

Thank you, Classified Employees!

Principals ~ please share your other ideas for Classified Employee Appreciation Week in the comments below.

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