When Enid (Oklahoma) Public Schools (EPS) teacher Jamie Aguilar received a challenge coin award from district administrators last fall, she took to social media to tell her friends about the news.
“I’ve always taken great pride in my work and have always been passionate about what I do …,” she wrote. “This was an honor today! Thanks EPS for recognizing my hard work!”
Aguilar’s post confirmed what most already know to be true: recognition programs matter. The school business can be hectic, but there should always be time to celebrate success. An innovative student and employee recognition program is vital to a positive school climate. For EPS, honoring excellence is embedded in its culture.
EPS’ most prestigious recognition program pays homage to a longtime military tradition – presenting challenge coins. The keepsakes, featuring a new design annually, have grown in popularity but are reserved for a select few each year. Faculty and staff members who have earned the coins proudly display them in their classrooms and offices.
“Enid is home to Vance Air Force Base, so this is a perfect way to honor students and staff for their hard work and achievements,” said Randy Rader, assistant superintendent for elementary education. “It is a symbol of excellence and pride in our district.”
EPS reserves one award specifically for its support of non-certified personnel. The ABCD Award (Above and Beyond the Call of Duty) recognizes those who go “above and beyond the call of duty.” Any EPS employee can nominate someone for the award, which is often presented by district-level administrators at the school site. The honorees receive a certificate, along with recognition through social media and other publicity.
“This award is for those who go the extra mile to ensure our schools are great places to work or to learn,” said Superintendent Dr. Darrell Floyd. “Our support employees are vital to the success of our district, and this award was created to show our appreciation for them.”
Emerging E Award
This year, EPS will launch a new program to honor teachers who are new to the profession. Teachers will have the opportunity to nominate fellow teachers with less than three years of experience who demonstrate excellence in the classroom. A winner will be selected each month to drive a free rental car, which will be donated by a local business.
“We want to honor our rising stars and encourage them to continue to grow,” said Doug Stafford, assistant superintendent for secondary education. “It is a way to build teacher capacity in our district and to recognize emerging talent.”
Starting a Recognition Program
Starting an employee and student recognition program in a school can be easy to do – even with little funds or time to invest. The effort, however, will pay great dividends for building morale among staff and students, as well as elevating the positive reputation of the school district. Here are few tips to consider:
• Present awards at events that have a built-in audience, such as school assemblies, board meetings, parent nights and athletic or music events.
• Ask local businesses to contribute employee appreciation “perks” that can be presented with the award, such as vouchers for a free meal or service.
• Allow those honored to be ambassadors for your district at special community events.
• To make the recognition more meaningful and to develop buy-in, create a process that allows stakeholders to nominate – and even select – others for awards.
• Build on current traditions to make awards meaningful to your stakeholders. Name the awards after mascots, local heroes, local landmarks, etc.
• Maximize the recognition by ensuring the student or staff member receives publicity for the honor through social and traditional media.
Amber Graham Fitzgerald, a 16-year veteran of school public relations, is the executive director for human resources and communications for Enid Public Schools and a past president of the Oklahoma School Public Relations Association.