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5 ways to make school more rewarding for teachers

From tight budgets to political pressures, schools face all sorts of challenges in their drive to become high performing. Getting reward and recognition right can play an integral role, but only if you do it properly. Here are five top tips, from those in the know...

1. Understand what motivates your people

Take an open approach to reward and recognition strategies. “It’s all about leadership, not dictatorship,” says John Mann, Principal of Kilmaine Primary School. And the wider team agrees. Across the school, staff cited being supportive, sharing decision making, ensuring everyone is listened to, encouraging ideas for improvement and giving people the chance to lead, as all helping to keep them in the top 5%.

2. ‘Wonder Workers’: involve your people

Involve the whole team when coming up with ways to reward and recognise. It gets everyone engaged and leads to bespoke approaches that the whole team can feel a sense of ownership over.

St. Johns Primary School in Swatragh initiated a 'Wonder Worker of the Week' award, where Year 3 –7 pupils vote for two members of staff to receive recognition for their positive impact on the school. “Wonder Worker of the Week gives us a feeling of appreciation,” explains the school’s Building Supervisor. “It also helps give us job satisfaction.” And then there are the little things that keep people smiling. Staff bring in birthday buns for colleagues and together they all continue to suggest new ways to recognise their peers, students and the wider achievements of the whole school.

Encouraging staff to play a part in reward and recognition on every level really works. Schools that maximise involvement tend to find that their people benchmark approaches against other schools, and then feel empowered to suggest options to refine and develop the way things work, back in their own teams.

3. Establish a culture of thanks

Don’t forget to say thanks for a job well done. While this is a simple and common sense approach, it's all too easily overlooked in many organisations – schools included. Everyone appreciates being thanked and when it’s genuine, they really remember it. Whether it's passing in the corridor, at the school gate, during briefings or as part of assemblies in front of pupils, by thanking people individually, as well as in front of others, you'll encourage your team to recognise each other's achievements. You'll also highlight to pupils, parents and guardians when a job has been well done.

And beyond the school environment, organisations can learn a lot from this approach, too. Making sure employees see thanks coming from board members, management teams and even customers – whether through team briefing meetings, emails or both – can be invaluable for their self-esteem and continued motivation.

4. Make the most of your people’s talents

Recognise and harness the full potential of your people. By supporting individuals to move their ideas forward or take on lead roles on additional or after-school projects, they feel valued, trusted and motivated.

Whether it's teaching staff, support staff, parents or local volunteers, everyone can benefit from having their skills acknowledged and being given more responsibility, which in turn adds more to the pupils’ days. From roles coordinating after-school programmes for students, to organising and delivering important initiatives like the introduction of iPads in the classroom, projects can vary in scope and scale – it's the recognition that an individual has the ability to really help that's important. As one school volunteer commented, “I’m made to feel welcome, valuable and an important part of the team.”

St. Brigid’s Primary and Nursery School, Londonderry, sees the expansion of people’s roles as a demonstration of their ability to add value to the school. But it's important that the feel-good factor of being asked because you've got the skills for the job, isn't the only reward for taking on extra responsibility. Staff at St Brigid's explain how in their school, additional responsibility is also rewarded through pay increments and financial incentives – so staff are encouraged to step up to the challenge and shine.

“Investors in People helped to focus minds and hearts. It reaffirmed commitment, dedication and high personal and professional standards.”

5. Celebrate success

Take every opportunity to share the achievements of your people, far and wide. On top of thank yous, use teacher awards, assembly announcements and local media to spread the word. Many schools also use social media platforms like Facebook to celebrate the success of their staff – and pupils – with the wider school community.

For some schools, Investors in People can be a great way to celebrate achievement and success.  “Before, during and after working with Investors in People, I noticed a change in how staff viewed the whole process. Trepidation and uncertainty quickly moved to confidence and pride,” says Martina McComish, Principal of Knockavoe School & Resource Centre. “It helped to focus minds and hearts. It reaffirmed commitment, dedication and high personal and professional standards."

Martina also sees significance in additional recognition, beyond the core standard for her school. “I was humbled to have our school awarded the Silver standard," she continues, "but I was even more thrilled by the external verification which recognised the high quality staff within our entire organisation. Pupils and staff have benefited from this award and we have our sights set on achieving Gold in the near future!”


Martin Rice is a Practitioner for Investors in People Northern Ireland. He specialises in leadership management, people management and change management with both public and private sector clients.

Take this further:

Check out our Reward and Recognition How To guide and discover tools and resources that could help you start thinking about your own reward and recognition programme.