There’s a line in Hamlet that I think of often, several actually as they relate to what I do for a living. The first comes early in the play, and is a warning to me as a site administrator, prone to finding my time engulfed in the maelstrom of hour to hour emergencies and day to day obligations. Hamlet finds himself apologizing, and says “Beggar that I am, I am even poor in thanks.”
I don’t want to be that guy.
Public celebration of our accomplishments is important; a school’s reputation, as well as it’s climate, suffers when the many good things that happen aren’t acknowledged in a way that shouts from the rooftops well deserved praise. There is a time too for a quieter recognition, a time for “thank you,” a time of whispered appreciation, a time for paper.
Hamlet’s warning in my head, I’ve always tried to make time to write out thank you notes to those amazing people around me who do great work. I do my best to be specific, timely, and true. Sometimes my best intentions get sidetracked by a current crisis, but (beggar that I am) I do my best to do my best.
And then last week a parent slid a quarter sheet of paper onto my desk. There, beneath a smiley face, were eight words that rocked me. In a good way.
The parent, who had been volunteering in our administration offices, witnessed a bit of drama involving an e-cigarette and some students who knew better, and I’d dispatched the problem as well as I could. It was the kind of disciplinary issue assistant principals make a living dealing with, the part of our job unwitnessed by most, exaggerated by others. She’d seen a part of it, and for the first time in a long time I got objective feedback on what I’d done.
The note reminded me not only of how important those private acknowledgements are, but also of my dozen years teaching English, when I made a point of adding a short message to the end of the essays I graded. This feedback, neither harsh nor sycophantic, was meant to recognize a particular aspect of the effort and provide a specific perspective on the work at hand. This note from the parent did just that for me, and reminded me of the other line from Hamlet.
This one rattles around my brain because, even after almost a decade as an administrator, I’m still at heart a recovering English teacher. It’s in the section where Hamlet describes the power of his own mindset over his reality. After a more famous line about thought, he says, by way of illustration: “I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself king of infinite space.” I know Hamlet wasn’t talking about being happy when dealing with adolescents and e-cigs, but he could have been.
Getting that parent’s note transformed my day. Her words turned a disciplinary situation into a reminder that somebody appreciated what I was doing, thought I’d done all right, and (on top of it all) wished me the best. There, on a piece of paper I could pin to the bulletin board by my desk, was appreciation.