Educators Are Saving the Day: 4 Ways to Fill Their Cup

Jennifer WaldvogelBlog, Connect Better, Engage Better, Self Care Better, Teach Happier


  • It’s easy to get lost in the daily grind and forget to see one another.
  • Personalized small talk breaks the cycle of obligatory conversation.
  • Small, personal tokens go further to create value than mass appreciation.

Small Gestures to Show Appreciation 

The smallest gesture can be powerful when it shows us we’re seen—not as teachers, specialists, or principals, but as people. It’s heart-wrenching to watch our friends spiral. Educators are a helping breed, which makes the sight of a despairing colleague even more terrible. But in many ways, we’re limited. We can’t remove challenging behaviors from a colleague’s classroom, erase demanding parent emails, or limit the number of students who need services, but we can show appreciation for the personal qualities of those whom we work beside each day. And in that way, we remind our colleagues that someone sees them. What does this look like? Here are 4 ways to personalize the small moments.

6 Ways to “Up” Your Small Talk Game

Personalize Small Talk

Short conversations can yield long-term results when what we ask goes beyond generalities. When a colleague asks me about hiking or writing, they show a personal interest. Suddenly, our connection isn’t about my role as an employee: it’s about my value as an individual. Looking and listening to the unique interests and values of our colleagues prepares us for meaningful hallway talk. The three minutes we spend talking about dog shows, youth football, and Irish dancing create more meaning than a dozen how are yous?

Not enough time for a full conversation? Make comments that notice details about a colleague. “Go Cubs,” “Love that jacket,” and “Best wishes at the play tonight” go beyond the heartiest “Nice to see you.” Forget about the weather, the day of the week, or the time of the year. Remember one thing that distinguishes a colleague from the next person in the faculty lounge and bring that to your next conversation. 

The smallest gesture can be powerful when it shows us we’re seen - not as teachers, specialists, or principals, but as people. - Jennifer W. Click To Tweet

Personalize Team-Building

Team-building has become a common feature in faculty meetings and PLCs, designed to help us feel comfortable and engaged as a group. Since team-building is already a social activity, why not add a personal layer by including the habits and histories of team members? Personal details become the basis for crossword puzzles, trivia games, and themed activities. Take turns highlighting a different teammate at each meeting with a Show & Tell or Day in the Life rotation. For the first two years of our team, we hosted an after-hours trivia night, creating a competition to see how much we knew about one another. It was a great night of funny stories and guesses. We’re better for knowing one another’s histories and quirks.

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Personalize Small Gestures

Makeover Your Friends’ Lanyards

Treats and small comforts make the day warmer, but when those gestures relate to us personally, the impact is ten-fold. When staff lanyards and picture IDs were first required in our schools several years ago, the change wasn’t popular. As an Office Space fan, the only way I could envision having fun with our daily accessory was to decorate my lanyard with pins, which led to the challenge: 15 Pieces of Flair. I scoured RedBubble and Zazzle for pins that spoke to the interests of my friends and colleagues. It was a way to say, “I see you, and what you like is cool.” Laptop stickers, door posters, and candy treats can be inexpensively tailored to those who work beside us each day.

Personalize Appreciation

During certain times of the year, appreciation is front and center, but gratitude doesn’t follow a calendar. When colleagues help us through a rough patch, we want to say thanks, and the way we say thank you can highlight their personalities. Last school year, everybody needed love, so we launched Adopt an Administrator. Each Teaching & Learning Department teammate chose a school’s admin team to send words and gifts of appreciation a few times a year. In adopting just one building team apiece, we could afford to personalize the gratitude, making it more meaningful. However we connect with our colleagues, let’s not underestimate how much the smallest gestures and personal attention matter.

It doesn’t take any more time to make a personal comment than a generic one, but the power of being seen and heard for who we are and not just the role we play is monumental. For every colleague who is making our school year, thank you. You mean the world.

About Jennifer Waldvogel

Jennifer Waldvogel fell in love with teaching because she’s an optimist at heart and believes the possibilities inside classrooms are endless. She currently serves as a Teacher on Special Assignment for Technology Integration in Yorkville District 115, working alongside students, teachers, school & district leaders to guide blended programming, design professional development, and coach personalized instruction.

Jen is a National Board Certified teacher who spent over a decade teaching writing and literature to high schoolers. After a transformative blended learning pilot, she shifted into the role of TOSA to support student success at a global level in Yorkville’s Teaching & Learning Department. Ever curious, Jen enjoys PD- if she had the time and money, she’d be in school forever- engaging in conferences and workshops, where she has presented at the local, state, and national level about learning pathways, personalized PD, mindfulness, blended learning, student motivation, and ways to maximize your LMS. She is honored to have been awarded the 2019 Illinois Computing Educator of the Year.

Jen holds a Bachelor’s from the University of Illinois (Psychology), Secondary Ed from North Central College (Language Arts), and Master’s from Northern Illinois University (School Counseling). Publications include Midwest Poetry Review, The Storyteller Magazine, Educational Leadership (2019), and Ideas to Connect Your Classroom (2020). Jen is also a published novelist, Untouchable (2016), who blogs at

Jen is a proud wife and mom, enjoying hiking, travel, and foodie adventures with her family. She loves Walt Whitman, Key West, and music you can dance to. Writing is her favorite hobby. You can find her on FB and Instagram @jennifer_waldvogel_author.