Can you buy them presents?

It’s teacher appreciation week which means, for a lot of teachers, new coffee mugs, more Starbucks gift cards, handwritten notes from parents, and social media shout outs. These things are all amazing and make me smile during the first week of May, every year, but as nice as generic, one size fits all presents are, how much more incredible does it feel when a gift that is just for you, that is personal and specific, gets sent your way? This post is NOT an indictment on anyone who has taken on the effort to get gifts for people that you value. You are amazing for any and all gratitude you are willing to share. This post is an opportunity for you to reflect on whether you know the people you value, not whether or not you actually spent money on them.

As a former building principal, I’ll be totally honest, I would have failed miserably at a challenge like the one I am describing. If money were not an option, I don’t think I could have come up with a list of gifts to buy everyone on my staff that demonstrated I actually knew them as individuals. I had a hard enough time figuring out where to order lunch for my secretary on Secretary’s Day, and I saw her every single day. I know I would have struggled if asked to prove that I really knew and understood the passions, dreams, likes and dislikes of everyone who worked with me.

I know this hypothetical situation might not resonate with everyone and you might be thinking “it doesn’t really matter” because you will never have the money or resources to give everyone something that is personalized, but to be honest, I am writing this because the thoughts that inspired this post slapped me across the face, they were an indictment on my leadership ability. Truth be told, for some of my staff, not only did I not know what restaurants they ate at, I didn’t even know if they had kids, if they were married, if they had pets, what made them tick, or why they showed up to work every day. My inability to know what I could have bought them was not a reflection of my bank account. It was a reflection on my heart account. I didn’t know, because I never took the time to learn.

This isn’t just a challenge for those with a placard above their door or a leadership title. This is for everyone. If you are a classroom teacher, I challenge you to make a list of the students you teach. If you are a secondary teacher, just focus on your first hour, or any hour of the day. Next to each child’s name, see if you can describe something you could get that student that is personal and specific to his or her interests and passions. If each student had a birthday tomorrow, do you know what each would want? Sure, all kids benefit from happy birthday pencils, fistbumps and high fives, but do you know each of your students at a deeper level, on a personal level?

If you are an administrator, can you list all of your staff members and then identify a present you could buy each of them to show that you know each as an individual?

Again, this is not a challenge to actually go out and spend money. This is a challenge to see if you know the difference between EACH and EVERY. Knowing this difference is THE difference.

As a man, educator, and father I love getting presents, but the best gift-giver I have ever met is my mom. My mom has never bought me a car or a house. She doesn’t have a lot of money, but her heart is huge. In fact, most people would look at the gifts she has bought me and would simply shrug their shoulders, but to me, her gifts are everything, because they show she knows me. A few years ago she bought me a DVD collection of the Back to the Future trilogy. It probably doesn’t mean much to you, but to me, it showed she knew me. As a kid, I watched those movies ALL THE TIME. This small purchase showed that she knew what would make my heart smile. One year she bought me a sign that says “Go Ride a Bike”. To many, this sign would just be a commodity. To me, it showed that she read one of my books and that she appreciated it. Truly, it’s the thought that counts.

In schools everywhere, right now, we are talking about the value of relationships and the impact they have on student well being and student achievement. If you are looking for a way to determine whether your relationships are all they can be, I challenge you to ask, “Could I buy them a gift?”

Want a stronger connection with those around you? Learn what makes them smile, what brings them joy, and lean into EACH as opposed to focusing on EVERY and you will be amazed at the results.

-But these are just my thoughts

Dave Schmittou

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