Celebrate Success

When I taught high school English, I spent countless nights waking up at 2am, feverishly thinking about everything I had to do the next day – from making copies to designing lessons to grading papers. I would lie awake, with my mind leaping from topic to topic until I finally gave up on sleep and started my day. I’d even get to work at 5am sometimes. A friend of mine, who suffered the same malady, called this “Monkey Mind” – how we’d just leap from thought to thought, like a monkey swinging on tree branches in the jungle. I learned later this same phrase is also a Buddhist one for “anxiety” or “restlessness.”

In the midst of such anxiety, and stress, and general busy-ness, it can be too easy to focus on the negative – those obstacles that slow down or complicate the smooth implementation of our ideas. A sarcastic comment from a student or a bothersome email from an administrator can be enough to push us down the spiral of despair. Perhaps it’s no surprise that turnover rates for teachers are higher than ever.

As elementary as it might sound, I think we can counter the effects of stress and anxiety by reminding ourselves to celebrate success. For me, this was always harder than it should have been. I was always so worried about the kids with F’s, or the kids misbehaving, or the papers I had to grade, that I had trouble carving out time for recognizing the positives. I even rationalized it: I told myself that high school students were “too old” to care about certificates or smiley faces and such.

I was wrong. And when I admitted this to myself, my teaching life got a little less stressful. It calmed the “Monkey Mind.”

There are many recommendations for how to combat teacher burnout. Edutopia has several articles on the topic (like this one, or this one, or this one), but I have always found the notion of celebrating success an easy way to combat mental fatigue while also building a positive school culture.

It almost doesn’t matter what format you use: postcard, certificate, form letter, sticky note, or whatever. Sending a note home with students celebrating something done well brightens not only their day, but yours, too! You don’t need to wait for something spectacular, either. If a student is disrespectful in a predictable way, many teachers do not hesitate to write discipline referrals. So, if a student is doing what we expect (even if in a predictable and ordinary way), why hesitate to celebrate?

This dynamic is not only with regard to the teacher-student relationship, either. Celebrate one another as teachers! Recognize, with a card or an email or a note in the office mailbox, when you see people working hard and getting things done. Many people may feel ignored or neglected by their administrators. In my experience, administrators are just as overworked as teachers. Drop them a note sometimes, too! And administrators, take heed! Celebrate your staff.

If you’ve never seen the Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, then you might not know about his recurring bit called “Thank You Notes.” Every Friday, he sits down to write his weekly notes. This doesn’t need to be only a comedy bit. We can all do real thank you notes on Fridays. My challenge to you: make this a part of your weekly routine. Learn to celebrate success. You’ll feel better, and so will the people you acknowledge.


  1. Jason Haap says:

    Shout out to the principal at West High, Mr. Ken Jump, who has made it a habit to write thank you notes on Fridays!


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