You Get What You Give

by Liz Garden, Principal of Florence Roche Elementary School, Groton

Thankful Graphic

It’s that time of year.  You know…the time when the grocery stores are packed with people loading up on every possible ingredient that they might need for prepping the holiday meals.  The time when store parking lots resemble clustered mazes that sometimes seem to have no end.  It’s that time of year when people deal with a range of emotions from excited to see family to stressed as they prepare for visitors to anxious about the upcoming holidays.  It’s also of course the time of year when we all try to stop and think about what we are grateful for.

Just as everyone outside of school is experiencing everything that goes along with this time of year, your school is a reflection of the outside world.  Your staff is balancing working hard for students while at the same time dealing with everything that this time of year brings.  Your students are trying to maintain their focus on learning while at the same time dealing with everything that this time of year brings.  And then there’s you, the school administrator, trying to balance all that this time of year brings.  So how do you hold it together?  Your school, your staff, your students, your life?  More than any other time of year, it’s important to stop and think about what you are grateful for and remind those around you to do that as well.

Now that we have been in school for a few months and the new energy from the start of the school year has begun to wear down, this is a good time of year to remind your staff how important they are and how much you appreciate them for all they do for kids each day.  Last year, I actually mailed a Thanksgiving card home to each member of my staff.  I wrote a note in each card thanking them for giving their all each day at school.  This year, I am mailing cards to staff members’ family members.  I have been writing notes to one of their family members, telling them how grateful I am that their daughter, son, sister, mother, grandparent works at our school.  And I am reminding them that they should be proud of their family member who is making a difference in the lives of kids everyday.  A card in the mail is always great to receive, but you can also simply leave a sticky note or even better, tell your staff face to face how much you appreciate them.  When staff feels appreciated, they are happy to come into work each day, and their positivity is reflected on the students.  Another staff favorite is when I fill up a cart with snacks and drinks, channel my inner flight attendant, and wheel the cart through the school.  You would have thought people had won the lottery when I told them they could select any item they wanted off of the cart!

This is also a good time of the year to continue to build positive relationships with all of your students.  Just like staff needing to feel appreciated, your students need to hear that you appreciate them.  Students also love sticky note messages or snail mail.  This year, my assistant principal is mailing every single student a post card to his or her house!  Another idea is to pick a few students a day to leave handwritten notes with, telling them how grateful you are for them and how they make you proud.  I have had students come back to me long after graduation and share that they still had a note or a postcard that I had written to them.  Our words can be powerful and leave a lasting impact.  If you are not doing handwritten notes, how about try making positive phone calls home and involve the students in the calls.  The first few times I made positive calls home, I had to reassure parents that their child was not sick, there had not been an accident, and no their child wasn’t in trouble.  Once we got through the initial shock of a call from the principal for a simple positive recognition, it was amazing to see students beaming and to be able to “see” parent smiles (and tears of joy) through the phone.  Making positive phone calls home is the best way to end your day!  It’s always good to give students your attention and spend quality time with them, but around this time of year, it’s even more important.

And don’t forget about letting the people in your PLN know how grateful you are for them.  Take the time to write out a card and drop it in the mail.  Or start your day off each morning by sending a positive email to another admin in your district or someone that you have collaborated with.  Even better, pick up the phone and call them to tell them how much you appreciate them.  You will be amazed at how your day can take on a whole new twist when you start your day off with gratitude.

It’s that time of year.  The time of year when it’s important to reach out to students.  The time of year when it’s important to let staff know they are appreciated.  The time of year when it’s important to fill your own bucket by filling others.  Yes, we should be doing this all year long, but this time of year is a good reminder for all of us.  I promise you that if you stop and think about what you are grateful for, if you stop and think about how much you appreciate those around you, you will see something special happen.  You write a note to one person and then they decide to write a note to someone else.  You tell someone that you appreciate him or her, and then they turn around and tell someone else how much they appreciate that person.  You make a kid’s day with a positive phone call and then his or her parent spreads the positivity.  It’s very simple: you get what you give.  This time of year I hope that you think about all the ways that you can give to your students, staff and parents, because I guarantee that you will be amazed at what you and your school community get in return!


Liz Garden is currently in her fifth year as the principal of Florence Roche Elementary School in Groton, MA.  Before becoming the principal of the school, she served as the assistant principal for two years.  Prior to coming to the Groton-Dunstable school district, she was an early childhood administrator in Leominster.  Liz was also a second grade teacher in Westborough and a communication teacher for children with autism at the Boston Higashi School in Randolph.  She is an editorial advisor for Principal Magazine, and she blogs regularly at as well as for a group she helped organize at  When she is not trying to be an instructional leader and mold future minds, she is dealing with her reading addiction, keeping in business, and chasing around her energetic three-year-old, Emerson!  You can connect with Liz on Twitter @PrincipalGarden and on Voxer @PrincipalGarden.

Write for the MSAA Blog

Are you interested in sharing your ideas, insights and questions with colleagues?

For more information or to sign-up to write a post, contact




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s