Recognizing Staff and Students during a Pandemic

March 17, 2021 • Cheryl Hoover

Recognizing Staff and Students during a Pandemic

It’s always important to recognize the achievements of others, and it may be even more critical this year due to the challenges of the pandemic.

Think about the last time someone told you what a great job you were doing or how they appreciated your work or efforts. Felt good, right? The extra effort school districts put forth recognizing and showing appreciation for staff and students will show the true concern and care they have for them. And it can greatly help with the social-emotional well-being of both staff and students.

With a little ingenuity, recognizing and showing appreciation in meaningful ways can occur as successfully during the COVID-19 pandemic as it did pre-pandemic.

Staff appreciation

With some planning and scheduling, districts, campuses, and departments can continue to mark staff achievements and milestones. Holding an in-person staff recognition and award ceremony is the typical way. However, even with comprehensive COVID-19 safety protocols in place, this might not be an option for your district this school year.

An alternative is to host virtual award ceremonies. When organizing virtual events, it’s important to get creative. Choose a theme, show employee pictures, allow staff to provide special pictures, or allow staff to share their video during the virtual ceremony to say a few words when recognized. Include an extra bonus by delivering awards, certificates, and special goodies to employees’ homes.

There are a variety of ways to recognize and show appreciation to staff on a regular basis. Here are some suggestions:

  • Highlight one group on the district website (e.g., retirees, 20-year staff, teachers of the year).
  • Give recognition through “shout-outs” on the district’s social media sites.
  • Provide a small district trophy or gift along with a certificate of achievement.
  • Provide treats (e.g., breakfast, snacks, water) to award recipients.
  • Arrange for food trucks to be available on certain days and times.
  • Provide extra time off.
  • Declare an extra “jeans day”.
  • Hand write notes to employees.
  • Create special parking spaces for recognized staff.
  • Recognize teachers in front of their students.
  • Partner with local businesses to recognize staff out in the community.
  • Organize virtual themed socials recognizing specific staff.
  • Have a celebratory online game hour for staff being recognized (e.g., trivia, escape room, etc.).

Student celebrations

It’s just as important to celebrate students’ work and accomplishments. If in-person celebrations cannot occur, host virtual award ceremonies through Zoom, Teams, Google, or other platforms. Show student pictures when giving awards or allow students to submit a picture of themselves. Plan creative, themed ceremonies and events depending on the group being recognized.

As with staff, there is an assortment of ways to recognize and show appreciation for students. Here are a few:

  • Mail hand-written postcards to the students’ parents or guardians highlighting achievements.
  • Provide time off from class or a no-homework pass.
  • Post student achievements on the district and campus website and social media sites.
  • Use the campus marquee to highlight individuals or groups of students.
  • Provide a virtual talent show or dance party.
  • Enlist a virtual guest speaker of interest to students.
  • Invite parents to be part of the celebrations.
  • Organize a car parade.
  • Supply certificates of achievement along with coupons or small gifts.


There are an infinite number of ways district leaders, principals, and supervisors can show appreciation—some don’t cost anything. Ask employees and students how they are doing, how their work is going, how they feel, and then listen. Praise, thank, encourage, support, and celebrate daily with staff and students.

All these actions will show the genuine empathy and gratitude the district has for staff and students in a time when these two things are greatly needed!

Cheryl Hoover is an HR consultant at TASB HR Services. Send Cheryl an email at

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Tagged: "Employee performance", Retention, "Social media practices"