Who is an Unsung Hero?

“It takes a village to raise a child” is a common phrase used in education and society at large when describing the efforts required to bring a young person into the world. But who is a part of that village? Often, there are many “unsung heroes” in our schools that contribute to the growth and development of our students, as well as the productivity of our whole school community, who may not get the recognition they deserve.

Office staff, nurses, custodians, cafeteria staff, librarians, bus drivers, teaching assistants, and clinical staff like counselors, social workers, and psychologists are all key parts of a school “village” that deserve recognition year round. These adults dedicate their days (and often nights) to ensuring students are provided with safety and support, while also often being a critical connection for parents and caregivers to get the support they need.

Whether you are a teacher or an administrator, making time to honor and celebrate these staff members not only motivates them to continue doing their best, but also sets an important example to your students that everyone’s contributions are important, whether it is emptying a trash can or carrying a heavy instrument off a bus for a student. How do you recognize and celebrate these individual members of your school “village”? Try a few of the suggestions below; you are sure to notice an immediate positive impact, and feel good yourself, too!

How to Honor Unsung School Heroes

  • During Teacher Appreciation Week, be sure to publicly celebrate all levels of staff. Make banners outside for the bus drivers, hang posters on the custodian’s office, and include recognitions of these employees on school announcements and in newsletters. Most importantly, have students contribute to these efforts either by making cards or posters, hand-delivering items, or reading aloud the words of appreciation for adults to hear. Having students be a part of the process both reminds the staff the impact they are having, and also teaches the students the importance of appreciating the hard work of others.
  • Be sure unsung heroes are invited to important school-wide committees and have a voice in the conversation. Having your nurse be a part of Principal’s Advisory, or your custodian sit in on the Safe School Climate Committee, both invites their ideas and perspective to the decision-making process, but also offers them a window into the perspectives of others which is important to assist them in being successful in their roles. Being as inclusive as possible breaks down walls between staff members with the committee responsibility of problem solving and collaboratively working towards new goals.
  • Write formal notes of recognition to their supervisors when you notice excellent work. Advocating for the hard work of others to those that evaluate them not only ensures their efforts are seen, but can be motivating for those staff members to repeat the positive behaviors recognized.
  • Is your school a PBIS school or do you have a recognition program like a character award? Be sure these members of your school community are honored with that recognition in front of your students, whether it be at an assembly or on school-wide announcements. Having students hear and see the value of these individuals both develops respect for adults and instills a natural instinct to appreciate the actions of all, no matter their formal title.
  • Look for curricular opportunities for these unsung heroes to be recognized in the classroom. Is your second grade learning about community helpers, or your fifth grade writing an opinion piece that debates if chocolate milk should be served in the cafeteria? Engage these important staff members in student learning to create authenticity for students. What you may not realize is the cafeteria staff, custodians, and other unsung heroes may actually enjoy the experience just as much, if not more, than the students!
  • Work with your PTO or PTA to ensure these members of your community are recognized in special ways. Use the traditions of your PTO group, whether it be welcoming new staff with a special gift or sending birthday cards, to embrace these unsung heroes as important members of your school team that deserve equal recognition.

As you consider how to honor the unsung heroes of your school, never forget the famous words of L.R. Knost: “Our children are watching how we live far more than they are hearing what we say. They are learning how to live by our choices, not by our words.” Remember that the time you put into appreciating the work of these unsung heroes with your actions instills lifelong respect and humility in your students as they learn to appreciate the contributions of all. Never forget, “it takes a village!”

*Updated March 2021