Teacher appreciation is a simple idea. It means showing teachers you value their work. If your group’s goal is to enhance the educational environment at your school, it makes sense to help energize the teachers.

Teacher appreciation activities can be elaborate, weeklong events or simple gestures throughout the year. What matters isn’t how much you do but how thoughtfully you do it. We’ve collected some ideas to add pizzazz to your next event—plus keep those treasured teachers and staff members smiling.

Planning Ahead

Jennie McClelland, PTO president at St. Mary Catholic Academy in Port Huron, Mich., recommends setting a budget for teacher appreciation at the beginning of the year. Knowing the budget in advance lets your group decide whether to have several smaller activities or, as St. Mary did, plan ahead for a larger event. “We’ve had success holding an off-site luncheon during teacher appreciation week,” McClelland says, “with parents supervising kids during a schoolwide movie.”

The St. Mary PTO also understands the importance of recognizing other staff members besides teachers. “We thanked our custodial staff with a meal to help build relationships. Then we presented them with gift cards to a home improvement store,” McClelland notes.

Many PTOs find it easier to plan staff appreciation events and prizes for everyone at the school instead of recognizing teachers, administrators, custodial staff, and kitchen staff individually. There’s no wrong way; just base it on what works best for your school.

A few more options:

  • Budget for a welcome-back treat—muffins, cookies, or candy—at the start of the school year for each teacher. At the end of the year, present a snack box of fresh fruits, nuts, and bottled water.

  • When the school year begins, ask teachers to fill out a survey about their likes and dislikes. Use this information to create personalized gift baskets or other items.

  • Run a schoolwide raffle to raise money for something useful, such as gift cards to a local grocery store.

  • Put up a “bravo board” near the school entrance. Select a teacher (or teachers) of the week and decorate the board with photos and personal information, such as hobbies, favorite books, and pets. Ask other staff members and parents to write short notes of appreciation.

  • Get a list of birth dates from the school secretary, then leave a card in each staff member’s box on her birthday. Bonus: Have students make their own cards, and let their teacher discover a class set of notes in her mailbox.

(See “Gift Guide” at the bottom of this article for general tips on selecting gifts for teachers.)

Staff Appreciation Week

A lot of parent groups focus their appreciation efforts on a week of activities and events. Teacher appreciation week falls during the first full week in May.

At Southwest Elementary in Howell, Mich., planning begins two months in advance. “We request donations of gift cards, merchandise, and services from businesses in the community,” says PTO Copresident Laurie Ackerman. “Our goal is to give each of our 75 staff members a prize during the week.”

During those five days, Southwest treats its staff to themed luncheons sponsored by each of the grade levels. “We announce prizes won by staff members each morning and make sure they find notes of appreciation and candy in their mailboxes,” Ackerman says. “This year, we created a cookbook of the items brought in during the week and gave each staff member a complimentary copy.”

The parent group at Myers Park Traditional Elementary in Charlotte, N.C., launched a “love letters campaign,” for which students were encouraged to write a note or draw a picture showing their appreciation. “For a week, children placed their notes in a large moving box at the school entrance,” says Corey Stewart, who chairs the PTA’s staff appreciation committee. “The response was overwhelming.”

First-grade teacher Susan Caskey already knew that teachers were appreciated. “But to have so many take the time to put their gratitude into words, words that we could take home and read over again, was fantastic!” she remembers.

Other activities during the week included daily treats for the staff, breakfast donated by a local restaurant on the first day, low-cost baseball hats customized with the school slogan, and a cake and ice cream party. A local TV station even came in to film some of the events and interview staff. The week culminated in a party at Stewart’s home that included spouses and baby-sitting services.

“We work together every day and consider each other family, but we rarely have time to meet socially,” says fifth-grade teacher Susan Laney. “This was truly a special occasion for us!”