Does dreaming up novel ways to show staff and teacher appreciation have you stumped? Is the mere mention of Teacher Appreciation Week enough to cause full-on panic? If so, relax. Here’s a collection of clever event themes, activities, and gift ideas from parent groups across the country that are sure to inspire.
And remember—simple or elaborate, traditional or off-the-wall, slightly pricey or for a bargain, gestures of teacher appreciation run the gamut. The most important part of any staff appreciation effort is the heartfelt sentiment behind it, so don’t worry if your group hasn’t yet planned its appreciation efforts—just grab an idea, run with it, and pay homage to the people who make a difference in your children’s lives.
The Woot Woot Wagon makes the rounds at Breckenridge (Texas) Elementary each month, bringing staff members treats like granola bars and water with fruit-flavored powder packs, or school supplies to help teachers restock their classrooms.
Simple refreshments like lemonade can feel festive with a few decorations. The Roger Gehring Elementary PTA in Las Vegas, Nev., included iced tea and candy at its lemonade treat bar (left). In Arkansas, the Brookland Elementary PTO (right) provided fresh fruit that could be mixed into different varieties of lemonade.
Leaders of the Leesbury (Va.) Elementary PTO traveled the halls with a coffee, tea, and cupcake cart that also had numbered envelopes. Each envelope contained a gift card to a local store; teachers picked a number and received the corresponding gift card.
Bars of different types—trail mix, popcorn, hot chocolate, and the apple bar shown—have been making the rounds, and with good reason: They're inexpensive, pretty, easy to set up, and yummy!
For its Sharpies/Smarties bar, the Stratford Landing Elementary PTA in Alexandria, Va., arranged the simple gifts in an appealing display that’s Instagram-ready.
Speaking of inexpensive and easy, it doesn't get much simpler or cheaper than purchasing mini pies and decorating them with a pretty ribbon. Even better, it's an idea that can be tailored to work for different times of year.
Even if you lack volunteer power, funds, or time, there are still plenty of ways to show you care. The PTO at Westfield (Ind.) Intermediate and Middle schools makes small gestures throughout the year. Several times a year they host milk and cookie days. It’s easy because they discovered that parents readily respond to requests to send in packages of store-bought cookies.
Teachers at Union Heights enjoyed an Australian Outback-theme luncheon that featured grilled shrimp and steak kabobs. “It’s so much easier to break down the appreciation days so you don’t feel overwhelmed. That way you get to honor a group each month and they feel special for the entire month,” says Union Heights PTO president Jennifer Frazier.
The Westfield PTO also assembles Halloween grab bags for staff, and rather than simply pile them on a table in the lounge, they’ll walk the halls and deliver them. “It’s a little bit of face time when they can actually see us and hear us saying ‘Have a great day. Thanks for all you do,’” says PTO president BethAnn Buehler.
Glen Hills Elementary in Cranston, R.I., likes the healthy message conveyed by “Bring your teacher a piece of fruit” day during Teacher Appreciation Week. The parent group supplies all teachers with baskets, making for a nice take-home gift.
The Robinson Middle School PTA in Plano, Texas, organizes a casserole night where parents bring in both homemade casseroles and upscale, store-bought frozen dinners to give teachers a night off from cooking.
When it comes to luncheon themes, simple elegance has a place at the table, too. In 2012, no one at Greenville (Ala.) Elementary could remember the last time teachers were shown any special recognition during Teacher Appreciation Week. The PTA set out to remedy the situation by hosting an elegant sit-down, catered lunch with colorful table linens, a nice punch bowl, and pretty floral arrangements. Parent volunteers kept watch on classrooms, and teachers said they felt like kings and queens dining uninterrupted among their peers. They each received personalized keepsakes—a booklet filled with letters of appreciation from students moved several teachers to tears.
Escape From the Everyday
Using the theme “A getaway, for when you can’t get away,” the West Elementary PTA in Grand Prairie, Texas, encouraged teachers to daydream about vacations. Teachers received an itinerary with a different destination for each day. At each event, teachers were greeted by parent volunteers wearing flight attendant pins.
The camping theme from the Eagle Academy Charter School PTO in Eagle River, Alaska, included sack lunches for staff. Volunteers hung signs around the school showing the reasons students would like to go camping with staff members. Students also brought in nature-theme painted rocks for teachers.
For its New England coastal-theme buffet, the Summer Street School PTO in Lynnfield, Mass., decorated a room in the style of a seaside cottage, including a mock window with a beautiful beach view.
At Union Heights Elementary in Morristown, Tenn., there’s still buzz about the unique way the PTO honored the principal in the 2012-13 school year. It’s the group’s custom to lavish attention on a different staff department each month. When it was the principal’s turn, the PTO adopted a medieval theme and arranged to have him knighted. A retired teacher dressed as Queen Elizabeth I performed the ceremony accompanied by period music. The principal was suitably attired and received a proclamation and a chart. Union Heights became UH Castle for the day and boasted medieval decor, including “shields of appreciation” and class crests made by students.
Teachers at Rosa Parks Elementary in Woodbridge, Va., relish the neck and back massages that their PTO arranges for them once a year. The PTO transforms the school’s story room into a calming haven complete with soft music, dimmed lights, and liquid refreshments. The mini massages are provided by therapists from a local massage therapy school. A catered lunch is served another day, and drawings for donated gift cards are held throughout the week. “For me, Teacher Appreciation Week is like Christmas,” says Rosa Parks PTO treasurer Tammy Luczak.
In May 2013 the PTO at Morgan Elementary in Shelby Township, Mich., had staff members running through the halls and combing the school for clues during Teacher Appreciation Week—and they loved every minute of it! The PTO devised a weeklong interactive challenge based on the television show The Amazing Race. On Monday, staff members received a small gift bag that included a passport complete with their picture, a cookie, a water bottle, and a bandana, as well as directions on how to play the game. Teachers and staff were grouped into teams representing 10 different countries. The halls were decorated to correspond to the countries, and the staff room was transformed into an airport lounge, featuring an arrival and departure board. Teams had to solve clues to find specific objects and emailed a photo of each object to the Morgan Volunteers parent group. Teachers were so eager to play that they arrived early to complete each day’s clues. The Amazing Race-theme food was a highlight, including candy from each of the 10 countries. The week was capped off by an Italian feast, during which prizes were awarded.
Teachers Are Superheroes
If you choose a superhero theme, set up a photo booth where staff members can strike a pose as a famous do-gooder. At Walter S. Yates Elementary in Brandon, Fla., the PTA also provided teachers with special meals and snacks, as well as a lunch cooler or tote bag.
Take the superhero theme a step further by calling back to superheroes’ comic book beginnings. The White Point Elementary School PFO in San Pedro, Calif., used this graphic to promote teacher appreciation week activities.
Everyone loves fuzzy socks! The Clark Mills PTO in Manalapan, N.J., created a sock bar by rolling each pair of socks and placing it in an ice cream cup. Each gift was wrapped in cellophane and had a gift tag saying "You knock our socks off!" The PTO stuck with the theme for its Happy Feet raffle, in which it gave away a massage gift certificate.
A few flower bulbs are a nice gesture when placed in a gift bag with a thoughtful message. The Sherman Elementary PTO in Warwick, R.I., made these bags for its teachers.
For Teacher Appreciation Week, the Kay Franklin Elementary PTA in San Antonio, Texas, set up what it called the “ultimate gift buffet”: All 90 staff members were invited to choose 14 items from the choices displayed, which included school supplies, disinfecting wipes, gift cards, and houseplants, among other things.
These bouquets are made from dry erase markers and foam stickers. The Booster Club at South Brunswick Charter School in Bolivia, N.C., made the gifts. The "flowers" are held in place by pool noodle pieces in the base of the planters.
A lunch bag from the Parent Teacher Co-op in Riverview, Fla., was filled with snacks and items to help teachers relax, including an adult coloring book, colored pencils, and a stress reliever toy shaped like a pencil.
Useful gifts with the school name are always appreciated. The PTO at Prospect Elementary School in Elyria, Ohio, gave teachers keychains with a paper key bearing the message “Thank you for being a ‘key’ to Prospect’s success!”
Teachers at Dr. Gustavus Brown Elementary in Waldorf, Md., enjoyed a group painting class together, courtesy of the PTO.
The Parent Teacher Council at Rescue (Calif.) Elementary found an easy way to give teachers a good laugh. Throughout the year, the PTC posted funny memes on the break room refrigerator showing the humor in the teaching experience.
Downtime is a little more relaxing for teachers at Gardner Road Elementary in Horseheads, N.Y., since the PTO arranged for the donation of a massage chair from a local store.
In Cheektowaga, N.Y., the Union East Elementary PTA made stress relief kits for teachers consisting of small pieces of bubble wrap and simple instructions.
To celebrate custodians, students at Breitling Elementary in Grand Bay, Ala., drew pictures of them and signed posters that said “We (heart) our custodians!” Students also made banners for a parade that thanked specific employees, like this one for Mr. Frank.
The Roberts Elementary PTO in Shelby Township, Mich., asked students to write why they love their teachers on adhesive notes, which were added to a public display.
Public recognition is always appreciated. At Oak Grove Elementary in Lewisburg, Tenn., the PTO supplied sidewalk chalk, which students used to write their favorite things about their teachers on the school entryway.
At Roxboro Ridge Middle School in Syracuse, N.Y., the PTO set up an appreciation station and encouraged students and families to write personal thank-you notes to teachers.
Other Ways To Show the Love
Taking profits in the form of books instead of cash prompted the construction of a creative holiday gift. The Rosa Parks PTO took all the books they’d amassed—more than $800 worth—and built a Christmas “tree” out of them. Draped with ribbon, it looked quite festive when presented to teachers for their classrooms. Teachers also received bookcases donated by a local company.
Another book-related idea is to enter your school in the List it for a Library Sweepstakes by our sister site TeacherLists. Ten winners will receive a classroom library from Scholastic. Entries must be submitted by June 30, 2020.
To help their teachers through cold and flu season, the PTA at Seabreeze Elementary in Jacksonville Beach, Fla., put together a cleaning supplies buffet that included a cute and cheeky sign reading "Roses are red, kids are gross, which PTA loves you the most?"
Just in time for the holidays, the PTO at Eileen Conners Elementary in Las Vegas, Nev., hangs these "You've Been Elfed!" hangers on teachers' doors and fills orders over the break.
In addition to their principal “knighting,” Union Heights staged a Mad Hatter tea party for the cafeteria staff. The women received new aprons with the school’s UH logo, headbands with little hats attached, and a gift card. Students showed their appreciation by wearing crazy hats to school. And during another monthly event, UH office staff received movie star treatment when they were chauffeured to lunch off campus. In true Hollywood style, they walked a star-studded red carpet to waiting vehicles while fans—their students—screamed. Later they received a movie-theme gift basket.
A lot of parent groups still like to go all out during Teacher Appreciation Week, the first full week in May. Linda Vista Elementary in Mission Viejo, Calif., converts its multipurpose room into an outlandish environment—something totally unexpected designed to surprise, says PTA president Bruce Wood. One year the PTA turned it into a pirate ship. Then for a couple of years they did a beach party theme complete with sand and surfboards. The teachers sat on beach chairs under umbrellas while eating lunch.
As well, Linda Vista PTA used a roadhouse theme that they plan to repeat because it was so popular with teachers. A parent who is a professional musician performed with a colleague on a stage set up in the multipurpose room. The room was transformed to feature a dropped dark ceiling and resulting dimmed atmosphere. Tea lights glowed from tables, old license plates dotted the walls, and a collection of musical instruments lay about. Staff entered through a specially constructed portico entrance, but first a bouncer had to check them in. In addition to the music, staff members enjoyed food and received goody bags. “The roadhouse is a hit because they get out of their element and they can request songs and sing along and just have a great time,” Wood says.
Teacher Appreciation Dos and Don’ts
DO extend recognition efforts to support staff. Glen Hills Elementary took time to honor its longtime custodian Ray Casale, staging a “Mr. Ray Day.” Children dressed in blue as Mr. Ray does and gave him drawings or letters. During the lunch period, he lounged in a lawn chair and ate a special meal while 6th graders cleaned the cafeteria. If you can, take a page from the Union Heights Elementary playbook, the school that honors a different department each month.
DO share teacher wish lists with parents. At Linda Vista Elementary, parents can pull paper apples off a tree and fulfill a classroom need listed on it. Schools can also use TeacherLists.com to create wish lists that can be viewed online or on mobile devices.
DO provide little pick-me-ups throughout the year. Morgan Elementary welcomes teachers back in the fall with “supply cakes”—essentially a creative assemblage of necessary school supplies. Westfield Intermediate and Middle schools never fail to organize their much-loved holiday cookie exchange in December.
DON’T feel like you have to knock yourself out coming up with an event to top all others. You could end up pushing your volunteers too hard and risk losing them. Instead, keep in mind that teachers really are happy with simple expressions of appreciation.
Originally posted in 2013 and updated regularly. June Allan Corrigan contributed to this article.