My School Thanksgiving Tradition
Take a play out of my playbook in showing your team gratitude and appreciation, while finding an inclusive way to celebrate your staff as the holiday season approaches.
As Thanksgiving approaches, our hearts swell with gratitude for the abundance of blessings in our lives. One of the greatest gifts I always cherished most as a principal is the dedicated and hardworking staff that forms the backbone of my school community. In the spirit of this season of thanks, it is only fitting to express my deep appreciation for the incredible individuals who contribute their time, energy, and passion to make our shared vision a reality and are the heart of the culture of our campus. This is where a tradition that my mentors and the last leadership pair I taught under established and that I carried on when I became a leader of my own campus.
Each year serving as a teacher and principal in Albuquerque Public Schools our calendar aligned in a way that Parent-Teacher Conferences fell the week of Thanksgiving and we would not have school that Monday and Tuesday before break. Each year when teaching my administration put into practice a request to not schedule any conferences for a chunk of time on the second day in order for our staff to come together and share a meal. We also were gifted a very special gift each year of a turkey on this day. It was such a unique and special tradition that I knew this was something I wanted to carry on when I became the leader of my own campus. So, my first year as principal and every year after I did just that.
Each year I would make the same request that my mentors did of my staff and ask them to
not schedule conferences. Eventually when serving in other districts or when my school followed a year round calendar instead of the traditional and conferences didn’t align, I had to get creative and select a nearby PD day or Early Release Day to carry the tradition on but I always did. With a clear chunk of time my leadership team and I would have lunch brought in for our staff where we would serve our team in a room decorated in Fall Decor. We were always careful to call it a Fall Feast so that those staff members of various belief backgrounds were able to still partake. As the years went on the day would evolve to where we began to include having board games and “minute to win it” games and challenges to bring team bonding and some additional fun. One year, at one of my schools we even included a Karaoke Hour. And of course, the gift of the turkeys to each staff member was carried on as well. With each year, reflecting and doing better when we know better, adjustments were always made. Another lesson learned for me was sensitivity and knowing who were vegetarians and such so that I could arrange an alternative, and also giving the staff the option of donating their turkey graciously if they were not in need or want of it for various reasons such as if they travel for the holidays or would not put it to use.
Questions I always get asked when people learn of my tradition are surrounding the cost of the turkeys or how I purchased them. I was always very fortunate to have a leadership team that worked hard to secure donations from various community partnerships and for the remainder of those that were not donated, we always were able to negotiate with neighborhood grocery stores a discounted price where we utilized PTO or Activity Funds to purchase the turkeys. Though that took planning and work it was actually not our greatest challenge. The greatest challenge was freezer storage space so that is something I encourage you to think through when planning to take this tradition on.
Our school teams are always more than just a group of individuals working together; they are a team of champions, each bringing unique skills and perspectives to the table. Thanksgiving provides the perfect opportunity to reflect on the collective strength and resilience that our staff exhibits daily. From the front lines to behind the scenes, every member plays a crucial role.
So, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, let us come together to express our gratitude for the incredible staff that makes our campuses thrive. Their hard work, dedication, and positive energy create an environment where success is not just a goal but a shared journey. What better way than an inclusive practice at such a needed time in the school year than this?