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ILLINOIS SCHOOL BOARD JOURNAL


January/February 2009
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Never underestimate the value of applause
by Teri Wood

Teri Wood is Community Relations Coordinator for School District 45, DuPage County, in Villa Park and a member of the Illinois chapter of the National School Public Relations Association.

Every April, the School District 45 Board of Education dedicates an evening to honor retiring staff members from the district. In 2008, we recognized the careers of teachers, assistants, a school nurse, an assistant superintendent and a superintendent representing a combined 310 years of dedication to the field of education.

The responsibility to properly celebrate such milestones cannot be taken lightly. Through celebration, the board can honor retiring staff members while inspiring those still teaching and working within the schools to continue providing the best education possible.

In School District 45, we have found that our annual Employee Recognition Dinner provides an opportunity not only to honor our retirees, but to spotlight the dedication, camaraderie and sense of family that defines us.

Our process begins early in March with a letter congratulating each retiree, an invitation to the recognition dinner, and a personalized folder with an array of gift options. School District 45 works with an employee recognition company to provide this gift service. Honorees have the option to select gifts by phone or online with delivery to our district office. The selections are displayed and presented to recipients on the evening of the dinner.

While each retiree may have an additional party planned by co-workers, the dinner is a unique night to thank and honor employees for their years of service with an evening of fun and good humor while maintaining an atmosphere of integrity and consistency for each retiree.

The evening's success is in the attention to detail. A printed program, which includes biographies of each retiree, name tags, table arrangements and flowers for each honoree all elevate the significance of this memorable evening.

The evening begins with a social hour, followed by dinner. The event strives to acknowledge the importance of all career milestones. In addition to the retirees, employees are recognized for 15 or more years of service in five-year increments. All past retirees of School District 45 are invited to attend and are recognized as well.

Retiring teachers are celebrated for their years of service, current teachers are honored for their continued dedication and past retirees are applauded for the standards they set for the next generation of educators.

Following dinner, each retiree is asked to come forward while the audience listens to highlights that defined the career of each. The highlights are prepared from a questionnaire that is sent to each retiree in March.

To avoid a cookie-cutter approach, close attention is paid to the uniqueness of each individual. Questions include why education was their career of choice, how education differs today and how they will spend their retirement years.

Each retiree also is asked to provide the names of three co-workers for additional information.

While retirees proofread their biographies, which appear in a keepsake booklet, speeches are kept secret until the evening of the dinner. Speeches are kept consistent to equally honor each retiree, and while funny stories are almost always included, this is a time for celebrating, not roasting.

We have encountered some roadblocks with this process:

  • Almost no retiree wants to go through the questionnaire process at first. But with a little coaxing many retirees have commented on how the questionnaire process helped put their careers into perspective.
  • Some simply do not like the spotlight and find it uncomfortable talking about themselves. The next step is to look to their colleagues for information.
  • Sometimes, even with the best of intentions, speeches do not seem consistent. While it may be time consuming, it is imperative to make certain each retiree's biography and speech capture their careers.

The last question we ask our retiring teachers is "What is your advice for the new teacher?" The responses are printed in the final edition of our employee newsletter and distributed to staff prior to summer vacation. What better motivation than the inspirational words of a colleague who has just finished 30+ years in education?

Here are two of our favorite pieces of advice, the first from Laurie Driscoll, a reading specialist who retired after 34 years, and the second from Jan Dews, a principal with 32 years in education:

"In addition to being well prepared in curriculum and instruction, be informed about policies and legislation that greatly affect schools. View teaching as a career, not just a job. Become involved in building committees, district-wide curriculum committees, and the local education association."

"You are getting into the best profession as you will be shaping the lives of children. If you remember the reasons you chose teaching as a career and follow those throughout your career, you will be very successful. Your children will all achieve success and remember you for the rest of their lives."

If you are interested in learning more about the School District 45 Employee Recognition Dinner, please contact Teri Wood at 630/516-7898 or e-mail at twood@d45.org.

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