By: Danielle | February 25, 2017

They are the first ones to arrive at school. The last ones to leave. On a snow day, they can't turn off their alarm, snuggle further under their covers and sleep in. They are always on call and on their feet throughout the entire school day. Every moment throughout the day they hear "Can you do this? Can you take care of that? Can you fix this? Can you move that?" And on and on it goes.....

Who am I talking about? The school custodian.

I was always friendly to my school custodians. I’d give a quick “hello” as I performed my lunch duty in the cafeteria. When I had a music room, I’d greet them as they entered my room to sweep the floor or vacuum my music rug. However, once I began teaching music from a cart, my eyes were opened WIDE to how much they *really* do for the good of the school.

A nomadic lifestyle can really open your eyes to the true nitty-gritty of what goes on in and around school.

Being on a cart amplifies feelings of isolation. As a ‘specials’ teacher, you tend to already lack the naturally occurring community that the other subject-area teachers experience (common planning time, curriculum meetings, common lunch times, etc.), but as I passed by our school custodians again and again in the hallways, it suddenly dawned on me that they lack such community, too! So I began to make it my mission to simply not ‘pass by’ anymore, but I started to reach out. I'd stop and ask how they were doing, but actually wait, listen to their response, and ask follow-up questions. It changed EVERYTHING! For instance, I found out with one particular custodian, we shared a major thing in common (taking care of a sick relative) and we were able to swap stories and offer an encouraging word when we'd chat. I saw that the kindness I put forth was coming right on back to me because although they were always so helpful in my preparation and execution of concerts, they now went above and beyond with ANYTHING that I needed. Not just for concerts, but also for my cart-teaching needs at school, or pointing out a hidden parking space when I arrived mid-day from another school, bringing me something I left behind in a classroom, ANYTHING!

Along with my own words of encouragement, I started to suggest similar acts of kindness from my students towards the custodians, too. Especially working with little ones, it’s easy for them to generalize and assume that things just magically become clean overnight and ready for when they enter their elementary school building each morning (shout-out to moms, possibly feeling similar misunderstandings from your own children regarding *your* work around the house!). So I'd like to talk about 4 ways in which your students can acknowledge the hard work of school custodians, along with examples of how I and other staff members show some love to our school custodians throughout the year, too!

1. Verbally

I like to teach my students to verbally acknowledge those around them, whether it’s during my afternoon bus duty that I'm reminding them to greet their bus driver or greeting teachers they pass in the hallways (instead of silently staring and walking on past...what's up with that, kiddos?!). Since we're talking about familiar school community members, not random strangers on the street, I feel it's important to teach them politeness and these appropriate social skills. Regarding school custodians, since I teach on a cart and hold music in their classrooms, the custodian sometimes pops in and out, grabbing or bringing back their plastic classroom tubs containing their lunch bags, checking the thermostat, or other daily tasks. I use that as a teachable moment of acknowledgement. Sometimes it’s with a simple, “Say ‘hi’ to Mr. ___ everyone!” Other times, after he leaves the room, I’ll mention briefly how they can be thankful for such a clean learning environment and to encourage them to share a “Thank you for…” statement when they see him next. Some examples would be:

  • “Thank you for bringing down our lunch bins everyday.”
  • “Thank you for helping our school to be clean.”
  • “Thank you for all the chairs you set up for our families at the concert.”

A simple "Thank you for..." statement can go a long way and I make sure to set the example by sharing my own thank you statements, whether my students are around or not.

2. Visually

Another great way to show appreciation is with a thank you card. Pick a time during the school year to offer one to your school custodians. For example, this can be done by having students sign their name on a large piece of construction paper (folded or open flat) after a grade-level concert. Maybe consider surprising your school custodian with a birthday card or an ‘end of the year’ thank you card by the students before they begin summer vacation. I noticed at one of the schools I teach at, a custodian there kept a large appreciation card the 3rd and 4th graders made for him and he hung it up in his small office space. Don’t negate the power of a sincere, old-school, handwritten card!

3. Vocally

This is different from the “verbally” point given above because we’re MUSIC teachers! We utilize the power of song to touch hearts so why not SING the praises of those whom we appreciate! A song I've loved using in the past comes from the Music K-8 resource and is aptly entitled: “We Appreciate You.” It’s a simple, generically worded song of appreciation that can easily be applied to anyone you’d like to give thanks to. It’s extremely upbeat and catchy so my students *love* learning and performing it. One year, my principal decided to gather all the students into the all-purpose room and surprised our custodian by calling him down to the room via the loudspeaker, as if it was a usual clean-up duty that he needed to attend to. The moment he walked in, all the kids yelled, “Surprise! We appreciate you, Mr. ___!” and proceeded to sing through the song. As you can imagine, he was very moved and touched by the gesture from the kids!

4- "Vacationally"

Yes, yes, I know...that’s not a word, but work with me here! During the school year teachers have specific moments where they feel the love. There’s random little notes of thanks from students during the year, gift giving during December, Valentine’s Day cards, and a National Teacher Appreciation Day in May where many school districts and PTA/PTO groups across the country acknowledge teachers with fun little surprises in their mailboxes or a catered breakfast/lunch (not to mention the AWESOME store discounts many retailers and restaurants offer...hello free Chik-fil-A and Chipotle BOGO!!). There’s an Administrator’s Assistant Day, School Nurse’s Day, Boss' Day, all kinds of days during the school year.

But how about custodians? Where's the love?! What I like about my schools' "Sunshine Club" is that in December, they not only acknowledge our principals and secretaries with a special present of a gift card, but they also include our school custodians in the mix and offer them gift cards, too! So where does the “vacation” part come in? Well, right before summer vacation, for several years now, I go above what the Sunshine Club does mid-year and give each of my schools' custodians (I teach at two schools and we have a morning and evening custodian at each one) a gift card for something I know they can use and enjoy and give it to them on the final day of school. This is just something I personally have felt moved to do to show my thanks for all of their help not only with my cart teaching, but also for ALLLLL of my concert performances. I conduct anywhere from 11-13 concerts a year and since usually only one custodian works in the school at a time (sometimes there are exceptions, but not often), he must set up/break down around to 200 chairs for each concert, along with schlepping the metal risers to multiple schools and on and off of the stage. What a job! Especially on top of everything else they must do. So they deserve some love. I know *I* feel the love with each Dunkin’ Donuts, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon gift card I surprisingly get from students at Christmas or at the end of the school year, so I wanted to pay it forward and also purchase gift cards I know would be of good use to our custodians in their “free” time over the summer. Purchasing gift cards not your thing? Strapped for cash or teach in a larger district with multiple custodians? Consider making something to share instead. Do you cook? Bake? Paint? Sew? Whatever your gift, wrap it up and share it! Anything that sincerely comes from the heart is a beautiful thing. After the whirlwind of a chaotic school year, what better way to express your thanks to them than offering something that they can enjoy while going your separate ways for the summer months.

How about you? Does your school district do anything to acknowledge the school custodians? Have you done anything special or encouraged your students to show their appreciation in some way? Do you get the chance to talk to your school custodians about stuff other than concert setup? Can you recommend another “thank you” song that you’ve used with your students before? I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas in the comments below!

Encouraging you to rock as you roll,

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Category: Encouragement 

Tags: Kindness 


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