How Celebrating Your School’s Wins Leads To More Wins

We invite you to restore, retool, and recommit with us this summer. Start by celebrating everything you and your team accomplished last school year—because doing so can set the tone for the fall.
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Blog date
6/13/23
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After another sprint to the finish line of the school year, summer is in sight. In our conversations with leaders across the country, we’ve heard that while some things have been a bit more manageable, there were still plenty of challenges to navigate. And it was your leadership that made a big impact

Now it’s time for you to catch your breath—and we’re here to help. This summer, we’re focusing on three actions that every educator can take to have a great summer while gaining a fresh perspective on the year ahead: Restore. Retool. Recommit.

Restore your energy and your joy. Retool your leadership with insights and inspiration from diverse leaders in education and outside of the field too. Recommit to your passion and your drive. We’ll be offering suggestions on how to do all three, all summer long—be it a great new book to read, a podcast you just have to listen to, or a leader’s story that speaks to your heart and why you stay committed to the work in schools. 

Looking for more resources to ensure the upcoming school year is a success? Make sure to check out our full Restore. Retool. Recommit. Summer 2023 series.


First, let’s step back and take time to think about your wins this year. 

At our core, school leaders are problem-solvers. We identify a problem, work with our team to identify a strategy to mitigate the issue, and then repeat the process with the next challenge we find. Eventually, it’s a trait that becomes a part of our fabric. 

In the midst of this repeatable process, sometimes pausing to celebrate our successes gets left behind. Not to mention that doing so can feel a little strange. There’s so much work to do. Why not just go on to the next thing?

We understand. And yet, it’s these celebrations that set you and your team up for continued success in the future. Research tells us that when we celebrate our accomplishments—even the seemingly insignificant ones—we create the energy and motivation needed to reach our larger goals. Here’s a few ways to consider doing more of that next year: 

Celebrate small and often

Most of the time, we celebrate when we’re at the end of an initiative or long process—not at the points along the way. But it’s keeping track of our wins throughout the work that reaps the benefits. According to behavioral scientist B.J. Fogg, celebrating small wins stimulates dopamine release in the brain, a feel-good chemical that reinforces our learning experiences and strengthens the sense of connection not only to the work but also to those we do the work with.

One way to make sure there’s always something to celebrate is to encourage your teachers and staff to proactively share their individual wins—whether it’s something they accomplished personally, or saw with the students in their classroom. If a struggling student had an “aha” moment during a lesson, or a teacher reached a rigorous professional development milestone, hearing about it is doubly beneficial: it normalizes a culture of celebration and it creates opportunities for learning experiences. After all, who wouldn’t want to understand more about the work that led to the success?

One way to make sure there’s always something to celebrate is to encourage your teachers and staff to proactively share their individual wins—whether it’s something they accomplished personally or saw with the students in their classroom. 

Keep an eye out for the unexpected

It’s human nature to get fixated on what success looks like when it comes to a specific goal—and with that comes a bit of tunnel vision. Having goals is a critical part of moving our schools forward, but it’s just as important to widen our view and always be looking for the positives that we didn’t expect. 

For example, let’s say you and your team work to develop a strategy to improve literacy gains across all grades. At the end of the year, you’re starting to see a small bit of improvement, but not enough to hit the goals you’ve set. However, you do notice some wins that you weren’t tracking: improved team collaboration and teacher retention. While you didn’t meet your primary goals, the needle did move in other impactful ways—ways that will pay dividends for the future of your literacy initiative. 

Rethink your definition of “celebration”

The word “celebration” can conjure up images of big to-dos: end-of-year parties or public displays of appreciation for your teachers and staff. And yet, it’s often the small tokens of appreciation that carry the most weight, as New Leaders alum and principal Cristina Segura found when she asked her team how they liked to be acknowledged. Her preference is showing gratitude through food, but many on her staff shared they appreciated handwritten notes. “I went wild feeding people and writing notes,” she said.

As you think about how to celebrate your team more in the year ahead, remember that acknowledgement doesn’t have to be big to be impactful. Consider a weekly email where you call out team members for specific positive actions, or take the first 10 minutes of a staff meeting to sing the praises of your team. Chances are, it might mean more than any large display of appreciation ever would. 

As you think about how to celebrate your team more in the year ahead, remember that acknowledgement doesn’t have to be big to be impactful. 

Share your celebrations with the broader community

Taking a moment to illuminate your team’s hard work for the other groups within your school’s orbit—parents and family members, community members, and local organizations—is also an important part of celebrating your wins. Not only does it give your community the opportunity to celebrate milestones with you, it also helps them gain a better understanding of the initiatives you’re working on and why they’re so important. 

When there’s momentum, people want to be a part of what you’re building. Consistently celebrating what’s working can be a great way to entice the members of your community to play a more significant role in your school culture.

Celebrate you, too

If you haven’t heard this yet, let us be the first to tell you: you’ve played a significant role in all the success you’ve seen this year. And, you’ve no doubt grown as a leader—something that is also worthy of some major kudos.

As you’re celebrating others, don’t be afraid to give yourself a few compliments as well—even if the only person that hears them is you. 

As you’re celebrating others, don’t be afraid to give yourself a few compliments as well—even if the only person that hears them is you. 

Restore. Retool. Recommit. 

We’ve got a great line up of resources this summer to help education leaders like you honor your wins. Dive into a new book or tune into a podcast that inspires your why and reminds you of what is possible in our nation’s schools. At New Leaders, we believe all children are capable of extraordinary things—and so are their leaders. Thank you for all that you do. 

Read On: 

The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact by Chip Heath & Dan Heath

In this compelling look at what makes moments memorable, the authors explore how positive moments are dominated by four elements: elevation, insight, pride, and connection. Learn how to build more moments of impact for your students, families, staff—and yourself. 

Dear School Leader by Brad Johnson

A leading educational motivational speaker, Dr. Johnson offers 50 inspirational quotes and real leadership stories to remind school leaders of their lasting impact—and affirm your purpose. Start or end your day with a healthy reminder of more possible wins. 

Listen In:

The Transformative Principal podcast by Jethro Jones

Jones, an award-winning principal, interviews impactful education leaders from across the country, zeroing in on the leadership actions that help them to transform our nation’s schools for the better. Find yourself re-inspired by stories of real wins by real leaders. 

For more resources and effective strategies, explore our full series: How Education Leaders Can Restore. Retool. Recommit. Now and All School Year—Part 2.

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