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By Jamie Burke
Showing gratitude isn’t new for Michael Davis, who, as Principal of Walton Elementary School in Auburn, Maine, plans regular acknowledgment for teachers, students, and staff. It’s just that, as with many things during the COVID-19 pandemic, it looked a little different this year.
For Teacher Appreciation Week in May, “We usually do something big,” says Davis. “But I thought, let’s take this on the road.”
Inspired by other administrators in Maine who found similarly creative ways to thank educators, Davis plugged in the addresses of all 54 teachers and school staff into his GPS. With a truck full of gifts—including flowers, whoopie pies, and a handwritten note for each person—he drove all across Maine to deliver them.
“I left at eight in the morning, and my last stop was at like four-fifteen in the afternoon,” says Davis. By the time he got home, he had been driving for nearly 12 hours. The trip took him as far south as Saco and all the way up to Winthrop, and a few places he’d never visited before, too. It was a reminder of how beautiful his home state can be, and gave him “a whole new appreciation for those who commute to work from some of these far places,” he says.
For Davis, the most important thing was acknowledging the hard work teachers were doing, especially as everyone was working remotely. Being able to “spread some sunshine” during this challenging time made the long drive more than worth it.
“People were delighted with the surprise,” he says. “Some people caught me in the act and some I was able to just drop off and sneak out of there, which was kind of fun.” One of his staff members was so taken back by the gift, she called her local paper to tell them about it.
As the pandemic has carried on into a new school year, Davis and his staff are still working and teaching remotely for the most part. On the occasions school is held in-person, he pops into classrooms briefly to say hello, so students and staff know he’s a friendly face around the school. Staying connected, and making sure everyone feels supported and appreciated, is still a priority.
“We don’t want to lose that connection with our community in this remote setting,” he says. So, he helped turn events the school would normally host in-person, like the monthly “Spotlight Awards” for teachers, into virtual gatherings everyone can enjoy. In October, it was a harvest dance where he served as “DJ Davis,” playing music as the students showed off their Halloween costumes over Zoom. In November, families joined for “Turkey Bingo,” a game night where the giveaway prizes were Thanksgiving turkeys.
But it’s not just big events—or driving all over Maine. Davis looks for small ways to keep sharing thanks, too. “Every once in a while, we’ll do a surprise Dunkin’ run, and I’ll fill the back of my truck with coffees,” he says. He also begins his weekly meetings with kudos for teachers and ends with positive quotes. “To me, appreciation and praise goes a long way,” he says.