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Welcoming Gratitude in Round Rock ISD

We will become a culture of authentic appreciation driving emotional engagement making a difference for each and every RRISD student.

Photo of Laurie Humphries
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At the heart of education is a five- or six-year-old child entering a public school classroom along with other children and the passionate, eager teacher dedicating hours and hours of planning and effort to begin the foundation that will be built upon over the course of the next 12 years. Educators invest in making a difference to transform students into knowledgeable, capable, future citizens, but the continual practice of authentic appreciation for teachers, administrators, and other staff members can be the driving force to build emotional engagement. Emotional engagement drives people to continue the investment for kids’ sake, to focus on effective classroom practices, to enhance instruction each year with professional learning and collaboration. Providing teachers a t-shirt, a bag, and a few 10% off coupons at the beginning of the year isn’t enough appreciation, nor is it authentic and specific. An innovative shift in expressing gratitude must occur to build emotional engagement which empowers the culture in a system, in a family of workers.

Designing to express gratitude in our Round Rock ISD family meant exploring how people experience appreciation. Through our initial conversations, interviews, and inquiry, we constructed a plan to build a core of appreciation within each campus and/or department. The Pineapple chart serves as the core to welcome others to observe others in their practice, view the engaging lesson, shadow a division leader and promote genuine praise. The pineapple serves as a symbol for welcome. At a campus, a Google form allows a teacher to welcome others to enter their “home” and entertain them with a phenomenal lesson. It’s a virtual way of posting a pineapple as a welcome mat and then opening the door to visitors. It invokes the spread of shared learning with colleagues, but then it would follow with notes and letters of gratitude.

This core plan would be the golden fruit that inspires quick videoed interviews to spread from campus to campus and across the district to learn about others in our family. Instructional coaches and district personnel would conduct short, casual interviews and upload the video to promote star employees. 

Idea Title

Golden Fruit Elevated and Shared

How the Idea will inspire the experience and expression of gratitude within an organization.

Welcoming Gratitude in Round Rock ISD will inspire an affirmation of goodness among colleagues and across campuses and departments by building flexibility in the workplace to explore and discover others’ talents and positive sources. With the idea of a symbolic pineapple as a sign of welcome to inspire people to share and give an invitation to visit and for others to affirm the goodness, the culture can build throughout. It is akin to the maturation of an organization--in a baby stage one can only view needs for himself/herself, but as we grow we see beyond ourselves, our community; we move beyond our bubble.

Who are you innovating for?

We are innovating for educators. From the Gallup’s Poll (State of America’s Schools: The Path to Winning Again in Education) conducted in 2013 and published in 2014, between 40%-50% of teachers leave the profession within the first five years on the job. Why? Nearly 70% are not [emotionally] engaged. We will address the emotional gap that puts constraints on educators, promote freedom and autonomy to be innovative and express gratitude on a daily basis.

What type of workplaces are you innovating for?

Welcoming Gratitude would be used across the Round Rock ISD school district. Round Rock ISD, the Destination District for Public Schools in Central Texas, is made up of almost 50,000 of the greatest students in the state of Texas. We are honored to have a combined staff of 6,100+ that work hard everyday to serve our students. Considering the district has four learning communities that make up one family including our community of parents and business, we are innovating for a large organization.

How you envision the Idea being introduced to your selected organization?

Welcoming Gratitude would initially be introduced in multiple media forms within our district, including Twitter, Google+ communities, and website(s). We would present our ideas to the prototype targeted test group along with the Superintendent and Chief of Teaching and Learning. We will begin with a portion of the district, but ultimately we expect to reach out to the entire organization. Our team of twelve will be responsible for implementing this idea, but we also will seek support from district instructional coaches, etc. Our Parent Teacher Associations (PTA) will be beneficial along with our partnership with multiple community business and parent groups.

What obstacles, if any, do you foresee in implementing this Idea, and how would they be overcome?

Since many things in education are ideas that sound good, are often initially implement, but ultimately they die out, we know that true commitment and follow-through must occur. Change in habits--replacing positive habits of gratitude and appreciation--must be repeated over and over to make it stick. We expect to start small and learn from any mistakes and especially listen to others and what they desire. Checking in often to see obstacles that arise allows us to address them in the moment.

How will you test and prototype your solution?

Welcoming Gratitude would be prototyped together as a group first. We would come up with an implementation technique on our own campuses. From there we would share with the entire district the best way to implement on their campuses. We would spend time visiting with campuses and seeing their boards. We would also be visiting classrooms listed on the boards and seeing if the board is reflective of what is happening in the classrooms.

What immediate next steps will you take if you receive an implementation grant.

We have a few people within our team who have knowledge of community groups and businesses to find experts who can mentor us on gratitude in the workplace. We will to continue meeting to establish a clear plan of action, define implementation of the prototype and refine before extending throughout our district. The award will allow us to visit businesses and interview potential mentors and offer us a chance to build a consistent plan that requires materials and resources.

At what stage of development is your Idea?

  • Research & Early Testing: You are exploring an idea, gathering inspiration and information needed to test it with real users.
  • Prototyping: You have conducted some small tests or experiments with prospective users and will continue developing idea through these tests.

Please describe from where your Idea emerged

Our team of twelve interviewed people in various roles throughout our district and in the business realm. We discovered how people viewed appreciation and how they wanted to receive gratitude in our profession. We established a Basecamp account where we could confer around the “campfire,” post messages on the message board, and keep up with our to-dos and schedule. We held Google hangout sessions to brainstorm ideas then talked through the revisions and editing of our project.

Tell us about yourself

Ryan Smith: Teaching & Learning Executive Director Laurie Humphries: Instructional Coach Andrea Orluski, Tiffanie Harrison, Holly Pazos, Debbie Palmer: Teachers Mya Mercer: Elementary Staffing Director Ami Uselman: Library Services Director Dr. Amy Grosso: Grants Coordinator Margo Vogelpohl: Pre-Kindergarten Director Hope Scallan: Enrichment Coordinator Dustin Binnicker:Academy Specialist

Where are you / your team located?

Central Texas covering 110 square miles in Travis & Williamson counties: urban, suburbs, farms

Please describe your legal and organizational structure

Public school district with 7 high schools, 11 middle schools, 34 elementary schools, and 3 alternative learning centers.

Company / Organization Name

Round Rock Independent School District, a Destination District for Texas public schools


Tell us about your experience

Our district is currently designing the Destination District for public schools, and many of our district employees have gone through Design Thinking professional development. Since education is our business, the goal of empathy and innovation is critical for success.

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Photo of Holly Pazos

Thank you @team for working so hard to put this together. Laurie put the thoughts we all had down so perfectly. Thank you Laurie.