all about the bump: promoting positive adult culture in schools

The post that appears below is the original draft I submitted to Edutopia, an amazing website of all things education! (To all my readers in schools, it is highly valuable and worth following.)

Here is the link to the edited post as it appeared on Edutopia.


I cannot count the number of times I have heard a colleague advise a student to “do what makes you happy.” Yet ironically, I wonder often how many teachers are happy in their jobs. Research indicates job satisfaction was at a 25 year low in 2012, turnover trends are alarmingly high and costly, and morale is consistently demeaned by societal and political commentary. Moreover, who needs statistics? Just look around during a staff meeting to see the weight educators carry.

In an effort to counter these patterns, stakeholders need to put into place systems of support for each other. Even better when those support systems are grassroots efforts instead of mandated. One such way I have done this for the past several years is through the “Hump Day Bump,” which is a weekly compilation of staff-to-staff notes of gratitude and compliments emailed to staff each Wednesday. I started the “Hump Day Bump” as a way to spread much needed positivity in my first urban school. Poverty, violence, and limited resources overwhelmed the students. A sense of defeat pervaded the staff, compounded by low scores, exacting evaluations, divisive cliques and grueling hours. Internal and external pressures strained the tensions already present between administration and staff. The “Bump” gave all staff the chance to read good news in their inboxes, observe good things in each other, and share those in a non-threatening medium.

However, the “Hump Day Bump” is not just a tool to counter pervasive negativity in our field. It is also a way to build capacity. First and foremost, a viable adult culture based on mutual respect is critical to a school’s success. It is nearly impossible as an educator running on empty to give the absolute best to students; a healthy adult culture helps keep our tanks full. Additionally, hearing affirmation for what part of our pedagogy and professionalism is effective boosts teacher efficacy, another critical component to both the happiness of teachers as well as the achievement of students. Most importantly, to capitalize on the aforementioned benefits, our field is in desperate need of teachers who are in it for the long run. A revolving door of teachers benefits no one: neither students nor schools. Teachers who feel valued for their contributions are more likely to stick around; I know I am.

If you’re looking to implement your own “Hump Day Bump,” here are some easy-to-follow steps:

Plan and send your inaugural “Hump Day Bump.”  (Or pick a different name; I have a colleague who calls it the “Bump-Ups.”)

  • In your email system, set up two folders: one titled “Fishing” and one titled “Hump Day Bumps.”
  • Pick a small group of colleagues across a variety of configurations with whom you already collaborate frequently. Send them an email that describes how and why you plan to implement the “Hump Day Bump.”Ask them for their notes of compliments and/or gratitude for their peers. I call this the “Fishing” email.
  • As your colleagues respond, keep all those emails in your “Fishing” folder.
  • When you have some time (it usually takes between 10-30 minutes depending on the quantity of “bumps”), copy and paste all fishing responses into the body of an email. Format them so names stand out and they are bulleted for easy access. Delete emails as you copy and paste for organizational purposes.
  • Send your inaugural “Hump Day Bump” to the full staff. It is best to use BCC for this. Give an overview of what it is, why it matters, and how you’ll approach it each week.

Set a routine.

  • I usually send “Fishing” emails on Friday for the following week’s “Bump.” If I don’t get adequate responses, I will send a reminder on Monday or Tuesday.
  • Either Tuesday night or Wednesday morning, I synthesize those “bumps” into an email as I did for the inaugural edition.
  • Email out on Wednesdays. I typically end each “Hump Day Bump” with a call for shout-outs for next week’s “Bump,” as well as some kind of funny image, meme, or video.
  • Keep all “Hump Day Bumps” in your designated folder.

Make it work for you! Here are some modifications and precautions.

  • Include students as recipients or authors of “bumps.”
  • Start a “Bump” activity in your classroom.
  • Use a verbal version to start collaborative meetings.
  • Elicit specific “bumps” for certain educational holidays e.g. Secretary Appreciation Day.
  • Keep track of who is not receiving “bumps.” Reach out directly to their colleagues for something to add in the next edition. If there is a downside to the “Bump,” it is that it has the potential to highlight those staff typically highlighted and ignore those typically ignored. Tracking involvement can help mitigate this.

Have any other modification and/or implementation ideas? I’d love to hear them!

Eleven years and four schools later, the “Hump Day Bump” is still going strong. In fact, not only have I carried it to all my schools, but so have several of my colleagues. The “Hump Day Bump” has now spread beyond state and continent borders! I hope now it can provide some positivity in your schools.


To see my first post on Edutopia about Socratic seminars, follow this link.

compliments: a gift received is a gift given

The last weeks of school, a colleague and I helped some stellar seniors develop, finesse, and practice their graduation speeches. And they rocked it! As I sat and listened to them, a river of emotions swelled within the banks of my heart: joy, honor, pride, sadness, closure, gratitude, humility.

Naturally after those speeches, as is the blessing of being surrounded by good-hearted people, I was showered with compliments for my coaching. And my responses to those compliments vacillated throughout this range:

“It wasn’t just me.”

Change the subject.

“They worked their asses off.”

<Insert minimizing joke here.>

“So how are you?”

Pretend like I didn’t hear.

Since then, I’ve been reflecting on how I receive compliments. Or rather, sadly, how I reject them: how I catch them, wad them up, pop them in my mouth, chew them, and launch them, with a trail of dangling drool, back at the person. And in my reflection, I reverse the roles, feeling the sting of my own saliva-drenched compliment smacking me in the face. I hate when people reject, minimize, or divert my compliments. I am known to emphatically say when people do so: “Thank you Mary,” as a way to model for them how to respond to my compliment. But to model is not just about creating a sentence frame… to model is to live a certain way, to not just carve a path but to walk first on it…to embrace the receipt of compliments as much as I embrace the gift of compliments.

In my reflection, I’ve wondered: what does a compliment signify? It is a present, bow-tied and delivered with an anticipatory, heavy-lidded bow of the eyes. It is a kiss, echoed in the thundering hooves of a heartbeat. It is a party, decorated with polk-a-dot banners and balloons of joy. It is a standing ovation, a thousand feet rooted into the earth lifting the honored into the sky. It is a rumor of the Divine, sacred glimpses into something beyond the wall-papered halls of humans.

How dare I reject that.

Part of my reflection has been thinking about how I have received other gifts that blossomed from someone’s garden of love. When Dave asked me to marry him–with a ring tucked into a plastic egg from a quarter-operated toy dispenser from CVS, in the red F-150 outside Chili’s during a rain storm, not on his knee physically but only in his heart (and perhaps in his version of the story)–I squealed; I cried; I said “yes;” I leaned in for a kiss; I celebrated; I basked in the moment, elongating it into an eternal ribbon in my heart.

I did not play humble.

I did not change the subject.

I did not pretend like I didn’t hear.

I did not minimize the moment by making a joke.

And in my surrender to the compliment, not only did I receive a gift, but I gave one as well.

When I think of that story, and when I think of my own moments of complimenting others, I realize that giving a compliment is giving a gift. A compliment comes from a place of love, a place of dignity, a place of light.

When I am the recipient, I need to honor–with authenticity and vulnerability and joy and grace–this sacred passing of love, dignity, and light.

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