Online Toolkit: Activity Ideas
Get a head start on planning your American Education Week by browsing through these ideas to create a special celebration that honors the individuals who are making public schools great for every child. Don't forget to visit the online toolkit's promotional materials to download American Education Week posters, fact sheets, newsletter articles, press release and media alert templates, proclamations, and lots more. These materials will help you spread the word about your event.
Successful Past Activities
Local associations have shared dozens of tried-and-true ideas from past American Education Week observances. Browse through these activities to gather ideas for your celebration.
Successful Media Activities
- The teachers association ran an AEW ad on the city's closed-circuit TV channel.
- A local radio station posed "quiz" questions about the city's schools.
- The local association and school district cosponsored billboards with pro-public education messages.
- A local president wrote a letter of thanks to the community. It was printed in the local newspaper as a "letter to the editor." (View a sample letter)
- The local association president was interviewed on the radio.
- The local daily newspaper published an editorial by the local association president who expressed the pride association members took in "working hard to teach children to think and dream."
- Students read motivational quotes from past and present heroes on a local radio station and on the school's public address system. (View sample quotes)
- A local association bought a newspaper ad that featured students saying what they liked best about school and describing their dreams for the future.
- Two students were guests on a local radio talk show. They recited the poem Nothing Stops a Dreamer and discussed American Education Week activities at their school. Many listeners called in to commend the students and ask them questions. They turned out to be great ambassadors for the school.
- A newspaper featured a two-page American Education Week spread that included photos of students involved in learning activities, plus essays from all grade levels.
Celebrating in School
Following is a list of past activities conducted by schools to celebrate American Education Week:
- A U.S. map was displayed so each school employee could sign at the location where he or she was born.
- Third graders wrote essays on, "What I would do if I were principal."
- Ice cream bars were given to students and teachers just because "school is cool."
- The school used American Education Week to launch a contest to design the school's yearbook cover.
- Parents were invited to have lunch with their children in the school cafeteria.
- Teachers sent home preprinted "apple" papers with places for students to fill in favorite subject, best time of day, or what they liked about their classroom or teacher, and a section for parents to write their school memories. Students returned the papers during American Education Week. Some also gave their teachers real apples, apple pins, apple-scented candles or other apple-themed items.
- T-shirts and other clothing with the school logo were collected and donated to needy students.
- A school book fair encouraged children and parents to purchase items for their at-home library collections.
- Teachers posted their anonymous baby photos on a bulletin board as part of a contest to see which student could identify the most.
- Students, to end the week, gathered around the flagpole and sang the national anthem. Student council leaders said a few words about the importance of making goals and thinking ahead to the future.
- A contest was held to design a school flag.
- Banners were hung throughout the school building proclaiming American Education Week.
- Retired teachers were invited to return and teach for a day.
- Students made a classroom quilt with squares that said, "I'm special."
- A teacher created a quilt from the names of all the school's teachers.
- American Education Week began with a "students vs. teachers" volleyball game and a bake sale that raised funds for graduation awards.
- One day, students dressed as if they were in their future career.
- A local association sponsored a "What I Like Best About My School" contest for all students. Lower grades drew pictures. Others wrote short essays. The first-place winner in each classroom won $2, then entered a drawing for a $50 savings bond. Entries were displayed on "open house" evening.
- A middle school art class made vanity license plates for American Education Week, which were posted in school hallways and the administration building.
- Future Educators of America provided snacks to teachers each day.
Students drew pictures or wrote essays describing their school in the future.
- Students created school flags and displayed them during American Education Week.
- A bulletin board displayed photos of school staff in their "other" lives, with family and in nonschool activities.
- The student council gave each teacher a notepad that said, "Our school is special, thanks to you."
- Junior high students became "study buddies" (helpers) in elementary classrooms.
- The student council supplied breakfast rolls for teachers.
- The parent-teacher organization and the American Legion hosted supper for teachers during parent-teacher conferences.
- Templates with the American Education Week art and slogan were run off and given to students so they could write anonymous messages to special teachers.
- Guests from the business community read to elementary students.
- A contest challenged students' knowledge of "faculty trivia."
- Students gave their high school a "hug" by holding hands and encircling the building. The math department had measured average arm spans and the building's circumference and had calculated in advance that there would be enough students to surround the school.
- Students gave teachers a "pat on the back" by filling in anonymous compliment sheets.
- Teachers exchanged classes on one day of American Education Week.
- A bulletin board featured a map of the state. The birthplaces of school staff members were highlighted. Their childhood photos were posted around the edges and connected to their birthplaces by string. After several days of trying to guess the identities, names were posted by each photo.
- The local association bought lunch for parents who visited classrooms.
Saluting School Staff
Following is a list of past activities used for saluting teachers, education support professionals, and substitute educators during American Education Week:
- A local association bought a snack platter for the teachers' room in each school. Cards were sent with the platters to explain the celebration.
- A local association placed a daily treat or token of appreciation in each mailbox, for example, a keychain along with a note, "Our staff is the key to success."
- A local association gave each teacher a certificate for a "free lunch."
- Each member was given a plastic apple filled with mints.
- School administrators cooked breakfast for staff and handed out travel mugs and lapel pins.
- Bus drivers received coupons for breakfast at the local bagel shop.
- Each bus driver was given cookies and "thank-you" cards signed by all the students on their route.
- American Education Week began with a 7:30 a.m. potluck breakfast in the library. Each teacher received a cupcake with a candle (and a match), along with a bookmark imprinted with this George Bernard Shaw quote: "I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. Life is no brief candle for me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for a moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations."
- Popcorn was placed in all staff lounges on Friday of American Education Week.
- A local association gave each teacher a sandwich bag full of little gifts and attached a note that explained the contents: "A penny so you have enough cents to realize what a valuable asset you are; Hugs & Kisses so you remember how much we appreciate you; A lollipop to help you lick your problems; A rubber band to help you hold things together; A piece of gum for stick-to-it-iveness; A pin to help you pinpoint problems and solutions."
- A basket of pro-public education lapel pins was placed in each teachers' lounge.
- Junior high students gave Hershey's Hugs & Kisses candies to support staff along with "thank you" notes.
- A local association kicked off American Education Week early Monday morning with an all-staff breakfast where the Teacher of the Year was announced.
- A gala banquet honored retired teachers.
- A local association gave each teacher a blank "thank you" note to forward to someone.
A local association, at a special school board recognition program, gave each board member a blue ribbon that read, "Who I am makes a difference."
- A local association president delivered a box of apples to each school along with a note: "In celebration of American Education Week."
- A local association bought an apple pie for each teacher and attached the following note that bore the American Education Week logo: "An apple (pie, that is) for the teacher. Thanks for making our schools great."
- Certified staff on Education Support Professionals Day (Wednesday) did the duties of classified staff.
- Support staff received Peppermint Patties thanking them for their "involve-mint."
- Each support staffer was given a gift certificate from a local store.
- All staff wore suspenders to show "support" for Education Support Professionals on their day.
- Each staff member was given a "survival kit" that contained an item for every day of the week. The kit included tissue to remind them it's okay to cry, a rubber band to indicate they can be stretched to the limit and still survive, and a playing card to remind them they don't get to choose the cards they're dealt.
- A local association organized "recognition breakfasts" for teachers and paraprofessionals.
- A local association provided goodies for all school employees--and special treats for members.
- Each Education Support Professional member received a carnation.
A journalism teacher had her students write an article for the school newspaper on Education Support Professionals. They interviewed staff and distributed M&M's with an attached message: "To us you're Magnificent and Most Appreciated--thanks for all that you do!"
- Each school support staffer received an engraved notebook.
- Bagels and cream cheese were provided for all staff.
- A local association gave an apple ornament to each member.
- The school district gave special recognition to parent volunteers.
All local association members were given Starburst candy and a card: "You are a STAR in the classroom."
- Each day, school employees received small gifts in their mailboxes: Examples included business cards, planning calendars, teamwork certificates, multicolored notepads and pencils.
- Teachers, support staff, administrators and school board members were given note tablets with the inscription: "We're Proud To Be in the Kid Business."
- A local association gave apple muffins to all staff members -- and to school board members at their regular meeting.
- Certificates of appreciation were given to each Education Support Professional member.
- Custodians were given T-shirts proclaiming "We are [school name's] clean thinking people." School secretaries got fruit baskets with notes that read, "Thanks for ripening our days at [school name]."
- Paraprofessionals and other support staff got buttons: "Our school is special, thanks to you!"
- The superintendent recently attended the “Back to School” building representative dinner to offer her thanks for all we do every day.
- Teachers sent letters of appreciation to the school board about any support staff who had helped them in some way.
- Over 2,000 teachers honored Education Support Professionals with individual "thank you" notes. There were also special star stickers on a number of these 'thank you' notes that guaranteed the Education Support Professionals would receive a pie of their choice from a local pie shop.
- A local association sent out Payday candy bars, with a note saying "We have an extra payday for you."
- Education Support Professionals were presented with stemmed rose buds, with a note "For all you do, this bud’s for you."
- Students wrote Education Support Professionals letters thanking them for their hard work and expertise. It meant a lot that the children recognized the ESPs' contributions to the school.
- Poems were distributed to each Education Support Professional member of the local association along with a cover letter of thanks for their service and commitment to the district and community.
- Education Support Professionals received a bagel breakfast, along with an Education Support Professional pin and a certificate.
- A local association purchased travel mugs and sent them to all support staff along with a "thank you" note.
- At one school during American Education Week, the entire week’s procession of school substitutes—substitutes for teachers, for bus drivers, for lunchroom workers, instructional assistants, and secretaries—had their photos taken by students and teachers using the school’s digital camera. Each day new Substitute Educator photos with names were printed and posted at the entrance to the school on a special bulletin board. Paper matching the bulletin board color was used by students to make a Welcome ______ Substitutes banner, stretching across the entrance hallway.
- Several elementary schools used the morning intercom announcements during American Education Week to give a warm welcome to the Substitute Educators of the Day, using their names and room numbers. Secondary schools welcomed and thanked Substitute Educators using the printed daily bulletins.
- For the second annual Substitute Educators Day, local union staff interviewed students about their favorite substitute teachers. The edited video was shown to the November 2004 local representative assembly. Several Building Representatives spoke movingly afterward about how it brought up memories of when they substituted.
- The Substitutes Association, a department of the local association, started an annual tradition, an RSVP Celebration Salmon Dinner on the Friday evening of Substitute Educators Day, for honored substitute educators and their "main personal support" guests. During the first year, attendees stood up and told how long they had been substituting in schools, and what they liked or loved about it. During the second year Dinner, RSVP’s were self-limited to substitute educators who promised to initiate or work on activities or curriculum regarding Substitute Educators or the full range of American Educators and to report back at the Celebration Dinner.
Reaching Out to the Community
Following is a list of community outreach activities from previous years:
- A local association staffed a table at the local mall and distributed NEA pamphlets to parents.
- Local association members invited retired teachers to a tea in their honor—and listened to them reminisce about their careers.
- An official from the local children's museum spoke about "goal tending" (the importance of making goals for the future).
- Upper-grade students read stories about their anticipated careers to primary grade students.
- A local Association presented its annual "Whole Village Award" during a "partners in education" reception at the local middle school.
- A local church Sunday honored more than 100 educators and hosted a reception following services.
- A local association placed children's books in pediatricians' offices, accompanied by a sticker that identified the association and urged parents to read to their kids every day.
- A local association collected children's books to donate to abuse shelters and hospitals.
- A local association presented a program on National Board Certification.
- Students were invited to a career fair.
- A local association collected non-perishable food for a local teen shelter.
- A local association provided a special package for each baby born in the area during American Education Week. The package included a tiny T-shirt bearing the child's expected high school graduation year and the American Education Week theme, as well as a book, a letter to the child, a letter to the parents and apple cider mix (for parents to drink while reading to their child). The letters emphasized the importance of reading and education.
- A local association held a barbecue to raise funds for scholarships for future educators.
- Second graders colored and decorated posters for downtown store windows.
- Different grades made bookmarks to give away at the public library, table tents for restaurants and fast food chains, placemats for nursing homes and restaurants and posters for hanging around town. Younger children decorated brown bags for grocery stores, adding their name, grade, and school.
- An American Education Week banner was hung across a prominent street.
- Laminated American Education Week posters were given to bus drivers to display in their buses.
- Area teachers organizations saluted the police chief with a "True Friend of Education" award.
- A high school graphic design class made posters to put up around the community.
- A local association newsletter published brief comments from a dozen "local people who believe in education and the importance of the work educators do every day," including the police chief, the newspaper editor, the county executive and the hospital CEO. (View sample newsletter)
- A local association distributed calendars to all school board members, administrators and members.
- Letters were sent to area churches asking that American Education Week be announced in church bulletins or during services.
- An American Education Week reminder was inserted into report cards.
- School alumni received tokens of appreciation at a luncheon.
- Students sang at a parent-teacher organization meeting.
- A local association put together its first-ever American Education Week parade down Main Street. School employees, school board members, and other school patrons carried banners portraying the AEW theme as well as other education slogans. The mayor and the executive secretary of the state education association served as parade marshals.
- A local association president spoke at a school board meeting and expressed his appreciation for the work they did.
- Copies of the American Education Week proclamation, signed by the mayor, were hung in each school. (View sample proclamations)
- A local association created a new annual award to recognize outstanding "work for the educational community."
- The Board of Education made breakfast for all school district employees.
- On Friday of American Education Week, a local Association hosted a breakfast for community members.
- A local Association delivered cookies to central office personnel.
- Community leaders were invited to breakfast and open house at school.
- The whole town was encouraged to wear school colors on Friday of American Education Week.
- Greeting cards were sent to school board members and administrators, to express appreciation for their roles and contributions.
- A local association hosted a reception to honor the school board, staff, administrators, and retired teachers.
- A local association recognized school board members with a packet of mementos and information from NEA on being public school supporters.
- Teachers sent students home with a handout that suggested good books.
- Elementary students at an American Education Week assembly saluted teachers and other school staff with skits, songs, and poems, and thanked them for their hard work.
- A local association hosted an all-day "community appreciation coffee" at the school. They used a room decorated with elementary students' projects. The high school food class made the coffee, cakes, and rolls. Staff donated door prizes.
Open House Day/AEW Kick-Off Ideas - Monday, November 17
- Coordinate a pep rally on Monday to celebrate American Education Week and preview each of your celebration days.
- Print the American Education Week poster to decorate your school's common areas. Reproduce the smaller, 11 x 8 version of the poster to distribute in students' take-home packets. (View poster)
- Organize an American Education Week bulletin board contest. Each classroom works together with their teacher to design a bulletin board that reflects American Education Week's theme, "Great Public Schools: A Basic Right and Our Responsibility." The winning class is announced at an American Education Week kick-off assembly.
- Familiarize students with American Education Week and its components, including theme and celebration days, in the morning announcements on Monday and throughout the entire week (highlighting the observance of the day, i.e., Invite Parents to School Day, Education Support Professionals Day, and other days).
- Encourage students to create American Education Week artwork reflecting the 2007 theme and display students' designs at your local post office, bank, mall, or library.
- Ask your local library to set up a special American Education Week exhibit outlining the observance from its beginning to present.
Contact your governor and/or mayor's office to issue a proclamation officially designating your community's American Education Week participation. (View sample proclamations)
- Organize an American Education Week kick-off open house to celebrate education, teachers, education support professionals, substitute educators, parents, and students.
- Host an American Education Week kick-off potluck breakfast for school staff and/or bake sale to salute public education.
- Distribute laminated bookmarks with the American Education Week logo to staff and students.
- Distribute a media alert and press release about your American Education Week event. (View sample media alert and sample press release)
Parents Day Ideas - Tuesday, November 18
- Create a planning committee. A few weeks prior to the day, spread the word to let school staff and employees, as well as parents, know about the details.
- Draft and distribute a letter inviting parents to join their children for a day at school. (View sample letter and sample response form)
- Host a welcome reception in the school auditorium for parents and their children.
- Create an agenda for parents to follow throughout the day detailing class schedule and activities.
- Engage parents in classroom grade specific activities and projects.
- Provide parents with certificates of participation and packets of information to take home with them, such as tips on parental involvement and how to encourage reading and writing at home. (View parental involvement tips)
- Distribute a media alert and press release about your Invite Parents to School Day event. (View sample media alert and sample press release)
Education Support Professionals Day Ideas - Wednesday, November 19
- Provide a breakfast and/or lunch for Education Support Professionals to show your appreciation. Or, bring an Education Support Professional some home-baked treats.
- Demonstrate your support for Education Support Professionals by experiencing the school day as an Education Support Professional.
- Donate to an Education Support Professional's favorite charity to say "thank you" and help the community. Often organizations will provide you with a card saying that a donation has been made in someone's name.
- Surprise an Education Support Professional with a gift certificate to a favorite clothing, record, or bookstore. If you are not certain which store an Education Support Professional favors, give a certificate to a local mall or shopping center.
- Ask your coworkers to chip in and surprise an Education Support Professional with a relaxing massage, facial, or manicure/pedicure.
- Present an Education Support Professional with tickets to a concert, movie, or show. A nice gesture would be to provide enough tickets for a friend and/or family.
- Recommend a wage increase by appealing to the powers-that-be. It may be a perfect way for management to make an administration-sponsored gesture.
- Arrange for non-Education Support Professionals to fill in for Education Support Professionals during their lunch hour so that they can go out for lunch together.
- Send a "Thank You" card containing a raffle ticket. Then hold a raffle drawing and present the winning Education Support Professional with a gift certificate to a local restaurant.
- Encourage a letter-writing campaign among teachers and students to thank Education Support Professionals for all that they do.
- Distribute a media alert and press release about your Education Support Professionals Day event. (View sample media alert and sample press release)
Educator for a Day Ideas - Thursday, November 20
- Form a committee to develop a specific plan for the program. The proposal should then be reviewed by your local leadership.
- Plan to meet with your superintendent or other administrative representative to develop a final plan.
- Decide how many guest educators you need to invite to make the program a success. Then, decide how many school employees you want to accompany the guest educators.
- Set guidelines for guests and cooperating educators, and communicate them to both groups.
- Develop a public relations strategy for the program. You will want to spread the word among local media outlets. (View sample media pitch letter, media alert, and press release)
- Arrange for adequate evaluation and follow-up for the program, including an end of the school day reception, certificates of appreciation (PDF file), and thank you letters.
Substitute Educators Day Ideas - Friday, November 21
- Present each substitute educator with a carnation and a note or poem of thanks and appreciation.
- Identify and honor each regular staff employee who has served as a substitute educator sometime during their career.
- Have staff or students bring a bag of snacks into the classroom. Substitute educators often stay in the classroom, using breaks and lunchtime to prepare for the next part of the day.
- Arrange a schoolwide recognition of substitute educators in the read-aloud school bulletin, or on the intercom announcements.
- Create and present substitute educators with a certificate of appreciation. (View sample Certificate of Appreciation.)
- Showcase digital photos of the "Substitute Educators of the Week" on a central bulletin board or banner.
- Distribute a media alert and press release about your substitute educators event. (View sample media alert and sample press release)
Let’s get ready to celebrate NEA’s American Education Week (AEW) Nov. 14-18! The week-long celebration will honor students and parents, and will rededicate the community at large to a quality public education for every student. AEW events and activities will elevate and champion the outstanding work and contributions of teachers, bus drivers, paraeducators, school nurses, and custodians—all who work hard on behalf of America’s students.
This year marks the 95th anniversary of AEW. It was first celebrated in 1921, with NEA and the American Legion as co-sponsors, and grew out of national concern over illiteracy. After more than nine decades, the original goal of AEW—to generate public awareness and support for education—continues today.
“American Education Week serves as a tribute to the team of people who work with our students, everyone from the classroom teacher and the bus driver to the cafeteria worker and the administration staff—plus countless others,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. “This week is a great time to say thank you to school employees who work in and out of the classroom.”
Need ideas for what to do? We’ve got you covered! Browse through our online toolkit of activity ideas. These have been tried and tested by local Associations across the country and range from media activities and school celebrations to honoring school staff and reaching out to the community. There’s something for everyone! The ideas are even broken down by day to help make your AEW celebrations flawless!
To help you get started, here’s a look at the week ahead on NEA’s AEW calendar:
Monday, Nov. 14
AEW Kickoff Day will present all Americans with a wonderful opportunity to celebrate public education and honor individuals who are making a difference in ensuring that every child receives a quality education.
Tuesday, Nov. 15
On Parents Day, schools invite parents into the classroom for a hands-on experience of what the day is like for their child.
NEA Secretary Treasurer Princess Moss will visit TC Williams High School, George Mason Elementary School and Francis C. Hammond Middle in Alexandria, Va.
Wednesday, Nov. 16
Wednesday is a national day of recognition of education support professionals (ESPs) who are integral members of the education team. Education Support Professionals (ESP) Day focuses on the importance of these school employees, who make up 40 percent of the school staff and take care of students every day, making sure they have the tools they need to succeed in school.
President Eskelsen García, along with National ESP of the Year Doreen McGuire Grigg and Council for Education Support President Debby Chandler, will visit Rogers High School in Spokane, Wash. NEA teamed up with the DUDE. be nice Project (www.dudebenice.com) to pull off a series of surprises for the self-proclaimed “lunch bunch” cafeteria workers at the school. The DUDE. be nice project is a platform to inspire people to build a positive community by recognizing a person or group in a fun, creative and meaningful way.
Thursday, Nov. 17
On AEW’s Educator for a Day, leaders across the country will be invited to serve as educators in their local public school districts to get a glimpse at a day in the life of a school employee.
Friday, Nov. 18
Substitute Educators Day honors the educators who are called upon to replace regularly employed teachers. In honor of NEA’s 95th annual American Education Week, NEA asked educators from across the country to vote for whom they’d like to see substituting for them. Results will be revealed on the 21st.
To find out more about AEW, visit nea.org/aew or contact your local public school. Be sure to follow AEW on Facebook and Twitter with #aew2016.