How to Plan Staff Appreciation Events

How to Plan PTO Sponsored Staff Appreciation Events for your School

Being in charge of staff appreciation for your PTO is not a task you can pull together at the last minute with success.

Not to say that there aren’t ways to show school staff how much you appreciate them without it eating up a bunch of your time, but there is middle ground here for sure!

This post is especially good to read if you feel overwhelmed or stressed out by the entire process and are looking to avoid planning mistakes!

Let’s get to it!

Picking a Theme

First, what’s a celebration without a theme?

Choosing a theme for your staff appreciation event, especially if you’re planning an entire week of activities will make the entire event seem more well planned and thoughtful since it take time and planning to pull a theme off!

The possibilities for a teacher appreciation theme is pretty overwhelming.

But the truth is that any appreciation theme is a good one to go with, except for maybe one!

And the one theme you should stay away from is Apples.


To be blunt, teachers are SO over them.

A good friend of mine is a retired teacher and Principal.

A while ago, I was showing her an idea for a teacher appreciation printable I wanted to make, and her reaction was a little shocking!

She had such a severe reaction to it (she actually made the barf face!) and told me to rethink it and go in a different direction.

So I did!

And really, I don’t know how we started associating apples with teaching anyway…

I’m sharing all of this with you to advise you to pick a fresh theme that isn’t tired.

For help with theme selection, check out this post all about themes or Pinterest!

Keep it Simple

Your appreciation event honoring your school’s teachers and staff doesn’t have to be super involved to have it be successful!

Planning appreciation events is semi-overwhelming if you let it be that way.

If you don’t have that much experience with planning events, then it’s best to keep things simple to start with.

As you get more experience, you can make your plans more involved.

Either way, the teachers and staff will love everything you do, just as long as you’re doing something!

Take the year I switched up the luncheon menu from something that took a lot of effort on my part to something that took very little…

For a few years, I’d put together a lovely luncheon with tray of rolled sandwiches and a wide spread of sides and desserts.

It took a lot of effort to find the sides that were within the budget to get enough of and meet all the dietary restrictions of the staff (vegan, gluten free, etc.).

One year, I decided to change things up and decided to do a casual gourmet pizza bar (with a lovely vegan salad) instead.

Zero decoration, just great food and beverages in the school cafeteria for all staff on their last day of school.

And it turns out, the teachers and staff absolutely loved it!

They appreciated the simplicity of it and asked if I could do the same the next year.

Not only did this make my life easier since it was so straightforward, but the teachers loved it all the same.

Pick a Good Date

A big mistake when planning staff appreciation events is to pick a day for an event when a large portion of the staff isn’t going to be in the building to enjoy the event.

Between teacher trainings, in-service days, field trips and testing that all gets crammed into the last days and weeks of school, there’s a lot to schedule around.

To avoid this snafu, check your school calendar and also with your building Principal to ensure you choose a date that has as few conflicts as possible.

Invite Staff

Leading up to the event, make sure that the staff knows about the event.

You can send out individual invitations (simply pop it into their school mailboxes or send them an email invitation) or make a nice flyer and post it near every copy machine in the school.

Asking your Principal to add the date to her staff newsletter is another way to make sure every staff member knows what fun and goodness you have in store for them.

Paying for the event

There are two ways to get funds for staff appreciation events.

A lot of PTA/PTOs include Staff Appreciation in their budgets.

The other way is to get donations from parents or businesses.

A bunch of groups use a combination of both, getting donations whenever possible to stretch their budget to the limit.

Watch out!

A word of caution about getting food donations from parents for staff appreciation events…

Make sure to be very specific about exactly what you need for the event.

If you’re planning a salad bar, for example, then be exacting about the amount of food they should bring.

Don’t make the mistake of assuming others know correct food portion sizes or you could find yourself in a jam like I once did.

One year, another PTA volunteer was in charge of planning the Staff Appreciation luncheon, and I had agreed to keep refilling the lunch buffet throughout the teachers’ lunch periods since she had an infant and toddler to manage during the days and didn’t have available childcare.

Since she had a large family, I assumed that she would know how much food to provide for the teacher luncheon.

I came after the first or second lunch break to find that 80% of the food was gone with 3 periods remaining!

The chair had vastly underestimated how much food to serve and it was clear there would be absolutely nothing left for the last one or two staff lunch periods.

There was no time to do anything but make a mad dash to the store to get more food. (Trader Joe’s always has good ready-to-go options).

I got back to the school just in time for the last two lunch periods with enough food and the teachers were delighted by the new options!

Planning Events with Food

Food based Staff Appreciation events can be a low cost idea, as long as you don’t over buy for the event.

It’s easy to get stuck here and buy way more than you need “just in case.”

But what if you could reign in costs a bit here to allow for an additional event?

And how to manage food allergies and dietary preferences?

Let’s dig into food based events for a bit and discuss both of these issues!

What Food to Serve

Set up a poll using Google Forms to learn about staff allergies and dietary restrictions such as nuts, gluten, etc.

Distribute the poll to all staff, using your school secretary. She’ll be happy to send it out.

Don’t worry if not everyone answers.

Usually people with the allergies or preferences will make their voices heard by participating in the poll.

But if you don’t know about specific preferences, here are some general guidelines to follow in order to have the food appeal to the widest possible group of staff:

1. Always have a vegetarian and/or vegan option.

2. Always have a nut and gluten free option.

For example, if you’re serving pizza, order 60% with meat (pepperoni) and 40% vegetarian (including some plain cheese).

To make the vegans and gluten-free staff happy, offer a nice salad base (go beyond the boring mix of lettuce with carrots!) and offer a selection of salad toppings (think dried cranberries, sunflower seeds, croutons, pepitas, etc.) – all on the side!

By offering the toppings on the side, you’re maximizing the number of staff who can eat it!

Offering an assortment of dishes for the meal can be a smart approach, especially if you’ll be relying on parent donations for the bulk of the meal.

How much food to serve?

Wondering what’s the right amount of food to serve at the event?

Here’s handy cheat sheet I’ve put together that has just that guidance!

Want even more guidance?

For even more on this topic, check out this Facebook Live I did a while back.

All the information’s still good and it’s worth watching now!

How to Plan Teacher and Staff Appreciation Events Hosted By PTO PTA Parent Organizations

Over to you!

How do you go about planning Staff Appreciation events?

Do you plan them all out at the beginning of the year and go from there?

Or do you plan them sporadically throughout the year?

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