As the Head Teacher / Program Coordinator in the Summer English Program in France, I was also responsible for managing and evaluating the performance of my co-teachers. It wasn’t an easy task because I had to make sure that my co-teachers were ready for their lesson plans, met their deadlines, and solve problems without the luxury of a great internet connection.

As the program was about to conclude, I called for a “final meeting”, not telling them what the agenda was about. Maybe they were thinking that I will remind them about completing the report cards. They did not know that I took a secret trip to the supermarché with Jean-Marc, one of my French colleagues.

Side story: at lunch, I approached Jean-Marc since he had his own car. I told him about my plan of thanking my co-teachers for their hard work. The plan was simple: buy a cake and have a mini-celebration.

He gladly agreed.

I called the meeting in the late afternoon. There was a picnic table under the tree near the area where we, teachers, have our afternoon coffee. My co-teachers were clueless when they saw a pink box in front of me. I uttered these words:

Two years ago, the Head Teacher surprised us teachers with a cake to thank us for our efforts. So, in continuing the tradition, I want to thank all of you and wish you a job well done!

My co-teachers’ faces lighted up with joy and appreciation. Maybe this was non-verbal action equivalent to merci beaucoup.

What was my take-away from this? What if I didn’t call a final meeting? What if I didn’t shell out 15 euros for a cake? After all, my colleagues didn’t ask for this.

In the people business, little things matter. I’ve learned this throughout my experience in France. For some, a simple assurance may mean nothing, but it can turn the tables after a bad experience. I encountered stressful moments with my students but I’m fortunate to have colleagues who were ready to listen and receive my stressful emotions. Ultimately, communication plays a vital role. “Great job today”, “thank you”, “let me know if you need anything” — they are not just conversation fillers. They are little compliments with a big purpose.

After all, who couldn’t resist an amazing piece of cake from the boulangeries of France!?

On y va!


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