Gift Giving at Private Schools

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Private School News

With the winter holiday season quickly approaching, everyone’s thinking about gift giving—and you’re probably on someone’s list. Both private school administrators and teachers give and receive gifts at school around this time of year, and it’s wise to plan early for thoughtful, appropriate gifts—or consider whether you should receive them at all.

Private schools—as opposed to public or charter schools—present a special case when it comes to holiday gift-giving traditions, especially at lower-division schools that can be considered “feeder” schools for the local upper-division schools, as parents hope to garner better recommendations when applying to new schools. Some parents may feel the need to cement relationships and goodwill with both teachers and administrators with presents.

Giving gifts can be a tradition at your school—and one you’re loathe to make waves about—but you could possibly run into allegations of bribery or special treatment for students whose families offer particularly extravagant presents. To counter this, most schools have—and should follow!—clear policies concerning gift giving, including acceptable amounts to spend on such gifts.

Review your policies and resolve to keep to them this holiday season—even if this means graciously returning expensive gifts to parents.

Gifts don’t only come from families. There may be some presents exchanged within various school departments or offices. Here are some words to the wise about gifts in the “office,” as recommended by various experts.

  • Gifts should typically “flow down” from higher-ups, rather than from employees to the manager or boss, says Alison Green for U.S.News’s On Careers blog. “Many people resent being expected to give a gift to someone who presumably makes significantly more money than they do,” she warns, adding that the same logic applies to group gifts for a boss, as some “may worry that not participating could affect the way they’re perceived by the person who signs their paycheck.”
  • Brittney Helmrich with Business News Daily recommends group gift exchanges. Secret Santas, “white elephants,” and gift grabs are all fun ways to involve everyone, not just a few.
  • In just about every “How to Give Gifts in a Professional Setting” article you find, someone will mention how important tact is when giving gifts, then recite a horror story, like one mother who still flushes when she talks about the gift her husband gave to their son’s teachers (Victoria’s Secret pajamas and a 12-pack of beer) or the coworker who gave a recovering alcoholic a bottle of wine. So use common sense when buying a gift!

How are gifts exchanged at your school? Tell us in the comment section below!

Additional ISM resources:
ISM Monthly Update for Human Resources Vol. 10 No. 4 Holiday Gifts: A Policy Question?
ISM Monthly Update for Human Resources Vol. 11 No. 4 The Gift of Simplicity
Private School News Vol. 8 No. 12 Holiday Parties: Risks and Pitfalls
Private School News Vol. 11 No. 7 Celebrating the Holidays on Campus

Additional ISM resources for Gold Consortium members:
I&P Vol. 38 No. 6 Developing a Gift Acceptance Policy Manual


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