Just a Little Letter… Writing to students!
At my student teaching placement, my cooperating teacher (Debbie Gray) showed me how she would write little notes to all of her students. She would try and get a letter to each one in a semester so that every student got about two notes a year. It’s hard to keep up with this, but she stayed after it. She would write them notes praising great things they had done, courage they showed when working hard or when they defended other students, and in some cases she would write to let them know how they could work harder or improve their behavior.
Debbie always tried to write about positive things that students had done and the act of writing the notes taught her to look for the good that everyone did. I mean, if she was going to write a note to all the kids (even the trouble-makers) then she’d really have to be on the lookout for amazing things during class. This changed the way she thought about behavior and helped frame her mindset going into class. When writing letters, Debbie didn’t use a set form letter or template. She would write to each student about what they did and made the letter specific to them. That made it special. There were no “Great job today for singing…” letters. She would specifically state what they did on what song and what made it great. Kids treasured her notes and would bring them back YEARS LATER to show them to her. Parents put them up on the fridge or stored them in treasure boxes. Debbie built relationships with EVERY student through her letters, something that’s hard to do when you have so many students.
I have valiantly tried to follow in Debbie’s footsteps in letter writing. I have about 480 students this year and so it’s hard to get a note to each one each semester (especially when they move in and out as much as my students do) but I have persevered as much as possible. Writing adds about 15 minutes to my days, sometimes more, but the return for my efforts has been amazing! It really, REALLY makes you look for the good in every student and praise even the smallest of strides that they make. The great thing is that if you send home a letter early on in the year about what good things they’re doing, a call or note home to parents later talking about their not-so-great behavior is proceeded by a good note. Parents have a good notion of who you are in their head and they’re more likely to help you than if they were just to get a negative note about what their student is doing wrong. Students really treasure their notes and for weeks after getting a letter are noticeably more confident and excited when they come to music class.
Writing Notes to Students – The Process
So, here’s what I do. I buy stationary from the Dollar Spot at Target and I try to write a few notes every day. I’ve got quite a few list pads that aren’t seasonal but some that ARE so that kids letters go with the theme/time of year. Right now my notes are Orange and Purple and have bats, jack-o-lanterns, and ghosts on them. I get little colored envelopes (also from Target in their stationary section) and stickers from Dollar Tree to make the envelope look like a real letter students might get in the mail. I write every day and record names/date the note was sent/general topic in my roster so that I don’t send 4 letters to Jose and 0 to Manuel. This really adds up to a lot of letters, but I don’t write them to Kindergarten in the Fall. It’s too early for Kdg to know me and for me to know each of them and they can’t read them anyway, so I wait until second semester.
Once I’ve written my letters I put them in a mailbox that I’ve mounted next to my door. I have two 5th grade girls who come every day after their lunch to deliver my letters. Knowing that they’re coming keeps me accountable that I need to have SOMETHING in the mailbox! They also deliver any notes that I need to send to other teachers, letters that go to the post bag in the main office, and other errands that I need done.
Sometimes this feels like it adds a lot of extra work/time and I have definitely had moments where it’s hard to find something about EACH student to praise, but I tell you that this has helped me in so many ways. I know my students better, I have started connections with even the quietest kiddos, and I’ve started to get to know each kiddo. It might add a little extra time to my day, but I know how much impact that little letter is having on students. For me, it’s worth the extra work.