Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Handwritten Notes

This morning I read a brief article that connected to one of the long-term goals I have maintained for years - provide more handwritten notes. I cherish receiving handwritten notes (I've saved every single one) and I know our students, colleagues, guest speakers, community partners, and families do also.  I want the art of writing handwritten notes to become automatic for me and anyone that works with others. I truly believe words of affirmation are powerful and handwritten notes forge lasting relationships. In fact, "Words of Affirmation" is a primary Love Language of so many children and adults. One kind word can change someone's entire day!

In terms of the educational purposes, I think there are times we need to have a variety of stationery available to capture and communicate our inner positive feelings. Here are some of my first thoughts...

1. Thank You Notes

A. Gifts from Students and Children

Adults and teachers are given so many random items and drawings from diverse children. It is given from their heart and means so much to them. Unfortunately, we are often quick to brush it off or put it to the side after a quick half smile. How special would it be to return our appreciation with a quick handwritten note to the child?  The note does not have to be long and detailed.  Just make it specific to the item and child's intentions. 

My daughter spent countless early morning hours waiting in my classroom for the school bell to ring.  She was consistent in making notes for me and her classroom teachers.  She took pride in writing special messages and drawing pictures.  I kept these notes posted by my desk each day.  The notes truly made my day!  I would return her kindness in our nightly dialogue journal we wrote back and forth to each other. Busy teachers do not have to write daily thank you notes to children, like my daughter, that frequently give notes and gifts every day.  Randomly, give the child a note to express your appreciation.
Dear Mom, I hope you have a good day like I will.  Love you.

B.  Gifts from Parents/Families

It's almost the beginning of another school year and the current parent debate is about giving teacher's a gift at the start of the year. Is it too early to give? Is it a form of bribery? Regardless of preference, I have seen lots of creative handmade gifts to give teachers here and dozens more circulating on Pinterest.  Gifts come from families at the beginning of the year, holidays, our birthday, Teacher Appreciation Week, and randomly throughout the year.  It is one way in which our families communicate that they appreciate our professionalism and time devoted to their child.  It only takes a minute or two to say thank you to those parents and family members.    

This past year, I enjoyed tutoring after school because it gave me the close relationships with students and families again.  It is simple cards, like the one below, that rejuvenates teachers and keeps the zest for teaching.

C. Gifts from Colleagues

I was sincerely blessed to work with kind colleagues during my years of instructional coaching and received several sweet cards and gifts.  Two cards really stood out to me. The first card was given to me immediately following a training several teachers attended.  I was shocked by the purpose and timeliness of the card.  It assured me that I was coaching in the right direction and it was appreciated.
It was extremely difficult for me to leave my instructional coaching position in the middle of the year.  I have always transitioned into a new position at the end of a school year.  In February, a position in the Family and Community Engagement Services department opened and I could not resist the opportunity to make a passion-based leap.  My teachers embraced my decision and gave me wonderful notes, a wallet, a happy hour outing, and warm hugs.  I was deeply touched.  

D.  Gifts from Community Partners and Donors

Additionally, it is important to mention the thank you cards for special luncheons, gifts, donations, and service projects from volunteers.  We are quick to offer our verbal thanks, but taking an extra step to send photographs and cards are sincerely appreciated.  You will often see thank you cards publicly posted in local businesses and agencies.  Those words of gratitude can foster future funding opportunities as the donor realizes the donation is appreciated and valued.  I recently sent a thank you note for several carloads of free resources I received from Another Joy Foundation.  

2.  Notes of Praise

A.  Notes of Praise from Administrators

Educators often feel unappreciated from their administrators that are required to write lengthy performance evaluations. Many teachers, unfortunately, rarely receive genuine positive or non-directive feedback. Consequently, many teachers (and instructional coaches too) feel inadequate and unnoticed despite the hours of service and sacrificing countless hours of personal time. I want to provide a small gallery of a few of the (specifically) handwritten thank you notes I have received from several thoughtful administrators. Please note how these administrators connected with me on a personal and professional level. Also, notice the variety of stationery, length of letters, and purposes. This is not meant to boast or brag about my career, but rather give positive examples for other administrators to imitate and innovate.  I hope these authentic examples will ignite a continual loop of kindness in the school setting from all administrators.  I am forever thankful and cherish the experience of working with these caring administrators.


B. Notes of Praise to Fellow Colleagues

I had the pleasure of being a Performance Zone (4) Instructional Coach (PZIC) team leader. Our district's Instructional Unit and our Academic Manager gave us a book to read and implement.  

Leverage Leadership: A Practical Guide to Building Exceptional Schools 

Postcard template created by Angie Shepard
The book gave specific purposes and guidelines for giving handwritten notes of praise to colleagues. Our coaching team knew that this was not occurring frequently enough in the schools we served. Therefore, PZIC Angie Shepard drafted a postcard template (right) for us, as coaches, to provide handwritten notes of praise on our unscheduled walk-through observations. It was highly successful and well received from the classroom teachers.  We often saw the postcards posted and preserved near the teacher's desk.  I also continued the practice, during my daily unscheduled coaching observations, with small stationery templates I printed.

The only negative administrative feedback we received was from a principal that was worried the notes could be used against her evaluation documentation.  For example, we left a very general note to an "unsatisfactory" teacher and that teacher then used it to tell the principal she was indeed performing up to standard.  This was one isolated incident and we were cautious on our wording after that event.

The notes were usually written with the PQP (Praise, Question, Praise) format.  I liked to include a reflection question to spur the conversation into the next coaching step.  It is important to acknowledge the good things teachers are doing each day.  All teachers, even those deemed ineffective, are doing something good in the classroom.  I wanted them to continue those good aspects and also reflect on their practice.    

B. Notes of Praise to Students

Several authors note that private and specific praise is most effective.  Simple handwritten cards, postcards, sticky notes, or scraps of paper quickly slipped on a student's desk can radically change behavior and academic performance.  Educators can definitely use these alternatives to simply saying "Good Job!"   Keep notes clearly worded, concise in wording, and consistently used.

You've got mail!  (Positive postcard from my daughter's 4th grade teacher) 

3. Lunch Box Notes

I have served in the lunchroom over the years and I always get tickled to see the smile on a child's face when s/he receives a lunch box note. It's rare, but a touching moment every time. My friends at the Curriculum Corner have several to print for free. Another great source for free lunch box notes can be found here.  These notes could be printed and signed with a personalized note to the student.  Teachers, parents, and adults can tuck these notes in textbooks, pencil cases, backpacks, and lunchboxes to make that child's day.   

I enjoy reading about how these lunch box notes have impacted families for years: 

Dad's 20-Year-Old Lunchbox Note To His Daughter Goes Viral

   Final thoughts...

At the end of the day, everyone wants to feel valued and appreciated.  Everyone! 
We want to know that we are noticed by the ones we love and trust. 
A person who feels appreciated will always do more than what is expected. 
Choose to find something good in every classroom, student, teacher, parent, and community partner.
Express your genuine appreciation with a handwritten note.

I quickly generated this post after reading the article and I know there are many other types and reasons to provide handwritten notes in the educational setting. Please feel free to add suggestions and personal stories in the comments below!  

1 comment:

  1. Agree, hand written notes touch the soul when written with genuine appreciation! Like the suggestions you provide. Worked at a school with a Ram mascot, often given we're RAM-A-Grams; administration purchased the uniquely labeled cards to be used by all staff, to colleagues, support staff, and students. It was a nice treat getting the hand written note at various times in the year (following observation, going above and beyond, recoginizing a student, etc.). Thanks, E.S. from Charlotte,NC