Want Better Faculty Meetings? Start Here.

Last week, I blogged about my decision to write “Kudos Cookies” notes to my students.

A simple idea built on a suggestion from my friend Chris Tuttell, Kudos Cookies are short, handwritten notes of praise paired with a sweet treat.  I write anywhere from two to eight notes every morning — depending on how much time I have after arriving at school — and make deliveries all day long.

The entire experience has been fantastic.  Not only are my kids surprised and thankful for the kind words that I’m sharing, my own spirit is buoyed every morning by the simple act of showing gratitude to the kids in my classroom.

But as I try to convince colleagues to write their own notes to kids, I’m hit with the same response over and over again: “That’s such a great idea!  I’m impressed you are doing it.  But I just don’t have the time.”

Now don’t get me wrong:  I understand the time crunch all too well.  I’m behind in paper grading right now simply because I’ve chosen to spend 20-30 minutes every morning writing to kids instead of scoring assignments.  I’ve also been slow at replying to emails in my inbox — which I imagine is frustrating the dozens of people who need answers from me every single day.  The truth is that even I feel pressure to quit writing to my kids because I’ve got a ton of other things that need to get done.

Think about how heartbreaking that is, all y’all.

How did we get to the point where writing kind notes to kids is something that we can’t find the time for?  How many items on our To-Do lists would have a GREATER impact than telling our students that we are proud of them and spotlighting moments where they have impressed us?  If I quit writing and caught up on my grading and answering my email, would our school be a better place?  Would I be a better teacher?  Would my students be better learners?

Of course not.  The BEST thing I do each day is write to my students.  Each note strengthens a relationship and builds the confidence of a kid.  Nothing else matters more.

#simpletruth

The good news is that Matt Townsley and Santo Nicotera have found a solution.  Both are starting every faculty meeting with the same agenda item:  Writing positive notes to two kids that are hand delivered the next morning.

How awesome is that?

Imagine a room full of teachers spending a few minutes together reflecting on the strengths of individual students.  Imagine a building where written expressions of gratitude became a norm instead of an exception to the rule.  Imagine the positive message sent about priorities when writing to kids was the first thing done whenever teachers gathered together.  And imagine the frame of mind teachers would be in for the rest of the faculty meeting or professional development session after thinking about the kids that they serve.

And THEN imagine the joy that would ripple through your building on the morning after a faculty meeting or professional development session.  

Have 30 staff members?  Sixty students are going to start the next day with a tangible reminder that they ARE successful learners and that their teachers DO believe in them.  Wouldn’t that make your school a more joyful place?  Isn’t that what we mean when we talk about building a community of learners?  Aren’t kids more likely to respond to hand-written notes from the important adults in their lives than to the PBIS points and trinkets that you are currently giving to encourage positive behaviors in your school?

And 30 staff members are going to start the next day with a moment to show gratitude to your students — a behavior that we often overlook in schools because we are too darn busy.

So how do you get started?  Here are a few ideas:

Build 10-15 minutes into your meeting agendas for writing positive notes:  It doesn’t take long to write, guys.  I can write six notes in twenty minutes.  Setting aside ten to fifteen minutes is plenty of time for two notes.

But here’s the thing:  This has to be the FIRST item on your agenda.  Not only will that help by putting teachers in a positive, student-centered frame of mind at the beginning of your faculty meeting, it will ensure that you aren’t tempted to cut letter writing from your agenda because you run out of time at the end of the meeting OR put teachers in the position where they have to decide between writing a meaningful letter or going home at the end of a long staff development session.

Bring school-inspired stationary for every teacher to write on:  I write on cards that are 4 by 5 inch squares.  Four fit on one piece of 8 by 11 card stock.  On the front is a colored, school themed logo.  The cards are big enough for me to say meaningful things but small enough for me to fill in five minutes — so I don’t have to spend forever writing.  Print a stack of these.  Have someone cut them before your faculty meeting.  Ask teachers to pick up two as the enter your meeting — or hand out two at the door as teachers arrive.

Interview kids who have received letters:  The easiest way to convince teachers that writing to kids matters is to interview a few students and get them to talk about the letters that they’ve received.  One or two short videos of kids saying things like, “I felt noticed when I received my letter” or “I wasn’t sure my teacher liked me until I got my letter” will help to cement the notion that time spent on writing letters is well worth it.

Ask every staff member — not just teachers — to write letters:  Don’t forget that your custodians, classroom assistants and office staff members have positive relationships with kids, too.  In fact, they often have positive relationships with students who don’t stand out on the radar of classroom teachers.  Asking them to join your letter writing project will help to ensure that every kid is recognized over the course of the school year.

Recruit parents, the PTA, or your Family and Consumer Science classes to bake Kudos Cookies for you:  My students love the letters that I write.  They COULD be the only thing that you hand out to students.  But let’s face it:  My students also love the cookies that they get, too!  It makes getting a letter from me an extra special treat.  So talk to your parents or your PTA or your Family Consumer Science classes.  Give them a list of your faculty meetings and professional development days.  Have them bake cookies that you can hand out with your letters.  It’s a simple way to spread this project beyond just your classroom teachers.

NEVER skip letter writing:  Never.  Like ever.  The minute that letter writing is bumped from your agenda, you are sending the message to your staff that all of the other items you grind through — details on the new dismissal procedures, reports from the district’s financial planner on changes to your 401K plans, mandated video training on blood borne pathogens or sexual harassment in the workplace — matter more than showing gratitude to kids.  That’s what got us in this pickle to begin with!

So whaddya’ think?  Is this something you can see doing in your faculty meetings?

—————-

Related Radical Reads:

When Was the Last Time YOU Wrote a Positive Note Home to Parents?

Simple Truth:  Kids Want to be Noticed

Writing Positive Notes to my Students is the Best Way to Start the Day

 

9 comments

  1. Pingback: OTR Links 02/07/2017 | doug --- off the record
  2. ctuttell

    Bill,

    “How did we get to the point where writing kind notes to kids is something that we can’t find the time for? ” I ask myself this everyday! How did the TO DO list become so important that we’ve lost sight of the most important people in the building – KIDS!

    I can’t even begin to tell you how grateful I am for you and your reflection about this – this is the power of blogging and the power of Twitter – we might just have a movement on our hands! Imagine a building where each PLT and staff meeting started that way –

    What is interesting to me is that we, as teachers, always appreciate the hand written notes but most don’t make the connection that kids would appreciate too.

    Keep spreading the JOY!
    Chris T

    • Bill Ferriter

      Chris wrote:

      I can’t even begin to tell you how grateful I am for you and your reflection about this – this is the power of blogging and the power of Twitter – we might just have a movement on our hands! Imagine a building where each PLT and staff meeting started that way –

      —————-

      Hey Pal,

      I sure hope that’s what’s happening! I do know that I had more viewers yesterday on my blog than ever before in my 10+ years of blogging. I also know that DOZENS of principals have mentioned on Twitter that they are going to add letter writing to their faculty meeting agendas starting this week.

      If it really happens in dozens of places, that’s a huge win.

      And you are right: It’s all evidence of the power of social spaces. I saw your Tweet about Kudos Cookies, started writing them myself, wrote about it, and got two comments from Matt and Santo extending the idea to faculty meetings. That sparked my thinking — so I wrote again. And the second writing has sparked dozens and dozens of other people.

      All because of your original Tweet, my willingness to write, and Matt and Santo’s willingness to comment.

      So cool indeed.

      Rock on,
      Bill

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  4. Karen D'Elia

    Hey, Bill! LOVE. THIS. Who doesn’t appreciate a hand-written note containing words spoken from the heart? When my sons take the time to write me a note, it’s the best gift ever. I have no doubt this small gesture makes a huge impact on your students. Through the years I have saved notes written to me by my students, parents, colleagues and principals and keep them in yearly “Nice Notes” folders. And about the cookies….”Boo hiss!” to the folks who will say we shouldn’t give out sweet treats. Ask any adult what they remember about their favorite teachers, and it will be about fun moments, kind words, times they went out of their way to show they cared. You care about your kids, and it’s very evident! Thank you for sharing.

    • Bill Ferriter

      Karen wrote:

      Through the years I have saved notes written to me by my students, parents, colleagues and principals and keep them in yearly “Nice Notes” folders.

      ———–

      Me too, Karen! I think we all know the value of a handwritten note — particularly in today’s digital world.

      What’s even better is imagining the impact that receiving a letter from a mentor has on a kid. I’m not sure that our kids are used to receiving handwritten notes from anyone — particularly their teachers. That multiplies the value of the note by ten!

      Hope you are well,
      Bill

    • Bill Ferriter

      Can’t wait to hear more about it, Hatch! Keep me posted, OK? I want to tout as many schools who are doing this as possible simply because I think it is a simple idea that can have a huge impact — and I rely on guys like you who can really make this happen simply because I can’t! As a teacher, I have no control over faculty meeting agendas.

      Rock on,
      Bill