Back at the end of April, I decided to spend a few minutes each day writing positive notes to the parents of every student on my learning team. It was a simple idea, driven by the stark reality that the only time parents ever heard from me was when their child had dropped the ball academically or socially. My goal: To make sure that the parents of my students knew that their kids were valued.
So I sat down during my lunch period and wrote to two students per day for just over two months to get through my entire middle school roster.
What I learned first was that the notes I was writing were having as much of an impact on me as they were on my students and their parents. Intentionally writing about the positives that I saw in students meant that I was always looking for those positives — and spotting positives put me in a different frame of mind every day.
More importantly, consistently spotting positives tempered my reaction when students made poor choices in class. It’s easier to coach a kid that you believe in than it is one that you’ve grown frustrated with — and believing in kids is easier when you are writing about their successes every single day.
What really blew me away, though, was the reaction that my students had to the letters that I was writing.
They knew that if I handed them an envelope, it was a positive letter celebrating their strengths — and almost without fail, they opened it immediately to see what I had written. I loved watching their reactions. They’d start with serious looks on their faces, not quite sure what to expect. Then, they’d inevitably sit a little taller, put their cards back in the envelope, and smile.
Wanting to know more about the impact that positive notes had on my students, I had them answer a simple question for me in Socrative last week: Should Mr. Ferriter continue writing to his students next year? Did you appreciate receiving your letter? Why/Why Not?
What I learned from their responses was SUPER instructive. Many students talked about enjoying the anticipation that came along with waiting to receive their notes from me. They knew that I was going to celebrate something that I’d seen in them and they couldn’t wait to find out what that “something” was going to be. They also totally dug their parents’ reactions to their letters. “We had a whole family meeting about my letter!” one boy wrote. “Mine ended up on Facebook,” said another. “I don’t even know what my mom did with it,” said a third. “It’s probably in that box of special things she keeps about me.”
But the message shared over and over again was that my kids just appreciated being noticed. Read some of these comments:
It was nice to know that the teachers actually pay attention to you and notice you. This shows that the teacher appreciates everyone and not just a few students. I really appreciated the letter because I knew Mr. Ferriter cared when I got it.
I apprecated getting my letter because I don’t ever get bad reports from school, I just rarely get anything. This helps my parents and I hear something from school other than numbers and gives a more personal aspect to that.
Its nice for the kids and their parents to receive something almost like a reward for being a good student. Sometimes, the only students who get “recognized” for good things are the kids who normally do bad things whereas its expected from the other kids.
I really did appreciate it because usually you never know where you stand with a teacher and it gives you a kind’ve confudent boost.
I felt appreciated when he wrote the letter to me. And it made me feel proud about myself that I’ve been working hard in science this year and have been paying attention in science class.
I think you should definitely keep doing these because sometimes I don’t always feel like I am doing the best or even that I am noticed in class, but this definitely reassured me that I am doing good and hopefully it will help brighten other kids and let them know you appreciate our effort and work. 🙂
That was an eye opener for me, y’all.
I knew that making every child feel noticed was an uphill battle — particularly in a middle school where I serve 100+ students in 55-minute class periods every single day. But I never realized just how much feeling noticed mattered to my kids. To hear student after student talk about how good it felt to realize that I was noticing all that was unique about them was the evidence that I needed to prove that the time I spent writing this year was more than worthwhile.
My only change for next year: I’m going to start writing during the first quarter! With luck, I’ll be able to write to every kid at least twice before the year ends.
Related Radical Reads:
When Was the Last Time You Wrote a Positive Note Home to Parents?
This is Why I Teach: They Make Cards
This is Why I Teach: Individual Moments Matter