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.
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?
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