Since Dr. Stahlman's first year at Chets Creek, positive postcards have been a part of our practice. A postcard, "News from School," is placed in your school mailbox on Wednesday morning. You choose something incredible that has happened during the week, write a short note to a student, and then drop the postcard in the Principal's box sometime during the day. I think the Principal has always enjoyed reading the cards (it keeps her up on things that are going on in the building) and she adds the stamp. Of course, recognizing that each of us has a different style and pace, I'm sure the Principal knew that all of the postcards wouldn't all appear in her box by the end of the day! For those of us that were slow to get postcards written, at the mid-term she would usually send a friendly reminder that you owed her some postcards and that this would be a good time to catch up. She sent another reminder at the end of the year and sometimes highlighted a list of teachers who were keeping up with their postcards or occasionally highlighted well-written postcards in her weekly Memo. Although the expectation was that teachers would write the postcards, there has never really been a penalty for non-compliance.
The idea originally was that over the year you would send at least one positive postcard to every child in your class. A few teachers made once-a-year labels for their entire class that were a "you're gonna do great on the big test" booster that they sent right before testing time that met the expectation but certainly not the spirit of the practice. Over the years, teachers also began to send cards to parents and to their colleagues. I know I was always delighted to get a postcard at home and both the children and parents at school would remark how excited they were for their child to get a postcard. It was just such a small, but effective way, to highlight individual successes and to promote positive communication.
As luck would have it, last year the Union negotiated a paperwork reduction and like lots of other good and bad practices, positive postcards came under fire. Principals were no longer able to "require" teachers to write positive postcards. So the idea came to our Shared Decision Making Group to decide if this was a practice that was worth continuing or one to let go. I'd like to say that the group decided that it was such a worthwhile practice that we unanimously decided that we couldn't possibly live without it. But...that's not what happened... While some teachers hardily endorsed the practice and gave many examples of how postcards boosted self-esteem with individual students and positively affected communication, some teachers just didn't see the value added for the time they required. The decision was made that the postcards would continue to be placed in every box and then put in the Principal's box to read and stamp but that she wouldn't hold teachers accountable.
The Principal has often remarked that the teachers that are diligent about postcards and communication in general, are the ones most likely NOT to have problems with parents! But it's more than that. Can you imagine the household pride when a postcard arrives in the mailbox? I can just imagine the child's chest swelling with pride and parents who show off the card to each other and anyone else that will listen. I have had parents come back years later and tell me that their child kept a postcard that I wrote for years tucked in the mirror in their bedroom or put it in a picture book to keep for always. I know I have kept every single postcard that I have ever received in a bowl with other "feel good" notes from parents and children, and when I'm feeling particularly down, I go through and read every note and card. It's an immediate "pick me up" and reminds me why I do what I do.
I guess I'm writing this blog to the teachers who don't write post cards to their students and colleagues because I want them to carefully reconsider this practice as one of those "tried and true" activities that is well worth the effort. I know that not every teacher is a writer and they would argue that they do other things to boost self-esteem and to work on relationships, and I am sure that is true. But I would also like to think that there are many other teachers and administrators who have written notes and cards to their students and colleagues on a regular basis and see the immediate benefits and also see the benefit for years to come. Would love to know if you have ever tried this practice and if it's made a difference for you!