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My Post-Thanksgiving Letters To Students

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I’ve previously written about a practice I have of periodically writing personal letters to students — particularly ones that are facing particular challenges. I place it in a sealed envelope with his/her name on it, and just give it to him/her in a matter-of-fact way. It’s been amazing to me to see the effect these letters have had.

I’ve written some this week to give to four students on Monday, and thought I’d share them here (feedback is welcome):

LETTER ONE

Dear _____,

I hope you had a great Thanksgiving!

You are a young man with many gifts:

• When you decide you want to do something, you can push out any distractions and get it done, and get it done well.
• When you want to smile, it lights up the entire room and makes everyone who sees you feel better.
• When you want to help someone, you have a talent for helping them learn how to do it for themselves and not just do it for them.
• When things might not be going great, and you are willing to open up and show how you are really feeling about something, it makes people around you want to do everything they can to help you and connect with you.

When you do these things, you become every teacher’s delight and a delight to all your classmates. When you do these things, I want to go the extra mile, and more, to help you achieve everything and anything you want to.

I hope you will want to do these things, and show your gifts, more and more.

Mr. Ferlazzo


LETTER TWO

Dear ____________,

You might be the most likeable student in the entire school.

You are always friendly and respectful.

You can go far, and I would like to help you go far.

I can’t take you there by myself, though. We need to work together.

I hope you will decide to work with me….

Mr. Ferlazzo

LETTER THREE

Dear __________,

You have said all year that you can do the work in this class.

The week before Thanksgiving you showed that this was true. You did all the work that was expected of you – even more. And you did it well.

You showed that you can be an excellent student – and can be an excellent reader and an excellent writer.

You can do it when you decide you want to do it.

I hope you decide you want to do it the rest of the school year, too.

Mr. Ferlazzo


LETTER FOUR

Dear __________,

You are clearly have what’s called the “work ethic” – the commitment to work hard – and the intelligence to be a star in school, and in life.

I also appreciate your cheerfulness, and your respectful attitude. I really enjoy having you in class.

You are looked at by other students as a leader. That is a gift, and a responsibility. You are a role model.

By having all those qualities I’ve mentioned, you are a great role model.

By having a just a little more self-control, you can be a star role model.

I hope you decide to be a star.

Mr. Ferlazzo

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Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

6 Comments

  1. This is a wonderful antidote to the often large and impersonal school settings we place our middle and high school students in where students move from class to class, teacher to teacher and cohort to cohort and at a time when they need to feel connected and part of a core community. I hope others will take your cue and implement this with their students. I know I would have appreciated a letter like this when I was in high school.

    For the past few years I have been including one or two paragraphs specifically describing what I have learned from each of my students and what I see as their contributions to our class to accompany each student’s final grade. The feedback I have received has encouraged me to continue with this. This semester I did it for midterm evaluations as well as it seems a missed opportunity to wait until the course is over to do this. It takes time and I have the luxury of really getting to know my students since I just have ten or so per semester in this college graduate course. I will be sharing your practice with our pre-service teachers in the hope that they will consider trying this out with their struggling students.

    One question: How do other students in your classes react when you give the letter to those selected students?

    • Barbara,

      Wow! I’m sure giving every student a letter like you do has a tremendous impact — I just don’t have that in me…

      You ask a very good question. During the school year, most students get some kind of special recognition from me — either a letter, a call home when they’ve done something especially praiseworthy, the gift of a book, being recognized on a Friday in a “What I See In You…” little ceremony. Because of that, there’s usually no sense of jealousy. However, on occasion, a student might say to me “When do I get my letter?” In that case, I usually make sure that he/she gets one in the not-so-distant future.

      Larry

  2. Wow to you, Larry! You have again given me more ideas to share with my pre-service teachers,—thank you. And remember, I have a very small set of students!

    What I find especially compelling about these practices is that they reinforce the uniqueness of each student and offer students a more holistic appraisal of who they are through your eyes. Letter or number grades just can’t do that. And the fact that students are recognized throughout the year and in public ways as well contributes to identifying with a community of practice that is vital and so often missing in educational settings as they are currently constructed.

    Thank you for all you do for our colleagues and our students and Happy Thanksgiving!

  3. Pingback: What Will the New Year Bring? | Day In the Classroom

  4. Great ideas Larry. It works wonders both ways. The end of this school year I got a most encouraging letter from one of my Grade 9 students. I will endeavor to put more of my encouragements in writing. Just reading your sample letters confirm for me that the impact will be much much greater.

    I will also share this idea with the form teachers that I supervise so we can adopt the practice.

    I am motivated to continue to impact the lives of all the young people that I come in contact with.
    You continue as well.

    Angela

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