Over each of my last five years as a high school principal, we have set three schoolwide goals. Ranging from advancing college and career readiness to increasing attendance, our goals have been simple, student-centered, and focused on getting staff buy-in. Two years ago, we specifically set a goal to improve our community relationships with stakeholders and increase positive communication, and one simple strategy helped us do both.
As part of increasing positive communication, our office staff created postcards with our school logo for every teacher—we called them our “positive postcards.” I also added a new twist to our protocol for the beginning of every biweekly professional learning community (PLC) meeting: every teacher would share two positive postcards they had written.
Most of the time, teachers wrote postcards to students and parents, but sometimes they sent one to someone else in the community who had done something to help our kids or school. Then, at the end of the first semester, we created a list of all students who had not yet received a postcard during the school year. Our goal for the second semester then became to send each of those students a postcard for something positive until we had reached everyone in our school. And yes, we believe that we can find something positive to write home about for every kid in our school.
The impact was truly amazing. Our PLC meetings began on an extremely positive note. Teachers shared and heard about great things our students and others had accomplished or been involved in over the previous couple of weeks. The complaining or negativity that can find its way into PLC meetings has a much tougher time taking root when we begin every meeting with everyone talking about something great!
Teachers shared lots of different positive experiences: kids making a great grade on a test when they had been struggling in class, a student cleaning up a mess left on a table during lunch in the cafeteria, a welcome note for a new student who had recently transferred to our school telling the student how happy the teacher was to have them in their class. The energy of our meetings was so much better than in years past, and as a result, more was accomplished.
Building Our Community
Shortly after we began this initiative, our teachers started seeing pictures and social media posts and receiving letters, notes, and calls back from parents praising and thanking them for the postcards that had been sent home. The response from students and parents was gratifying and motivating for our staff. If they had doubts about this initiative initially, those doubts were quickly erased when teachers saw the impact of their positive contact.
Our teachers would talk about a kid coming up in the hallway and thanking them for sending home a postcard, and there were so many stories about it being just what that student or parent needed because they were having a bad day or something else had been going on in their world that our staff knew nothing about. Even better, this positive and proactive communication made it easier for more difficult conversations to occur between teachers and families when less positive issues arose. Parents trusted that our teachers did have the students’ best interests at heart and were more receptive to their concerns.
Last year, we sent home a total of 1,584 postcards to a school of 1,200 students. As of March 1st of this year, we sent home 1,104 postcards, and our administrative team has even started sending these to our staff. We use a lot of postage, but it’s worth it to see how our school has changed.
We are continuing to work every day to get better at our craft and make a difference in the lives of our kids. Our positive postcards have given us an avenue to cultivate and grow positive relationships with our students, families, and community. I do not believe that our work will ever be finished; we will always have new kids and new families each year, but every postcard brings us one step closer to accomplishing our goals.
As you begin to plan for the next school year, how can you challenge yourself and your staff to be positive thinkers? How can you put an intentional and focused plan in place to increase positive communication and build relationships?
Brandon Watkins began his career in 2005 as a social studies teacher at Madison Southern High School in Berea, KY. Watkins is now in his sixth year as principal and has led MSHS to four consecutive years of Distinguished School recognition. He recently moved into the role of president for the Kentucky Association of Secondary School Principals and was Kentucky State Principal of the Year in 2019.