The power of the thank-you note


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From Carina, a former student who is now a supply chain analyst for a global company

Over the weekend, I received two very special emails.  The first came from a student I had taught ten years ago who had just landed her first full-time job as a teacher.  The second was from a student who was in a building where I was an administrator.  He wrote me to say that he’s enjoying high school and that he was thankful for his experience.  Both were equally cool, and both are equally appreciated in ways the writers will never imagine.

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From Kirsten, one of the best ELA teachers I have ever hired

This may sound corny, but I have kept various thank-you notes over the years.  It’s difficult to explain what such a few words on paper, whether written or typed, mean.

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From various students from 2006 when they were in 9th grade

It all started in East Brunswick, where students in grades 5, 7, 9, and 12 were all given one card to send a thank you to a teacher, the average response being about two sentences.  It was my first year, and I received 41 from the roughly 160 students I had taught.  I was so proud that I hung them in my classroom.  I repeated the practice every year that I was at CJHS and finally ran out of wall space.  I wanted my students to see them; it was motivation for them. They liked pointing to this one or that one and having me tell them a story about the student who had written it.  They loved finding ones written by their siblings.  Students even returned and pointed out their own cards.

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From Sarah, currently a merchandising assistant for a Fortune 500 company

Thank yous can come in a myriad of forms–post-it notes, formal letters from parents, even a coloring page from a book.  Those little things matter most.

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From a former student who just began her first year as an elementary teacher

When I made the switch to administration, I thought these days were surely going to be over.  I was waiting for the barrage of angry emails, phone calls, and disagreements.  To my surprise, it was not as daily as I had expected, and, when the tough times came along, thank-you notes also came along with them.

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From my former superintendent

As I rose up the ranks, I learned very quickly that the phrase “bigger chair, bigger problems” is the truth.  As a superintendent, problems that I didn’t think were even possible came my way.  Whether it was student placement, staff placement, or just about anything you would expect from a Hollywood script, it came (and still does) across my desk.

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From a former parent at LAC school thanking me for moving her 2nd-grade student “onward” 🙂

While parent thank-you cards are fantastic, the shout-outs from students are even more exciting, especially from those students who took a misstep on occasion.

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From a former student who needed to focus on spelling instead of “doing something bad” 

Thank-you notes from students who genuinely appreciate change and the direction in which the school district is going “take the cake.”  People love saying, “We want change,” but,  when it affects them, they no longer want it.  Social media and public meetings allow theatrics and folks who don’t like any change an avenue to vent, but they often do not see (or want to see) the other side.  Little notes like the one below are all the fire you need to keeping moving in the right direction.

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From an excited student who was eager for the changes and what will happen next

Of course, teacher support during change is always appreciated, too.  Sometimes, you just have to be yourself and give everything to those in need.  I have found that when I come into new places, many have not yet been exposed to what is truly out there.

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As I am rolling out a series of changes in my new district, things are almost lockstep compared to other districts when it comes to folks “freaking out” over change.  It can be a district of 100 or 10000.  Change is tough.  While both the opposition and theatrics by various stakeholders have been high, the thank- you notes and positive communication have still been flowing in.  It is for you, and the students whom I am here to serve, that I keep pushing forward for what is best for today’s students.  The passion and fire in the belly will always be there, but it is the occasional thank-you notes that keep me focused. Soooo…thank you for the thank yous!




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