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First Day of School Letters and Survival Kits Build Communication

Many teachers and administrators have started introducing themselves to parents and students before school starts, or right at the opening bell. Some have even started providing "survival kits" to help students weather the first few days of school. At some schools, teachers are welcomed with "survival kits" of their own! Included: Examples of survival kits for students and teachers.

A Student Survival Kit

To make survival kits for your students, place the items described below in brown lunch bags and include this handout:

"The items in this bag have special meaning:
* The cotton ball is to remind you that this room is full of kind words and warm feelings.
* The chocolate kiss is to comfort you when you are feeling sad.
* The tissue is to remind you to help dry someone's tears.
* The sticker is to remind you that we all stick together and help each other.
* The star is to remind you to shine and always try your best.
* The gold thread is to remind you that friendship ties our hearts together.
* The rubber band is to remind you to hug someone.
* The penny is to remind you that you are valuable and special.
* The toothpick is to remind you to "pick out" the good qualities in your classmates.
* The bandage is to heal hurt feelings in your friends and in yourself.
* The eraser is to remind you that we all make mistakes, and that is okay.
* The Life Savers are to remind you that you can come to me if you need someone to talk to.

More teachers are starting off the school year with letters to parents and students to introduce themselves and set a tone for the year.

The letters are a good way to establish positive communication with parents, several teachers told Education World. "I think it's professional," said Dorothy Peselli, an English teacher at Sparta High School in Sparta, New Jersey. Peselli, who distributes the letters the first day of school, told Education World, "It gives parents an image of you as a professional. If you start communication off in a positive manner, you will have the parents on your side when you need them."

In her letter to parents, Peselli encourages them to call or e-mail her with specific concerns about their children. "I want to work as a team to ensure that your child becomes an independent lifelong learner," Peselli wrote to parents last September. She also telephones the parents of all her students at the beginning of the year.

Peselli includes with the letter a classroom handbook listing policies and procedures. And she requires that both parents and students read and sign statements (included in the letter!) that they read the handbook. The student letter also lists needed supplies and dispenses encouragement. "Please come to class ready to work and learn. This will be an exciting year for all of us," it says.

Last year, Peselli taught at a different high school and she recalled that parents there were "shocked," but appreciative, that she had so much contact with them. "I received roses and a thank you note from one boy and his mother," Peselli said. She wishes her own children's teachers would take the time to write notes as well. "I never got a letter home from any of my daughter's high school teachers," she said. "It would be nice to know the background of some of the people who are teaching my daughter."

Allays Some Fears

An introductory letter outlining the expectations and procedures can help quell some of the nervousness of students and parents, said Max W. Fischer, a seventh grade team leader at Edgewood Middle School in Wooster, Ohio. Two of three seventh grade teams at his school send out letters, he said.

"Our letter is the initial step in reaching out to parents," Fischer told Education World. The letter indicates that maintaining communication about all aspects of a student's life is a team priority.

"A major goal we have is to maintain consistent communication with you regarding your son or daughter's progress and your thoughts on that advancement," according to the letter. "A student's academic competence is naturally a major parental concern. However, we have become aware that many parents are also interested in their children's future, their safety at school, and their ability to develop personal responsibility and a strong work ethic."

Teacher expectations, student responsibilities and team organization are reviewed at an orientation meeting for parents and students. Teachers also call parents two weeks into the school year to see if they have any concerns about their child's adjustment. "It opens the lines of communication," Fischer told Education World. "Parents need to know what's expected and to understand the team approach."

Teachers Like Greetings Too

Some administrators and teachers also put together survival kits for the teaching staff. Dale Maxwell, a fourth grade teacher and testing coordinator at St. Bernard School in Los Angeles, California, said that over the years he has collected several lists for survival kits, from a variety of sources. About three years ago, he and another teacher assembled and passed out survival kits to fellow teachers at a retreat preceding the opening of school.

"I think it is important to establish a positive atmosphere among the staff at the beginning of the year," Maxwell told Education World. "Establishing a positive atmosphere through humor and a sense of sympathetic understanding helps promote a spirit of camaraderie." He also has put together survival kits for parents and students, which are distributed at Back-to-School night.

Making contact early can be valuable throughout the year, added Fischer. "I find it is of great value to have parents on our side and communicate with them," he said. "It does set a tone. They learn the philosophy and what's expected."


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