I have a very simple, tried-and-true, stand-by counseling technique that I believe could benefit and improve the practice of all educators — not just school counselors. It is a quick, easy, and effective tool that often takes only a few moments to use with a long lasting impact. It is a practice that creates connections, is student-centered, and promotes well-being in the classroom. It is a tool I turn to over and over again and am continually shocked, amazed, and surprised with the outcome. What is this magic tool? A note.
Dr. Linda Metcalf writes of uses notes in her counseling practice to connect with students, remind them of their goals, and to celebrate successes. When I first learned of this tool to support counseling, it naturally stuck in my mind. Personally I have always enjoyed writing and sending hand-written notes. These might be to give thanks, to celebrate, or to simply say “I’m thinking of you.” In my personal life, I have always received positive feedback about how meaningful notes are and how they make an individual feel. Therefore, when I learned this could become part of my professional practice, I was an immediate believer. If a note has such an impact to someone who does not necessarily “need” support, how much more of an impact could it have then on a student who is working through a problem, issue, or stressful event. I was excited to see if this was a meaningful and authentic tool to add to my counseling tool-box.
The first time I wrote a note to a student, I was unsure how it would be received. I was working with a student who lacked a positive school affiliation. He had bought into the belief that he was not smart, a troublemaker, and that no teacher liked him. After meeting a few times together (and feeling like our sessions were not moving forward), I decided to write him a note. It was simple. I took construction paper, some markers, and sat at my desk. In the note, I greeted him, told him good morning, and that I was very excited to have him at school that day. I wrote that I could not wait to see him after lunch and hear how his morning had gone. Then, I went to his classroom and placed the note on his desk in an inconspicuous place.
That morning, during passing periods, I noticed that this student was smiling more and seemed a little more happy. At lunch, he was engaged with friends and joined in a game. At our session that afternoon, he did not mention the note but he did seem (for the first time) to be excited to connect with me and create a plan for how to complete some missing assignments. It was the first time that he fully bought into our counseling session and advocated for his own needs instead of believing what others thought of him.
Since this experience years ago, I have regularly used the note as part of my counseling practice.
If a student is struggling to separate from parents and caregivers in the morning, I write a note saying how glad I am they are at school and how proud I am of them for joining their learning community without fear.
If a student is new to our school and trying to transition in, I write a note acknowledging the fear and bravery that comes from entering a community where no one knows you.
If a student is working through a death or divorce, I write a note commending the student on his/her ability to be at school, learning, thinking, and participating when her/his mind might not feel like it.
If a student has been working on changing a behavior from an undesirable one to a more pro-social one, I write a note praising the student on a time I “caught” them in the desirable behavior and stating I am eager to see the momentum continue.
At times, a student will come by and say “thank you” for the note. Most often, they do not. I do see little changes, though, whether it be in a smile, a change in behavior, stopping to say hi more often, or a little more buy-in during future interactions. I do often hear from teachers, parents, and other stakeholders that when the student read the note, there was a genuine smile on the student’s face. And, every once in a blue moon, a student writes me a note back! For me, that is enough to keep writing notes and believing in the power of them to positively impact students. In fact, the note is one of the most used tools in my counseling tool-box.
Is there a student you think could benefit from a personalized note? Have you used notes in your educational practice before? Are there other ways you think a note could benefit the school community?