9 Suggestions for the Welcome Back to School letter from the Principal

“Although it was a bit too long, I really appreciated your letter this summer,” is something I have heard many times in the past 15 years.   Like many of you, I write a “welcome back to school” letter to parents every summer, and I think it is a very valuable practice—but be sure to make the most of it.

Last summer I happened to post my letter to my blog, something I wasn’t sure was worth doing because it tends to be mostly “inside-baseball,” material primarily pertinent just to my own immediate constituents.   To my surprise,  it generated quite a bit of traffic, all of it from web searches for various variants on the term “welcome back to school letter.”     What I have learned from my search engine traffic is that the welcome back to school letter is something about which every summer hundreds or perhaps  thousands of school-leaders go to the internet to seek advice.

Accordingly, I thought I’d share a few thoughts for my principal colleagues about writing these important missives.

1.  Don’t be afraid to write at some length.   (Or, alternately, do as I do: apologize for it being too long without shortening it very much.)   Summer is the one time of the year when parents may actually have the time to dedicate to a longer letter, and even it if it is a relatively small proportion of them who will read its entirety, take advantage of it.   Remember that the ones who do read you carefully are the ones most able to share and inform other parents (the ones who don’t read) in the ongoing and inevitable chatter that happens about your leadership.   This is your annual state of the union or inaugural address, and take the space to write a broad and comprehensive message, and don’t be afraid to make it four, five, or even six pages at length.   (But put the most important stuff right at the top.)

2. Embed your educational philosophy.   Share your vision, make it particular to you and your world-view (while being sure to make it explicitly congruent with that of your superintendent and district).  You are an educational leader, your constituents want to know and believe that you are, and it will enhance every decision you make every day when those decisions are viewed as the result of a well thought-out and intentional educational philosophy.  Share your philosophy and vision in all kinds of ways: perhaps by drawing upon the best elements of your graduate schooling, your favorite quotes from educational authors, recent books you have read, or via pertinent, compelling anecdotes, preferably from your personal experience.

3. Celebrate your successes.   Every constituent can benefit from reminders and reinforcements of what is going really well at school, and like the President’s state of the union, you have every right to take some space to underscore what you view are your school’s and your leadership’s greatest advances.  Don’t be too humble here: put it out there emphatically.   But, then, share and spread the ownership—make sure it is clear that these successes are the results of everybody’s contributions.

4. Articulate Next Steps.   Your school is on a journey, and you are leading it through its critical next steps.  Every parent wants to know that the school is a dynamic place of progress and movement, and wants to know how you are prioritizing as you take the school forward.  Be specific, attach these steps to your educational vision and your district’s direction, and try to offer ways for readers to recognize what these steps will bring and how they will be recognized and perhaps even measured.   Invite constituents to participate in this journey forward, and give specifics on how they might do so.

5. Advocate for your faculty.   This is a great time to underscore how accomplished your teachers are and what they are accomplishing.   Trumpet the credentials of the newly appointed teachers and administrators, but not at the expense of your veterans—be sure to find ways to showcase how the vets are also extraordinary educators.   Show how your teachers are learning, growing, collaborating, and planning for new and improved programs for the coming year.

6. Showcase your own learning.  You are a leader of learning; you are the lead learner.   Tell people what you are learning and how you are learning.  They can’t know what you are learning (or that you are learning) if you don’t tell them.    Be excited about learning, and provide specific experiences of the both the joy you take in learning and your recognition of how hard (but rewarding) learning can be, sometimes.  Take a moment to practice meta-cognition: tell people how you are learning most effectively, and then link that to the learning leadership you provide your school community.

7. Open your heart and invite people in.   Let people know more about your own life.  This builds intimacy and trust, and helps parents remember that you are human too.  Without betraying your privacy, talk about your family, your parenting or your parents; tell a story about a challenge or a hardship overcome or still persisting.   Be sure to tell people you took time off or away, that you refreshed and restored yourself, that you committed quality time to your family or your passion, and encourage your readers to follow your example in this regard.

8. Share your reading list and book recommendations.     Parents in my schools most often have remarked about my reading suggestions, (and usually appreciatively).    Show off your inner bookworm, enthuse and exult about the reading life, and motivate your letter-readers to do more book reading.    We all know as principals how incredibly important it is for our students to be reading over the summer, and we also know how valuable parents can be as reading role models.  Model the reading life for your school-parents and guardians, and prompt and prod them to read more.   Vary your recommendations widely: some should be more ambitious works of nonfiction and literature, but it is also fine for some to be accessible, popular titles.

9. Underscore and reinforce your school’s mission; invite, include and enlist.   Conclude with something inspirational about how you view your professional mission and your school’s mission and why you do what you do?  What motivates you, what calls to you, what is your intended impact?  End with an invitation: join me in this cause, this pursuit, this meaningful endeavor, the most important of all endeavors, to make a deep and genuine difference in the lives of your students, and, through them, on the future of our society.  It is up to us, and our time is now.

What are your recommendations for the annual tradition of the Principal’s Back to School Letter?

Photo image by lukemontague, from Creative Commons/Flicker: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lukemontague/120401296/sizes/z/

23 comments for “9 Suggestions for the Welcome Back to School letter from the Principal

  1. July 24, 2012 at 4:22 am

    Great post. I love the idea of bragging about your school’s successes. That is so important. I feel like what you suggest in this post are the greatest way to start getting people in your community to understand how awesome public schools can be. I imagine that you probably have much fewer people fleeing to other schools because of this open communication. I’ve always felt that the disappointment with public schools is partly our fault for not:

    1. Communicating effectively
    2. Not letting parents know what great stuff is going on at their child’s school.

    If we do those two things, they will at least be able to say, “According to my child’s principal, Superman is already at our school, and my kid gets that teacher next year.”

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. parentm
    July 24, 2012 at 3:08 pm

    As a parent, I would LOVE to receive such a lengthy letter (the longer the better!). Parents would also love to hear principals, superintendents, and teachers sharing their reading and professional development findings about education. Point out blogs you follow, people you learn from on Twitter, the best hashtags, and your latest education-related book. Give them a reading list of your top ten favorite articles, posts, or books about homework, balance, resilience, the 21st century, literacy, mindfulness, approaches to math, collaboration, whatever — all reflecting the direction you want to take your school. Make parents a part of your everyday learning by inviting them to follow your school’s hashtag on Twitter where you will continue to post and retweet…be sure to keep the conversation going constantly — not monthly in a newsletter. Not everyone will follow or read — some won’t even consider doing either; however, those that do will become the parent leaders you need who will generate the support you require to make changes, cut funding, etc. An informed parent community can better support your vision and in a time of tight funding, an informed parent population is more likely to write those donation checks in larger amounts if they truly believe, understand, and support your educational beliefs/direction. Platitudes about ‘great schools’ and ‘gifted educators,’ or worse ‘high test scores,’ don’t go far enough anymore to engender the type of trust and respect that parents who donate so much need. You are the experts and your communications and leadership evidence that — or don’t. Don’t be afraid to be transparent about the real work that lies ahead for the year either. Doing so ensures that parents know you mean business, have set credible/valuable priorities/goals, and are not just going through the motions and seeing what each day brings. Really love all of the suggestions above and certainly hope to see those first days of school letters coming home with all of the above. You are an inspiring leader.

  3. July 24, 2012 at 4:34 pm

    Make your letter a post on a forum that allows responses from parents, students, and teachers. Don’t be afraid to engage them publicly. Your 6 pages may turn into a year long discussion and everyone might learn something new, even you.

    • Robin Meiers
      July 25, 2012 at 11:32 am

      Amazing idea! I love to brag about our school and need feedback to improve.

  4. July 25, 2012 at 5:11 am

    Although it’s swell that you share your reading list, I would add a #10 to your list – share where you’ve seen and done math all summer.

    We do math everyday – in fact so effortlessly that we hardly see it. And we fail to point it out to our kids. This leads to the idea that math is a sit-in-your-desk-with-a-pencil activity – and math is often feared because of this.

    Just as you offer a reading list, modeling to parents that reading happens all the time, it would be good to model good math behavior.

    You can mention how interesting it is to be back in the saddle of doing the subtraction every night so you set your alarm clock to get to school on time. You can note how much gas prices went up, parenthetically commenting that the comparison of high dollar amounts to higher ones is math. And you can note that although the school year is 180 school days, the summer (around 60 week days) seems quite a bit shorter. Note that 60 to 180 is a ratio – math again!

    • July 25, 2012 at 4:41 pm

      Bon– great suggestion. I am a bit more of a bookworm than a math analyst myself, so I wouldn’t have thought of this, but it is a terrific addition.

  5. January 9, 2013 at 3:27 am

    Fantastic beat ! I wish to apprentice while you amend your website, how could i subscribe for a blog website? The account helped me a appropriate deal. I were tiny bit familiar of this your broadcast offered brilliant transparent idea

  6. July 26, 2013 at 3:01 am

    I used the suggestions from this post and wrote a letter last year. It was well receive by all parents. Definitely something I would do again. It is posted at http://inclusion-brendag.blogspot.ca/2012/08/welcome-back-to-school.html.

  7. Lori Perez
    August 20, 2013 at 4:51 am

    Agree with your points. These work in a back to school letter, a YouTube or personal “Jumpstart” conference for your families. This year I am taking the leadership lessons from The Wizard of Oz and tying them into regular communications with families,

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