How to Write a Great Back-To-School Letter
posted by: Melissa | July 25, 2019, 05:33 PM   

As the school year approaches, we’re all preparing to welcome students back into our classrooms. An essential part of this process is the back-to-school letter. For the vast majority of families, this letter is their first introduction to the teachers who will work with their children in the upcoming school year. We all know about the importance of first impressions, so getting this letter right is no simple matter!


Below, are our tips for writing a great back-to-school letter.


Get the Greeting Right.

A great letter starts with the opening. Without even intending to, a poorly worded opening can make some students and parents feel not individually welcomed or worse, isolated. It’s tempting to default to a simple ‘Dear Parents,’ but many of our students aren’t living with their parents. Many students today live with grandparents, aunts, uncles, foster care, or any number of other situations. For them, such a greeting can make them feel as if the class doesn’t have space for them. In more formal situations, you can substitute the phrase ‘To whom it may concern,’ but again, this phrase with its cold formality seems inappropriate for the relationship that you’re embarking on. It’s sometimes possible to use student’s and caregivers’ first names in the greeting, though this might prove to be too difficult and time consuming, and that’s if you have those names available to you when preparing the letters! The safest way to broach this is to address the letter to parents and caregivers, or just caregivers. Of course, you can always substitute the greeting line with a line that says, “Welcome to 2nd Grade!” or the equivalent.


Make it Inclusive.

Inclusiveness shouldn’t end with the greeting. You want to create a culture in which parents and students feel ownership of their learning and this starts before the first day of class, in this first letter from you! As often as possible, use words like ‘us,’ ‘ours,’ and ‘we,’ instead of ‘me,’ ‘my,’ or ‘I.’


Give Parents Essential Information:

In addition to welcoming students and families to your classroom, the back-to-school letter provides parents and caregivers with the information they need to succeed in your class. This starts with the most important of all information: letting parents know the best way to contact you. It should then say what your class will be about and any major themes that will be covered in your classes. You should also give parents and guardians a sense of what they should expect at home. Will there be frequent homework? Will students be expected to read on their own? How can a caregiver who wants to help support their student in class go about doing that?


Most important for parents, you’ll want to let them know up-front about any sensitive subject matter you will cover during the year. If you’re teaching health to secondary students, you’ll want to make it explicit that drugs, alcohol, and sex education will be part of your classes. If you’re in a history class, you’ll want to disclose if you’re teaching about the holocaust, race issues, or other potentially sensitive issues. Literature teachers who know they have a book that touches on a sensitive issue planned within the year, will want to disclose that. It seems like a lot, but this is your chance to talk to parents and answer their questions so they don’t become unexpected issues for them (and for you) down the road.


Don’t Get Bogged Down:

While you want to give parents information, you also want to be judicious about how many details are in the letter. As much as possible, you want the letter to provide the big picture. For example, “In 2nd grade, students can expect 20 minutes of homework a night,” is better than, “Students will be expected to complete 2 math pages, 2 reading pages, 1 social studies or science page along with 30 minutes of free reading every week.” Of course, parents still need to know about dismissal procedures, extra curricular schedules, how to turn in make-up work and all the other details about your class, but save that information for a packet that goes home during orientation, during the first week of school, or is shared on back-to-school night.


Make a Personal Connection

Finally, use your back-to-school letter as a way to connect with your students and their caregivers. Give your letter freedom to reflect your personality and the style that you’ll bring to your classes. Include some information about yourself in the letter, so students can begin to know you as a person. Also, invite caregivers to share information about their student with you and to ask any questions about concerns this may have. This can range from just inviting an email, asking students to prepare ‘homework’ about themselves for class on the first day, or including a questionnaire that caregivers can return to you.


Do you have a great back-to-school letter you send to parents? We’d love to share it with our members! Send it and any other back-to-school tips to profdev@aaeteachers.org or share below.


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