Good Notes: A Simple but Powerful Teaching Tool

How to use Post-it notes to reinforce good behavior

Teachers can use post-it’s as a powerful tool to reinforce student behavior, create positive connections with students and families and create a caring classroom community!

Teachers and post-its have a love affair so intense it’s become cliche! We use them for reminders, organization, marking books, and a million other things! This year, however, I challenge you to use post-its in a new way and watch how your relationships with students and families are transformed.

I call it “Good Notes.”

The underlying concept isn’t new. As a teacher, how many times have you heard about how important it is to praise students? You might start the year with the best of intentions, but then life gets in the way. You get distracted by new curriculum, challenging behaviors, schedule changes, a million other things, and you forget to stop and tell your kids what they’re doing well. Or you fall back to old, tired, “good job”, “nice work” or “way to go.” What you need is a simple and easily implemented system that will keep you focused on providing students with specific, positive feedback!

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Here’s how it works;

Several times a day, you take out a pad of post-its, write a quick sentence about something a student has done well, then remove the post-it and stick it on the back of the pad. At the end of the day you can hand the notes out to students or quickly stick them in their going-home folders. That’s it! A good note might read “Sarah raised her hand to ask a question” or “Ben let his partner go first during the math game” or “Pedro tried really hard to make his letter f look neat.”

You can write them for your diligent and hardworking students to celebrate the great things they’re already doing. You can use them with your middle-of the road students to make them feel noticed, and you can use them with your challenging students to build rapport and celebrate progress. Since you send the notes home at the end of the day, any behavior you write a note about will be reinforced at home too!

Imagine it from a child’s perspective;

You’re trying hard to do the right thing in school.

Maybe you’re working hard at clean-up time. Your teacher says “Wow, I see you cleaning up right away!”, and while they’re talking, they’re scribbling on their note pad. They show you the note, “Alex cleaned up right away!”

Now you’re feeling pretty good about your choice! And you’re feeling pretty good about your teacher!

And THEN you go home after school, and when your parents open your folder, the first thing they see is a note that says “Alex cleaned up right away!” They’re beaming! They’ll say something like “You were a good helper today, huh? That’s awesome! What happened?” And you’ll tell them all about it.

The next day when it’s time to clean up, you’ll remember all those good things that happened the last time… imagine how motivated you’ll feel to do it again!

Now imagine it from the parents’ perspective;

Every 2-3 days you get to open your child’s folder and read about something they did well. It gives you a really positive way to start that “how was school today?” conversation with your child. It makes you both feel good about their school experience. If your child’s teacher happens to call home with a concern, the good notes provide a balance that keeps it from feeling like a personal attack.

It lets you know that your child’s teacher is paying attention and that they genuinely care.

Teachers, you might feel like you don’t have time for good notes, but it’s actually really quick when you do it right.

Here’s what keeps it manageable;

Good Notes are on post-its.

Why post-its? I had tried several types of printable reinforcement cards, certificates, etc, but printing them out and cutting them up was one more thing on the to-do list, and then the scraps of paper would get lost everywhere. Post-its come out of the package ready to go! It’s easy to stick them to the back of the pad after you write one, and they stick right in the students’ folders so it’s quick and easy to send them home! Also, their small size means you can only fit so many words, which brings me to my next point..

Good notes are a sentence, not a novel.

You are not writing “Dear Mrs. Smith, I just wanted to let you know about the amazing thing your daughter did today..” (Of course, you might take the time to write those letters once in a while for something truly spectacular but it’s not a sustainable plan for every day!) A good note starts with a child’s name and describes ONE simple thing they did well. “Molly got right to work on her math.” “DeShaun shared an observation in science” “Rishi listened politely when his friend was talking.” They should take only a few seconds to write!

Good notes are also NOT a right or a guarantee.

If you try and do “one note per child per day” or even every other day or once a week, you will drive yourself crazy keeping track. They’re random! A child might not get one for a few days, or one day they might get three! Your students don’t get to count on them or ask for them! I won’t go into the psychology of how random reinforcement is the most effective way to solidify behaviors, but trust me, it works. It also allows you to write extra notes for kids that need it- your struggling student has a rare good day? Pack their folder full of observations about every good minute! Or maybe they had an awful day, and you want them to feel good about one thing that happened anyway. Kids that don’t really need it might not have a note that day and that’s fine, you’ll get to them later. Maybe you had a field trip so you didn’t get to write any! No problem. They happen when it’s convenient for you.

These are some of the times you can write good notes;

While students are working independently and you’re circulating around the room.

You’ll have a pad of post-its and a pen in your hand, and when you kneel down to confer with a student you just take a few seconds to scribble a note about what they’re doing well. Or maybe you’ve had a long day and just need to rest for a second- you’ll grab your pad of post-its and sit somewhere central so you can see everyone and quietly dash off a few. The students will look up and see you writing. They’ll know exactly what you’re doing, and they’ll keep working hard because they want you to notice them and write them a good note.

When they’re cleaning up.

Sometimes I would even tell them before they started, “I’m going to stand here and write notes for three kids I see working really hard”. They will want to be one of those three so they will get busy! I guarantee it!

During small group work.

I always have my post-it’s on the table when I’m teaching guided reading. It’s easy to jot a quick “Evan noticed the sight word ‘our’ in his book” while a student was reading. If the students were engaged in something I might also glance around the room and write a few for kids who were working independently, then make a big deal about them later to reinforce to the class that I’m still watching everyone.

-During recess, lunch, independent play, etc.

This is a great time to reinforce social skills with notes like “Ava invited a friend into the game” or “Brayden let a friend use some of his blocks.”

During movement breaks,

depending on how you structured them. Twice a day my students exercised with the quick videos at www.gonoodle.com. I would use the three minutes to catch up on behavior plans, grab materials for the next lesson if I needed to, then dash off a few good notes with the remaining time.

Any time someone else is leading your class.

A student, a guest speaker, during an assembly, etc. You’re usually somewhere nearby to keep an eye on behaviors anyway, but with good notes you’re searching for and rewarding kids who are making the right choices. There’s a side benefit that will creep up on you at these times as well- being on the lookout for positive behaviors that you can write a note about makes you start to really see and appreciate how awesome your students are!

Once you start writing good notes, you won’t want to stop!

You’ll watch those positive behaviors that you wrote about magically reappear day after day. You’ll notice how your class brightens up and works a little harder any time that pad of post-its is in your hand. You’ll hear back from parents about how delighted they are when they find the first few good notes in their children’s folders. Even after the novelty wears off, your relationships with parents will be forever changed because they know that you are really seeing the good in their children. Best of all, you get to enjoy the way your students light up as you show them that they are being noticed and appreciated!

Are you ready to see how powerful this one little trick can be?

Try it tomorrow! It doesn’t require any preparation. You don’t need to send a letter home to prepare families or make a big speech to your class. Just grab a pad of post-its and a pen, take a deep breath, smile, and…. go!

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