As the holidays and the end of the fall semester of school approaches, I think about all of the letters of thanks my children, husband and I have written to our children’s teachers over the years. My kids are now 25, 23 and 19, so I am not writing to their teachers this year. But my husband is a teacher, so I know how special these letters are and how much he loves receiving them, especially from his students.
If, like me, you don’t have children in school, think about a teacher or mentor you have now or have had in the past. I am planning to write to a few of my former teachers and present mentors, as I am grateful for their encouragement and lessons and the impact they have on who I am and how I see the world.
So please join me —and start sharing your thanks.
Before you start writing your note, think first: What do I want to tell the teacher? How do I want the teacher reading my thank you note to feel?
When writing to teachers, you might want them to feel recognized for their hard work and dedication to all the children in the class and appreciated for how they helped your child.
To make it really meaningful, use specific examples.
From a parent:
Aiden shares with excitement at home what you are doing and learning about in class.
You have created deep curiosity, I have never seen Emma so interested in school.
Sophia really knows that you see her and understands what she needs.
From a student:
I love coming to your class, it is fun and I learn a lot.
I am never bored.
I like the way you listen to everyone.
Your class was hard but you made me feel you would always help me.
Brainstorm your own examples.
To help you write, I want to share the method I used to guide my children in writing thank you notes. I call it the SMILE Approach. It makes writing thank you notes fun and easy for grown ups and kids alike.
The SMILE Approach to Writing Thank You Notes
Even a short note of thanks can be effective when you get personal and specific.
S Start with feelings
Start with how the person you are thanking made you feel. But do not say thank you yet.
M Mention the gift
Mention what they gave you or did for you and why the gift or support mattered to you. Now say thank you.
I Include details
Include details of how you are enjoying or using the gift or support.
L Lavish them with more detail or examples
Lavish them with another detail or a story that shows how the gift or support has made you feel or made your life better or easier or more fun or rich.
E Express gratitude
End by expressing gratitude. This ending can be quite simple.
Thank you, or I am grateful for, or I love the ____ you gave me, thanks… all work.
Help Your Child Write a Thank You Note
How do you help your child write thank you notes? Of course that depends on the age of your child. For younger children, start with
- How the teacher made them feel
- One thing they loved
Older children can use the full SMILE template.
Start by helping your child brainstorm stories about how their teacher helped or inspired them, how the teacher made school more fun or exciting, what they hope to take with them to the next semester — skills, self-confidence, for example.
You can ask these questions to get them thinking:
- What was your favorite memory from the semester?
- What was your favorite part of each day or class?
- What is one time your teacher helped you do something hard?
- What is one thing you love about your teacher?
Once you have ideas together, ask your child to think how they want the teacher to feel. Ask them to imagine how it would feel to receive a thank you note as a teacher. Then walk through the SMILE template (or the modified version above for young children).
For small children one nice thought and a picture is plenty. You can add more each year until they have the skills to write a full thank you note. Let your child’s readiness be your guide. Authentic and original is better than quantity.
Modeling is a great way to learn. Why not sit side by side and write your letters while they write theirs? You can share details and stories. Make this a time to connect with your child, show them how much giving thanks means to you and how much you honor teachers, learning and education.
Here are sample letters from a mom and her daughter to the child’s 4th grade teacher. I have combined the sections Include details and Lavish them with more detail or examples into one paragraph to keep the letters short and simple.
Dear Ms. Jones,
First semester of 4th grade is coming to a close. I want to pause before the holidays to acknowledge the impact of your care, encouragement and careful instruction of the students in your class, including my daughter Abby.
As a mom, I want my child to grow and thrive. The way you taught the kids to persist with their efforts, even if they struggled, has empowered Abby to take risks and know her efforts matter. And you make learning fun with all your hands on activities and collaborative projects. Thank you for all you do to challenge and encourage your students.
I watched as you helped Abby learn how to be a more confident reader, a critical skill and now an enjoyable one for her. Your careful attention and your expectations really made a difference. I cannot believe how much more comfortable a reader she is as a result.
I hope you have a wonderful holiday. I also hope you know how much a difference you make in the kids’ lives by modeling effort, intellectual openness and kindness.
Dear Ms. Jones,
Your class has been fun, and I have learned so much about California.
I know I struggled at first with reading but your extra help made me feel more and more confident. Now I love to read books at home. I never did before. Thank you for all of the time you spent helping me improve.
What I liked best about your class was the group projects. We got to try new things and I got to know kids I did not know well before. My favorite hands on project was the one with the worms.
I look forward to coming back in January to see what fun projects you have thought up. Thank you again for making my beginning of 4th grade fun and really helping me.
Have a fun holiday.
These notes don’t take a long time to write, but they have a big impact.
It’s your turn to write: Sit with your child to write a letter to their teacher, one from each of you. Want some more support? Get my free SMILE guide to writing thank you notes with ease and joy here!
Want more help with writing letters? You’ll love my free guide, 5 Easy Steps to Writing a Great Thank You Note. You’ll learn a simple, satisfying process that you can use again and again to share gratitude for gifts and kind acts with the special people in your life