I was talking to a coworker the other day about how they are struggling to connect with their students.
“Moonpies are changing my whole class dynamic,” I said in reply. She looked at me like I had nine heads.
Now, if you are not from the South and you are reading this, we may have two VERY different ideas on what a moonpie is. (I am from NJ, I used to have no idea either.) It is graham cracker flavored cookies, with marshmallow fluff in the middle, all covered in chocolate. AKA a middle schooler’s dream.
I recently read an article about the impact that writing individualized notes to students had in one teacher’s classroom. I sent the article to my principal right away and begged for school stationary. I was going to take this teacher’s challenge and see if note writing could have the same effect on my students, but I needed to do it in a way that was comfortable and unique to me.
I knew my personality, and I knew that there was no way I could keep up with a letter a day, but writing 5 on Thursday night for Friday was doable for me. I also wanted to come up with a theme for these letters, something that the kids could call them and refer to them by.
As a traveled through the grocery store, I landed upon the cookie aisle. There was where I spotted them, the glorious moon pies. So sugary, so chocolatey, so perfect for middle schoolers. I know that I could create a pun to attach to the cookies while writing my students’ notes.
That night I picked my 5 kids who worked super hard that week. They might not have gotten the best grades or been a model of perfect behavior, but they tackled a challenge unique to them. I started each letter with, “This week, you performed out of this world!”
Each child got a personalized note about how impressed I was with their actions and their ability to take risks that better themselves. I made sure each child knew how their triumphs impacted me.
“You taught me the power of making the most out of a second chance.”
“You taught me to see challenges as a puzzle, not a road block.”
“You taught me that one mistake doesn’t define me.”
I took each of their notes and taped it to a fresh Moonpie and delivered it to their homeroom. I can’t lie to you, I haven’t seen genuine smiles like that in a long time. Quickly, other kids took notice….
“WOAH! Mrs. H, how do I get one of those??”
“Dude, what did you do special to get one of those?”
“What does taking risks mean?”
I didn’t waste this moment. I quickly explained that these students went above and beyond to improve themselves as students last week and that the Moonpie awards are for those who are willing to take risks to better themselves.
While the snacks have given life and a name to the new movement, it is the notes that are having the biggest impact. Students don’t realize that we see them trying, even if it doesn’t show in the grade book. We need to take a moment to encourage those first steps, so our students have the confidence to leap when taking risks in the future.
It doesn’t matter if it’s moonpies or lollipops. Maybe it’s outdoor lunch passes or computer time. Whatever the motivator is for your students, use it to celebrate the first steps. Encourage them to embrace the moment. And take the time to tell them WHY. Don’t just hand them an award, make sure that you tell them why you are taking the time to recognize them. I promise it will impact them in ways you can’t imagine.
Jen Hawkins is a 6th grade math and language arts teacher in Apex, NC. Visit her blog “My Three Cents” for more posts