My Neighbor Letter. Building Relationships.

We all share so much with our PLN and learn an equal if not great amount from our work together.  This week I was recounting a few to do’s to a small but mighty group on Voxer and their responses inspired this post.  Thanks #strataproblems, you make me a better principal.

It’s pretty simple.  I write a letter to our school neighbors at the end of summer.  It was my second year as a principal when I decided to start this annual tradition.  If you live near an elementary school, you know it can be a blessing and a burden.  Traffic, bells, basketball courts to play on, fields to play ball, and more traffic.  I wanted to open a conversation and give thanks.  Our neighbors are our allies, keeping an eye on the campus, looking out for the space and even our students as they come and go.

I didn’t hear back from many neighbors but the ones who did engage were lovely, supportive and appreciative.  When I moved school sites last year, the letter didn’t go out.  No good excuses, just a fact.  So I’m back in the saddle this year.  It’s ready for mailing.


One question that’s come up is addresses.  Two ways I’ve done that: Zillow and Google Maps.  Every school site is different and what defines neighbor really depends on how wide the impact of campus activity is for you.  This year I’ve included a nearby church whereas at my former school, the entire mailing list was residential.  My colleague, Amy Fadeji, wondered about her school as it is quite rural with few homes nearby.  I think a neighbor letter is even more important in this instance.  You have fewer potential stewards of the school so best to get them all engaged and understanding their value to the campus and community.  I say, Go for it!

Here are two samples of my letter.  You’re welcome to grab whatever works for you and your school community!  Building relationships, one neighbor at a time.

letter to neighbors August 2016 – Google Docs

letter to neighbors August 2012 – Google Docs

1st Summer Project. Fostering the 4C’s at home.

My younger son, Jacob, is our superhero kid.  He loves all things Marvel, Ninja Turtles, Transformers, comic books, figurines, posters, video games…

So he had an idea.  “Dad, I’d like some help making doomhammer.”  Well that opened up a whole ignorant-parent conversation complete with Google searches and multiple explanations.  Sometimes I feel like he’s speaking a foreign language.  Maybe he is.  But we are eager learners and Jacob knows that pictures always help.  Thank you Google images.


Thank you for the image & inspiration!

So this is what we worked from… wow.  And Jacob was an amazing teacher.  Because in this situation, he needed his dad’s help with materials, power tools and some particulars of assembly but his dad needed help with the ultimate vision of the thing, the “look” Jacob was going for.  What a beautiful partnership.  Now the work could begin!

I think we’re really on to something with this 4 C’s business.  I see it in snippets at school but in my garage over the last week, it was underlined in bold with highlighting.


A dad, a son and an older brother.  Enough said, right?  How’s that going to work?  Dad and Jacob looked at many, many images.  The pic won out.  Jacob brought in a HUGE block of wood from the garage.  Um, no.  That’s crazy.  “Let’s scale it down a bit.  You need to be able to lift it,” was dad’s comeback.  Nice job, dad.

The wolf design was beyond what Jacob felt he could handle.  Joshua, older brother, is an amazing artist.  So what do you do when you’re shopping at Friedman’s for supplies?  You buy older brother a wood burning kit.  Yep, that’s what you do.

Side note:  I stayed out of most of this project.  Too many cooks in the kitchen and all that.

How do you communicate to a 14-year-old artist that his new woodburning kit could burn the house down?  Give him lots of space, show him the on/off switch and the power source.  Supervise but don’t hover.  And when he burns himself?  Get out the salve and get him back to work.


I wish I had gone on the trip to Friedman’s just to record the conversations and negotiations.  To watch them walk up and down the aisles, Google image in hand, working through the bits and pieces needed.

When do you allow your child to run power tools?  Great question.  This was a great project to learn a few of them.  And revisit some familiar manual tools.  Jacob’s not a novice to tearing things apart and building in the garage.  But this wasn’t random creation.  He really cared about the outcome.  This was purposeful, heart-all-in-it creation.


Is replicating a cool thing called creativity?  I’d say yes.  Replicating is the first step to most artists’ work.  And ultimately it becomes your own creation.  You deviate from the original in small and big ways.

Resources plug into creativity.  Where do you get leather straps?  Good question.  They asked mom, “Got an old belt laying around?”  Nope.  Another day went by.  “What about Goodwill?” I threw out to my builders.  Off they went.  Another opportunity for communication.

To Joshua’s credit, he came in, did his part and left the remaining project considerations to his brother.  His usual habit is to meddle.  But in this instance, his contribution was specific and right in his wheelhouse.  Perfect.

Critical Thinking.

Cutting, glueing, sanding, assembling, waiting.  I was amazed at how well these two worked together.  And then the hand off to Joshua for the artwork.  Don’t micromanage an artist.  Jacob knows this.

Proportion was a on-going consideration.  Definitely critical thinking.  “The handle can’t be too long or the hammer head will look weird.”  “The hammer ends need to be larger but not too big.”  “Look at the tacks I got, mom.  Don’t you think they’ll look great with the wood grain?”

And the waiting.  Not a strength of Jacob’s.  But that’s critical thinking too.  Don’t rush your work.  Know when an idea or choice needs to percolate.  Or simply when glue needs time to drive.

So what’s the final outcome?  Something pretty awesome.  So awesome that it’s living either on the dining table or on the fireplace currently.  Bravo Jacob.

Voila!  So proud of my boys.  Wonder what might be next??