Joe Flanagan's Greatest Hits, Vol. 1

In his tenure as my boss, Mr. Flanagan* did some amazing work. One of the innovations he brought to our department is the response card, a tool he devised for the purpose of communicating positively, and efficiently, with the learner’s home. You see the front of this tool depicted in this photo (right). 

Like any good tool, this one was easy to use. Here are the simple instructions for using it:

INSTRUCTIONS (1) Put aside coaching and instructing duties. (2) Look anew at students. Perceive them as the wonderful developing individuals they are–flawed, yes, ungainly to be sure, but our priceless, burgeoning fellows, each one. (3) Choose something true and good to say about each student. Leave “no child” behind in your consideration. (4) Write the note. (5) Leave it with department secretary, who will address and mail it for you. (6) Return to public school teaching renewed, humanized by the humanizing moment your use of response card has allowed.

Such a welcome and even (one might argue, psychologically) necessary break from the English teacher’s routine Mr. Flanagan’s innovation brings! English teachers are referred to by some as “the hardest-working teachers in the building.” They are paid–and not a lot– to vigilantly scan student expression for its deficiencies,  to act as farmers on the look-out for blight in their fields. Such an unending, unyielding focus on the negative wears on one. But with Mr. Flanagan’s home-response card, the teacher’s focus shifts to the affirmative for once. The teacher gets to take notice of the health,   celebrate the successes of the child. In this way, the card functions as a potent management tool–a morale-boosting diversion for teachers, a burn-out preventative.

The response card is just an overall well-designed example of non-digital educational technology. Its ease-of-use fits perfectly into the flow of the teacher’s day. It’s an easy step to the secretary’s desk to pick up a card and go from grading papers to describing the child’s distinctive elegance. Do so in the space it allows–enough for three-five sentences max, and give it to the capable secretary. That’s it. She addresses and mails it for you within a day. Its main purpose as a conduit of positive information to parents/guardians is elegantly fulfilled. A  good communication tool, this.

It might even be said that this is a “humanizing” tool for the educator,  since it puts a hand-written, personal sort of  immediacy to the normally digitized transaction between the teacher, the child, and the community.  As a public relations tool, one fostering good home-school relations, the card cannot be beat. So rarely (never) do cards arrive in the mail announcing “Good News from York High School.”  It almost certainly gets read, and quite possibly gets treasured. In our digital age, people appreciate the tangible, card-stock presence in their lives of a real piece of glad tidings. The card is post-able, and to some loving parents, despairing otherwise of their otherwise unrecognized child’s development, it may become a proud wall ornament. “My child is doing something great in English class,” it announces, and mom or dad, who need to feel needed, can sigh; for the moment, they are content.

*A “change-agent”  brought to our district in 2001, Mr. Flanagan’s constructivist theories reshaped the English curriculum in profound ways. In time, I may post on other of his Great Hits. He is currently Division Head of Communications at one of the top schools in the state, Stevenson H.S. of Libertyville, Illinois.

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