Classroom Culture: Sharing Trail Mail

As I mentioned in my February lesson plan post, writing letters can be a very special way to communicate.  This month for Classroom Culture, I want to focus on ways that you can incorporate letter-writing into your social-emotional learning and also celebrate your special staff in a very Iditarod way by using Trail Mail.

If you are like me, you might also struggle with writing actual letters and notes–you know, the ones you compose with a pen, affix a stamp to, and entrust to the U.S. Postal Service. To many students, this is an unfamiliar skill, so Iditarod Trail Mail is a great way to highlight the meaningfulness of writing letters and practice how to do it well. 

First, I want to share a lovely project that I try to do at the end of the school year. The project consists of writing a letter to a former teacher. I’m posting about it in February so you can begin thinking about how you would like to utilize  it. This project is especially meaningful when students are leaving your building: they may be moving on to the next level of education, such as my 5th graders going from elementary to secondary, or they may be graduating altogether.  

When I introduce the project, I invite students to think of a teacher that had a strong impact on them. It could be a favorite teacher, one that they learned an important skill or life lesson from, or one that they particularly want to thank. I also have them think of specific stories, because stories are such an important part of the Iditarod. As teachers, it’s very touching when former students remind you of the fun moments they experienced while in your classroom. Students should also write about how this teacher specifically shaped them to be the student they are today. 

In the Iditarod, Trail Mail gets through, no matter what. You, the teacher, are carrying the Trail Mail in your sled bag, and it has to reach its destination! You may have students who come from other districts or even states. Encourage these students to write to a former teacher, even if those teachers are far away. The internet is a wonderful thing—you will most likely be able to locate teachers based on just a last name and school!  You may have to email or call to verify the contact information–but this little effort is so worth it. Often, I get a response filled with gratitude for the student’s letter that shows how our efforts were really worthwhile.  I encourage you to be dogged in your attempt to find contact information so the important Trail Mail from students to teachers reaches its destination.

You will want to include a note that includes your contact information. More importantly, share why you are doing this project and how the Iditarod inspires us to keep the spirit of writing letters to loved ones strong. Share the history of Trail Mail and the reason that Iditarod mushers carry Trail Mail in their sled. Doing so may prompt these special teachers to incorporate the Iditarod into their classrooms, too!

Second, Trail Mail can be used to celebrate important people in your school, such as nurses, counselors, administrators, cafeteria workers, and other vital positions. Create a “sled” from paper and add runners, a brush bow, and handlebar.  It should be a pocket big enough to hold a packet of cards.  For these cards, keep it simple!  I like to cut card stock on which students can then write a brief message. On the back of the card, show students how to draw a triangle so it looks like an envelope. You can encourage students to share how the recipient models core values, what specific things the student appreciates about them, or other directions. I encouraged students to share with Mrs. Linares, our counselor, what things she carries in her “sled bag” that help them be successful. My students enjoyed writing cards and it helped cement the importance of gratitude. Wrap the cards into a packet using a sheet of paper and decorate it as if it were Official Trail Mail. Place the packet in the sled and deliver to your honoree.

On the sled I placed a note that shared the history of Trail Mail and its connection to the Iditarod. This will help your recipient understand why they are getting an Iditarod sled and a packet of Trail Mail. Our school counselor, Mrs. Linares, has been a huge support to our students and to our school community. The students were very excited to share their appreciation for her through Trail Mail. 

What if you shared Trail Mail beyond your campus? Most districts have inter-campus mail.  Wouldn’t it be fun to send a packet of Trail Mail from campus to campus, asking the recipient to “mail” a teacher at another campus or school?  Students could add messages to the Trail Mail and then choose a very important person to be the final recipient–or just celebrate the Trail Mail as it reaches the last checkpoint! Families can do this between one home and another. Small districts or campuses could send Trail Mail between classrooms.  

What are some other ways you could incorporate Trail Mail into your teaching? Email me at