By: Kate McIlvain, Program Director, SitStayRead
It seems like a such a simple process. Teacher sends permission slips home with students. Students give permission slips to parents/guardians. Students return permission slips to teacher the next day. Easy, right?
So many hitches get caught in this giddy-up every year. Busy teachers forget to send the permission slips home. Hurried students crumple them in the bottom of their backpacks. Parents can’t find a pen or never knew a permission slip needed to be signed in the first place. It is a tricky process that is full of traps.
At SitStayRead, we bring volunteers with and without their dogs into Chicago Public School classrooms to improve literacy skills and foster a love of learning in at-risk 1st-4th graders. Because our certified reading-assistance dogs are present during the visits at each grade level, it is important for all participating students to have a permission slip signed by a parent or guardian.
Last summer, we ran the data from the 2013-14 school year, and what we found there was disheartening and disappointing. On average, a mere 66 percent of the students we served returned a permission slip signed by a parent or guardian. At one school, a scant 37 percent of students returned permission slips. Without a signed permission slip, students cannot be there when dogs are in the classroom, and while they can still benefit from other components of our curricula, their ability to participate fully in our programs is greatly diminished. Furthermore, it is much easier for our program staff and our teachers to plan and coordinate when we don’t have to worry about who has permission and who doesn’t.
We knew we needed to take action to ensure that more of our students would receive the greatest benefit from reading with our dogs in the coming year. After a lot of brainstorming, we came up with a few small action items that had a huge impact on permission slip return rates. In the 2014-15 school year, we saw an average return rate of 81%, up 22% from the previous year. Some of our individual partner schools nearly doubled their return from the previous year!
Here are the three steps we took to make these gains. We are looking forward to even higher return rates in the year ahead!
- Make the copies yourself.
Lack of resources is an ongoing issue for many CPS teachers. Often, teachers have limited access to the copier or paper at school, and requiring them to make and distribute copies of your permission slip could be asking a lot. So, make the copies yourself. Make them one page with English on the front and Spanish on the back. Print them on fluorescent paper to ensure that they will still catch the eye parents/guardians even when crumpled in the bottom of a backpack.
- Hand-deliver the permission slips.
This may seem too time-consuming at first, especially if you have many classrooms to serve at once, but this may be the most important step you can take. Email the teacher the day before you plan to stop by, letting them know you’ll be there with the permission slips. Wear your nametag, a t-shirt with your logo on it, and a smile, and when you get to the school, let the security guard know that the teacher is expecting you. Bypass visiting the main office if you can, as they may try to convince you to leave your permission slips in the teacher’s mailbox, and seeing the teacher in person is an important part of this step. By hand-delivering your neon permission slips to the teacher while the students are there in the classroom, you accomplish a couple of things: First, you will become a familiar face to the teacher and students, which is especially perfect if you are also the person who will be leading the program in the coming weeks. Secondly, you’ll be enthusiastic as you share the permission slips with the classroom, and the students will get excited about your program, making them more likely to bring them home and back again.
- Stick to your policy.
It is disappointing to have to ask a child to leave the classroom because they do not have a permission slip signed by their parent or guardian. Sometimes there is pouting, tears, or even staunch refusal to leave. This can be tough to see, and because you are a nice person, you may find yourself wavering here. Surely, we can make a special exception to this rule, right? You can, but if you do, you may be breaking with procedures that have been set by your organization, and you will diminish the importance of needing a permission slip in the first place. If you stay strong and enlist the teacher’s support in this, students who have to miss the first visit because they don’t have a permission slip on file are much more likely to bring one back the following week, and the teachers will take your policy more seriously too, making it easier for everyone in the long-run.
Give these steps a try or devise your own plan, and let us know how it worked for you. Let’s hear it for a successful year ahead!