Monday, July 14, 2014

Postcard Pals Recap, Wrap-Up, and Round Two

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It's time for a recap and wrap-up of my first-ever "Postcard Pals Postcard Exchange," which I decided to coordinate as a little side project during this past school year. Turns out it wasn't such a little project, but I still consider it a success even with its hiccups! Here's a little summary of what happened, including the major hiccups (as noted by myself & participants) and the helpful feedback I received from participants. Plus, I've got a link for those who might be interested in Postcard Pals II.

Here's a timeline of the exchange:

JULY 2013: I first blogged about the idea behind the exchange last July. Here's the original post detailing my experience with a past exchange and my plan for the one I was coordinating. To track interest in the project, I created a Google document and linked to it in the post. I then sent out an e-mail to those interested teachers asking for a final commitment to the project and asked them to complete another Google Doc to make them "official." I was thrilled with the number of teachers who committed to the project--about 135 spanning PK-High School, including a couple of international and homeschooling teachers!

My plan was to organize classrooms into groups of 20-30 based on grade band and location, then coordinate a one-time exchange of postcards among the classrooms in each group. Each classroom would send one postcard to each of the other classrooms in its group. I left it up to each classroom to decide if they wanted to continue a pen pal-type relationship on their own. I wanted to promote a social studies theme so I requested that the postcards include the state in which the classroom was located; its capital; its geography; important industries; famous citizens, and important historical and cultural sites. My hope was that each class could create a bulletin board to document their experiences.

EARLY SEPTEMBER-OCTOBER 2013: I sent out detailed instructions and mailing lists to each classroom. I included a deadline for mailing (end of October) as well as ideas for where to get postcards and postage. I also followed up with a blog post that included the same information. I asked that participants keep in touch with me with feedback and photos to let me know how things were going. It was about this time that hiccups in the project began. For example, because of firewall issues and delayed communication, some of the participants did not receive their instructions and mailing lists until October. You'll read more about these challenges later.

DECEMBER 2013: I sent an e-mail to participants to remind them to finish up sending postcards and to give feedback on the cards they'd received so far.

JUNE 2014: I sent out one last e-mail with a link to a Google Doc survey in which participants could provide feedback about their experiences. I received 22 responses, which I consider to be a good number in light of the length of the project and its challenges.

The positive feedback...

I received some valuable feedback from teachers throughout the school year as well as from the final survey. Here's what I heard:
  • Students were excited to receive postcards. (Who doesn't like to get something in the mail?)
  • This was a fun way to practice research & cooperative learning skills.
  • Students enjoyed learning about states that they might not otherwise learn about. 
All of these comments show me that the project was a success because these were precisely the hopes I had for students when coordinating the project.

And the hiccups...

HICCUP #1: Firewall Issues
When I sent out the instructions and mailing lists as .zip files, I had A LOT of electronic "return to sender" failure messages. Many school districts have surrounded themselves with major firewall protection. To try to get around these firewall fortresses, instead of a .zip file, I created a link to the information in Google Docs and included it in a second e-mail with no attachments. No luck.

All of my e-mails came from a Gmail account. It's likely that personal-type mail servers might be on districts' "personae non grata" lists to protect from spam; however, it also makes me wonder how parents are supposed to e-mail teachers from personal e-mail accounts. But I digress.... My solution was to send the information snail mail, which was a pricey because it came from my own pocket. However, I felt like I did my due diligence and didn't exclude anyone who signed up to participate. I did hear from most of the teachers to whom I sent hard copies, and they were grateful to still be included.

For future exchanges, I would require all participating teachers to provide an e-mail address that can be used to send and receive e-mails without the hassle of a firewall. It's very easy to set up a personal e-mail account that can be used specifically for the exchange through Gmail or other similar Web-based mail servers. I hope that isn't an issue that would prevent teachers from participating. I would definitely test all e-mail addresses before sending any of the instructions and mailing addresses!

HICCUP #2: Lack of Commitment
After I sent out the instructions and mailing lists, I started to receive a few "I don't remember signing up for this" or "I can't do it" e-mails. From some classes that committed to participate and decided not to, I didn't receive any communication or explanation.

The lack of follow-through affected this exchange more so than anything. One of the most common feedback messages I received throughout the year and in the final survey was that classrooms only received 5-10 postcards throughout the year when they should have received 20-30. I am thankful that many of the teachers, although frustrated, remained positive in their comments about the postcards that they did receive. I completely empathize with their frustrations in light of the time, effort, and cost associated with the project.

HICCUP #3: Communication
I used e-mail, blog posts, and even snail mail to get out information to participants. Despite my using several modes of communication, it was difficult for me to tell who had received the information unless I heard from the participants themselves. (And I never requested that they contact me unless they had comments or questions.)  If I were to coordinate another exchange, I'd figure out some sort of "check in" procedure for teachers, something that's not seen as a hassle but can still let me know that they're getting what they need and doing what they agreed to do.

I want to say "THANK YOU" to the many teachers whose hard work and commitment made this project a success. Here's a sample of some of the photos I received from them:

From Julie's classroom in WI
From Martha's classroom in CA (Here's a link to her blog.) 
From Lauren's classroom in TN
From Marna's classroom in CA
Postcard Pals Exchange II

So after all of this, I think I'm up for the challenge of coordinating a future exchange. Right now, I'm posting this link to a Google Doc to see who's up for another round or is willing to give it a try for the first time. I'm thinking it will open to grades PK-12 and classrooms within the US. Remember that this is just to see who's interested. I won't share any information, and there's no commitment at this time! I'm taking a maternity leave in the next few days so I anticipate getting things up and rolling closer to September. If you sign up, you'll hear from me then about the next step. I'm looking forward to another successful exchange and "meeting" more of you!


  1. I would love to do this! Thanks for organizing it!

  2. I would love to participate! Parents can help by donating post cards and my students can write short, simple messages (I teach first grade in FL). Pick me, pick me! LOL

    1. Hi, Terri! Great to hear from you about your interest in the exchange. Make sure you fill out the Google Doc using the link in the post. Glad to have you aboard!


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