How To Write a Reference Letter (Examples and Free Template)

Pass along your praise in a meaningful way.

Teacher job searches frequently require something many other careers don’t: a letter of reference. Both principals and teachers may find themselves asked to write these letters for their employees or coworkers. Wondering what to include and how to make the recommendation useful? Here’s how to write a reference letter for a teacher.

Want to make things even easier? Grab our free reference letter printable template, which walks you through the whole process. Just fill out the form on this page.

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What is a reference letter?

Reference letters are just what they sound like: a testimonial about a person’s professional qualifications, abilities, and achievements. They’re written by someone who knows the applicant well and can speak to specifics about their career.

These days, most jobs don’t require reference letters since employers perform reference checks themselves. However, academia is different. Many teaching jobs require candidates to submit written letters of reference as part of their application packet. This is just one part of their overall evaluation of a candidate, of course. But these letters remain a key part of many teachers’ job searches.

Letter of Reference vs. Letter of Recommendation


These two terms are often used interchangeably, but reference letters are almost always specific to a job search. Students often need letters of recommendation for scholarships and college applications. If you need help writing a letter of recommendation for a student, check out these articles:

How To Write a Letter of Reference

Writing a reference letter can feel like a daunting task, but these tips can help. Don’t forget to grab our free printable letter of reference template too!

Review Reference Letter Samples

If you’ve never written a reference letter or you want to up your game, take a look at some samples first. One of our favorite ways to do it is to use AI like ChatGPT to generate some reference letter samples specific to your situation. You definitely don’t want to copy these word-for-word, but you might find some helpful phrases or get a better idea of the format you should use. We’ve included some sample letters below too.

Brainstorm Ideas First

Before you begin writing, do a quick brainstorming session and jot down your thoughts about these prompts:

  • What three words first come to mind when you think of this teacher?
  • List this person’s biggest strengths as an educator.
  • List a few times when this teacher really impressed you.
  • Has this person won any awards or accolades worth mentioning?
  • What makes this teacher special compared to their peers?
  • What would this teacher’s students say about them? What about parents or co-workers? (If you have examples, round them up to include in the letter.)

Personalize the Letter

If you can, try to write a letter that’s specific to the job the teacher needs a reference letter for. Find out what they’ll be doing in their new role or position so you can include the most relevant qualities in your recommendation. Some reference letters are more general, so it’s OK if you can’t personalize them to the job.

Ask the teacher if there’s anything specific they’d like you to mention. You may also ask if there’s anything they’d prefer to keep confidential. For instance, if the teacher has a disability, they may not want to disclose that information yet.

Write an Introduction

Introduce yourself and explain your relationship to the teacher you’re providing a reference for. Include information such as how long you’ve known them and whether you’re speaking as a colleague, coworker, mentor, or supervisor.

Verify Their Qualifications and Experience

In the next paragraph, speak to the teacher’s education, including any special certifications or professional development achievements. Mention any awards, honors, or accolades they’ve earned. You can keep this section fairly short; the teacher has likely listed all of this on their CV already. Your reference letter will just help verify these qualifications.

Highlight Their Best Qualities

In the body of your letter, write two or three paragraphs that really help identify what makes this teacher special. Don’t try to squeeze in everything you know; instead, think about what really helps the person you’re recommending stand out. For each paragraph, focus on one of these areas (or other relevant topics), choosing the two or three overall that seem most important for this person.

  • Subject matter knowledge and expertise
  • Pedagogy skills
  • Student and/or parent relationships
  • Professional development
  • Community relations
  • Communication skills
  • Leadership roles
  • School pride and loyalty
  • Personal traits, such as passion, enthusiasm, dedication, creativity, etc.

Provide Specific Examples and Anecdotes

This is where you really have the chance to make your letter valuable to the candidate. It’s easy to describe a person as “passionate about recognizing diversity” or “excellent at differentiating learning.” Without examples, though, these are just words. Try to anchor each quality you mention with specific examples or anecdotes that back up those words. Here are a couple of examples:

  • “Alana is passionate about recognizing and celebrating diversity in her classroom. She frequently draws on her strong community relationships to bring diverse speakers and cultural activities to her classroom. Last fall, she organized an incredibly popular school-wide Diversity Fair where students and their families were encouraged to share their own cultures and experiences and learn from each other. One parent noted, ‘I’ve lived in this community for three years, but this is the first time I really feel like I know my neighbors.’”
  • “One of Jamie’s strongest qualities is their ability to differentiate learning for their students. They’re always willing to determine what’s keeping a student from doing their best and finding new ways to overcome challenges. For instance, Jamie was instrumental in helping our school implement text-to-speech software that assists struggling readers and those who have visual impairment. This leveled the playing field in their history and geography classes, helping students focus on the subject at hand instead of spending too much time deciphering text.”

Conclude With a Strong Endorsement

You’ve come all this way, so don’t fall short at the very end! This is the time to state your personal recommendation in no uncertain terms. Sum up your major points, and offer to provide more information if needed.

  • “I’m pleased to recommend Alana Whitmore for an elementary teaching position at your school. Her commitment to diversity, creative classroom approaches, and compassion for students and fellow coworkers would make her an excellent addition to any education team. If you want to discuss her qualifications further, don’t hesitate to contact me.”

Write Professionally and Proofread Carefully

This is a business communication, so strive for a professional but warm tone overall. If it’s a paper letter, use the standard business letter format (on your school letterhead if you’re an administrator). In an email, be sure your signature includes contact information such as a phone number and school address.

Don’t forget to proofread! A letter riddled with spelling errors and grammar mistakes is unlikely to hold much sway with a hiring committee or selection panel. Use a program like Grammarly to help you edit your letter until you’re satisfied with the final version.

Reference Letter Example: Principal for Teacher

Dear Hiring Committee,

I am writing to enthusiastically recommend Alana Whitmore for any opportunity that may arise that aligns with her exceptional skills and dedication as an elementary school teacher. In my capacity as the principal of Maya Angelou Elementary, I have had the privilege of witnessing firsthand the invaluable contributions Alana has made to our school community.

Alana has worked here for seven years, three as a fifth-grade teacher and four in third grade. She came to us fresh from earning her teaching certification at Lancaster University, and continued her education over the last several years to earn her Master’s of Education in Curriculum Design and Development. She was honored with our district’s Teacher of the Year award in 2022 and was the keynote speaker at our state’s education conference in 2023.

Alana is an exemplary educator who consistently demonstrates a deep commitment to the academic and emotional growth of her students. Through her inventive teaching methods and personalized approach, she ensures that every child in her classroom is provided with opportunities to thrive and succeed. During a recent observation, I noted how she cleverly adapted her unit on volcanoes to embrace different learning styles. She provided choices like watching a video, reading an article, or listening to a short podcast to build background knowledge. Students individually chose the option they preferred, then used their knowledge to work with a partner to design a poster, write a report, or give a short presentation on the topic. Students were all engaged throughout the process, enjoying a measure of autonomy while still meeting the stated learning objectives.

Furthermore, Alana excels in building strong and collaborative relationships with parents and guardians. She understands the importance of fostering open communication and partnership between home and school, and she actively seeks opportunities to involve families in their child’s education. One parent reached out to me to share these thoughts: “Ms. Whitmore is the first teacher who seems to care about me as a parent and a person. She went out of her way to arrange a videoconference that met my hectic work schedule, and seemed genuinely interested in the suggestions I had for helping my son. Knowing that she really cares has made this school year so much better for us all.”

In addition to her effectiveness in the classroom and with parents, Alana is highly regarded by her colleagues for her collaborative spirit and willingness to share her expertise. Last year, she helped organize a very well-received professional development day, with a variety of sessions that allowed every teacher to find a subject that truly mattered to them. She serves as a mentor to one of our new teachers, who told me that Alana has helped him see how he can put his college educational theories into practice in the real world. Other teachers regularly share praise for Alana’s cooperative spirit, and she’s been awarded “Coworker of the Year” by our staff three years in a row.

Alana embodies the qualities of an exceptional educator: She is dedicated, passionate, and deeply invested in the well-being and success of her students. Her commitment to differentiation, parent relationships, and collaboration sets her apart as a truly outstanding teacher. I wholeheartedly recommend Alana Whitmore for any role or opportunity where her skills, expertise, and dedication can make a meaningful impact. Please feel free to contact me if you require any further information.


Gina Torres
Principal, Maya Angelou Elementary

Reference Letter Example: Teacher for Coworker

Dear Selection Committee,

I am writing to enthusiastically recommend Jamie Lin for any teaching position that may become available within your school. As a fellow teacher and colleague at Ridgemont High School, I have had the pleasure of working closely with Jamie and have witnessed firsthand their exceptional talents and dedication to the field of education.

Jamie came to our school as a teacher of history and geography in 2019, working with ninth- through twelfth-grade students each year since. Before joining our team, they earned their Master’s Degree in Education with a focus on diversity studies. During Jamie’s four years here, they have been nominated for Teacher of the Year three times and received the award in 2023. Jamie frequently speaks at educational conferences on subjects like cultural relevance and student diversity.

One of Jamie’s greatest strengths is their ability to foster diversity and inclusivity within the learning environment. Whether discussing historical events or exploring global cultures, Jamie ensures that all students feel valued, respected, and represented in the curriculum. They frequently draw on their strong community relationships to bring diverse speakers and cultural activities to the classroom. Speakers and cultural presentations have included representatives of several indigenous communities and local authors from a variety of backgrounds. They also invite community politicians and activists to debate key issues, while students observe and then question the speakers themselves.

In addition to their dedication to diversity, Jamie is a remarkably creative educator who consistently goes above and beyond to engage students in meaningful and thought-provoking learning experiences. They have a passion for project-based learning, teaching critical thinking and problem-solving by having students tackle real-world issues. Through their projects, Jamie’s students have painted cultural murals on the walls in the school courtyard, helped translate our school handbook and other documents into three different languages, and created clubs for fellow students interested in topics like history, geography, and global cultures. Jamie believes in demonstrating what you’ve learned in meaningful ways, and their students thrive in this environment.

Furthermore, Jamie excels at building strong community relationships both inside and outside the classroom. They actively collaborate with colleagues, parents, and community members to create a supportive and enriching learning environment that extends beyond the walls of the school. Last fall, Jamie organized an incredibly popular school-wide Diversity Fair where students and their families were encouraged to share their own cultures and experiences and learn from each other. One parent noted, “I’ve lived in this community for three years, but this is the first time I really feel like I know my neighbors.”

Overall, Jamie Lin is an exceptional educator who embodies the qualities of excellence, creativity, and community engagement. Their passion for teaching, dedication to diversity, and innovative approach to education make them an invaluable asset to any school community.

I wholeheartedly endorse Jamie Lin for any teaching position and am confident that they will continue to make a positive impact on the lives of their students and colleagues. Please feel free to contact me if you require any further information.


Fatima Sundaram
Teacher of Civics and Government, Ridgemont High School

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