27 Jan 2015

How to welcome back your community of learners

Take a moment to think about how you would like your school to feel on that very first day. Will there be a buzz of excitement in the air as people see each other for the first time after the holidays? How will it look and feel and how can you contribute to a more welcoming environment? How can you encourage more families to experience your welcoming learning community from day one?

1 Encourage all staff to meet and greet families with a smile and hello at the gate or in the yard as parents bring their children into the school.

For some teachers it can be a daunting task to approach a parent, even to have a simple conversation. However, if they begin the year with a simple smile and hello it can do wonders in breaking down any barriers or fears in developing a partnership with parents.
The teachers first job should be to get to know their learners. Those learners also come with a family so getting to know the family is also developing an understanding of the child.
Once teachers break the ice for parents, they then feel more confident that they are able to talk with teachers and ask them any questions.

2 Ask them about their holidays and encourage casual conversations.

The more casual and less formal the conversation, the more chance there is of breaking down any fears or barriers. Parents bring with them their own experiences of school and teachers and some may not feel totally confident in talking with a teacher.
If teachers can demonstrate that they are interested in working together with parents, you will soon witness a change in perceptions, attitudes and in how all people in your learning community relate to each other. This will have a positive effect on children and their behaviour as they are watching and learning from positive relationship role modelling.

3 Provide coffee, tea and refreshments in the library or a dedicated space for parents and any staff who are available to catch up after the bell goes.

This way they can continue their excited chatter away from the classrooms where teachers will be settling the children.
Many parents haven’t seen each other for a while and it is good to encourage them to catch up and build relationships, even if it is on the school grounds. If there are some staff members who are available to join in the conversations this shows parents that they are welcome and that the development of community is important at your school.

4 Arrange times for parents and teachers from each year level to meet before parent teacher interviews for an informal morning tea and chat to get to know each other.

This can begin to break down barriers and parents then feel more confident they can talk with the teacher when the more formal interviews arrive.
A family picnic, BBQ or morning teas to encourage parents to get to know teachers is a great way to begin the year. These events plant the seed for families to feel welcome and a part of a caring community, where all children are the focus. When families are brought together, they are also able to look out for each other and develop a support network for those in need.

5 Provide parents with information in the first two weeks of school that informs them of what is happening.

Keeping the information simple and providing dates means reducing any anxieties parents may have in knowing what is happening. When parents are feeling stressed, this can effect children and their own anxiety levels. Communication in advance enables parents to be organised with uniforms and any events that apply to their child. Many parents are working and need to make arrangements ahead of time if they need to be available for their child at school.

The focus is often on the children, but parents are quite often navigating a territory that is foreign to them, especially if they are experiencing school with their first child.

In my experience as a parent and as an engagement consultant, I have observed that parents still are unsure what to do and what their role is when their child begins school. They want to be there for them and support them but are often not sure how.
Even though they may have attended Orientation day with their child, they may still  be unsure where to go, what to do with books, where they need to say goodbye and more importantly, how they can support their child in those first few weeks of school.

Most of the focus is often on Prep families, however to be inclusive and mindful of all year levels will benefit all of the children as they are all transitioning their into the new year. New classroom, new teacher and new expectations are all part of their first few weeks at school too.

By providing a welcoming and inclusive environment right from the beginning of the year, parents can feel confident they are included and are able to develop a partnership approach to learning for their child. The less daunted they feel and the more support they can provide for their child and others, the more positive the learning environment will be for children, both at school and in the home.

Next week's topic: If schools have set goals to achieve in those first few weeks to settle the children, how can parents be included to become partners in reaching those goals?

This will be explored further in our next blog.

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