Understanding how people feel, what they are going through, and being there not just to solve problems, but also to provide support can be a powerful way to start with relationship building. How powerful would it be if we knew and understood what our students are going through? Starting with an understanding and a desire to understand each individual – positive or negative is an important part of the school day.
I look back on the first day of school fondly because I saw the welcome crowd greeting students! Our Feaster Falcon was dressed up, taking pictures with kids and families as they arrived on campus. Our admin team and learning leader coaches were outside with banners and signs! The Friday before school started, I saw our IAs preparing welcome posters to greet out kids! Our Mindlabs teachers were scattered across campus with similar posters welcoming students back to school! The feeling of being welcomed and greeted was so heartwarming to many of our students and their families.
I started wondering, how can we do this every single day?
One thing that I have noticed so many great teachers doing is greeting their students at the door each morning with a smile. They arrive early, which is a challenge in itself, then they spend their time outside of their classroom door welcoming in families and students as they arrive. The students are greeted and they hear their name being spoken first thing in the morning, some of them for the first time since they left school the day before (for more research on why this is so important, visit The Brain on Your Name: How Your Brain Responds to the Sound of Your Name). Starting off the day with such a positive message will follow through into the afternoon, and if maintained, will continue in to make a positive impact on the next day as well.
While it may not be logistically possible to be outside with posters and a school mascot every morning, there are simple things that we can do to ensure a welcoming environment right from the start of the day.
- Play music in the morning before the bell rings, set the tone in a positive manner
- Ask questions about their time aways from school and really listen to their responses
- Say hello to parents, staff, and families as you walk around campus
- Make a comment that shows you care – for example, last week, I saw one student while I was stopped at the stoplight right before the trolley tracks. So, I rolled down the window to talk to them. The student’s mom shared that they were going to the park. The next day, when I asked the student about their time there, his face lit up because he was shocked that I remembered the conversation and cared enough to ask about it.
- Be yourself and stay positive with every opportunity that you can
As I reflect on these ideas, I am reminded of a few resources that have been shared with me over the years:
Primary Video: “Every Opportunity“
Every Opportunity showcases two versions of a student’s morning. I showed this video to my second graders as well as my sixth graders before a trust circle. The message is that we have the power to make a difference in the everyday lives and emotions of anyone we cross paths with. How powerful would it be if staff, parents, and students took this message to heart?
Upper Grade Video : “Under the Surface – Empathy Film”
Under the Surface was a new one for me, but when Elizabeth Aderholdt, our induction and new teacher support teacher, shared this with me, I immediately understood the power of thinking and acting with empathy. Everyone has a story and a life trouble, when we react with understanding, empathy, compassion, and support, we can help alleviate some of those troubles. It is the same for our students, the amount of trauma and hardships felt can have a huge impact on their daily lives, but how we respond and support them can make all the difference.
Trauma Research: Chalkbeat Article
Cynthia Figueroa, our school social worker, shared an article, Trauma Can Make it Hard for Kids to Learn. Here’s How Teachers Learn to Deal With That. The article discussed how we can better support that trauma:
What does a safe classroom look like in practice for a kid who has experienced trauma, maybe multiple forms of trauma in their lives? It’s predictable. [Students] know what expectations are, what they need to do to be successful.
One of the ways that we can provide a sense of security beyond understanding, being welcoming, and showing empathy, is to make routines and expectations understood and even including our students in this process of deciding these routines and expectations. The routines and clear expectations remove any sense of surprise from the students so that they do not have to face anything unpredictable. The comfort in knowing what the days holds and being able to know what to expect can help alleviate some of the angst and anxiety that is felt by our learners.
This is by no means an end all of the conversation of community and relationship building. The ideas described are not the sole ways to develop a community of respect and empathy, but they are starting points. I encourage everyone to share their ideas and help us to maintain the positive sentiments that are felt while on campus!