5 Ways to Create a Positive Climate For the New School Year

August 10 2015

Authors

  • Rick Phillips, Founder, Community Matters
    Rick Phillips
    Founder, Community Matters
  • William Grace Frost, Strategic Relations Director
    William Grace Frost
    Strategic Relations Director

When you were young, do you remember getting ready to start back to school after the long summer break? Can you remember the excitement of seeing old friends, being curious about your new teachers, wondering if and how your changing body might be noticed and reacted to by others? Did you feel anxious, worried or even fearful about how you might be treated, or mistreated, by your classmates and peers?

Back-to-school is obviously an exciting time, yet for many children, starting the new year can seem like a minefield filled with risk, vulnerability and concern for their safety… sometimes emotional, sometimes physical and sometimes both!

I raise these points to remind us all how important it is to be very intentional about making re-entry to a new school year as welcoming, inclusive and safe as we can for all students.

So what does it look like when we put our students first and create a strong “Welcome Back to School Campaign”? Here are some concrete and effective actions you can take to help your students start the school year with the best chance for success:

  1. Station classified and certificated staff out in front of your buildings on the first days of school, being attentive to welcoming parents and families, as well as the students. As they are often the first point of contact, make sure that clerks, custodians, bus drivers and campus supervisors are fully enrolled in understanding the critical role they play in setting a positive tone.
  2. Establish a series of back-to-school activities that promote kindness, tolerance, inclusivity and respect for all. This could include individual classroom activities, grade level meetings, or an all school assembly, each with a theme such as “looking out for each other” or "what it means to be an upstander”.
  3. Invite students, staff and administrators to co-create a “code of conduct” addressing expectations for behavior. When adults work together with youth in an inclusive way of “with them” rather than “to, for or at them”, our students not only feel empowered and valued, but they are also more likely to be the citizens we want them to be.
  4. Create new and increased opportunities for student voice, reaching out beyond the obvious student leaders to also engage the harder-to-enroll young people. Brainstorm with your staff about unique ways to give more diverse students meaningful opportunities to serve, lead, mentor or mediate.
  5. Talk as a staff about the importance of discipline being less about punishing and more about correcting and restoring, seeing misbehavior as an opportunity to help students self-correct, be accountable for their actions and learn from their experiences.

When you begin the school year by committing to connectedness, putting relationships first and being the “hall-friendly”, asset-building adults your students need you to be, you let staff, students and families know that you care deeply about the social-emotional climate of your schools.  This goes a long way to setting the norms you want, and to establishing a culture and a climate where “it’s cooler to be kind, than it is to be cruel.”



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