Back to School - Setting the Stage for Positive School Climate

August 11 2014


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

Whether you’ve been waiting expectantly for the first day of school to begin - or you’re shaking your head thinking “Is it that time again?” - one of the first priorities that needs our attention as teachers and administrators is remembering how important it is for our students to feel that school is a kind, inclusive and safe place to learn and grow.

As the old adage goes, “you only get one chance to make a good first impression”. Starting the year off right for your students can set the stage for a year full of positive outcomes. Remember that a sense of belonging and connectedness is the foremost predictor of a child’s success in school, and the way you approach and address your students right off the bat can have a powerful influence on their attitude and their performance.

While the majority of the back-to-school “safety” literature is focused on street crossing and bicycle rules, bus stop protocols and playground precautions, an equal proportion of attention needs to be placed on establishing a strong sense of connectedness, trust and belonging.

Here are six things to remember in setting a positive tone at school:

  • Before the first day of school starts, take some time to recall what it was like for you coming back to school after summer break. Starting from a place of personal experience will go a long way towards helping you promote good relationships with your students;
  • Be intentionally “hall-friendly” by stepping outside your classroom to meet and greet students passing by; a simple “hi” or “great to see you” is sometimes all it takes for a child to feel welcome; offer a genuine smile, and meet them at their level with authentic warmth;
  • Be especially attentive to their behavior and body language so you can accurately assess if special attention is needed; you never know if something may have happened that’s weighing heavily on their emotions or well-being;
  • Begin with genuine curiosity; ask specific questions and take time to listen and engage with their answers; “How was your summer?” is likely to elicit a benign response of “fine” or “OK”, whereas a question like “What did you do that was really inspiring?” or “How are you feeling about coming back to school?” may evoke something more personal or insightful;
  • If you want positive behavior throughout the year, start off by assisting your students in developing and establishing class rules or expectations (they will be more likely to follow them and it provides an opportunity for developing leadership);
  • Most of all, remember that this can be a challenging time for you, as well as for the students, so take extra special care of yourself with proper sleeping, eating, exercising and emotional support; your number one job is to bring a well-cared for person to school who can engage your students with clarity, patience, consistency, enthusiasm and appreciation; students will benefit enormously from you being at the top of your game.

So, start the year off right by making it a priority to let your students know they’re welcome and that their presence is important to you. Taking the time to forge and strengthen relationships with students will help them feel comfortable and relaxed. You’ll be setting the stage to reap the benefits all year long with fewer disciplinary problems, enhanced achievement and a school climate that feels safer, more welcoming and inclusive.

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