With so many Educators embarking on a new beginnings this time of year, it is a great time to reflect upon how we can create Welcoming Environments for our students and parents.
Creating classrooms and schools that are Welcoming for both students and parents, is absolutely essential to improving Student Learning and Engagement.
If we look at a Schools Paradigm only, schooling is about bells, standardized tests, inflexible schedules, and teacher/curriculum driven. This set up can be very unwelcoming to many students and their families. However, If we look at an Education Paradigm, school is holistic, and based upon the individual needs of our students, learning is flexible, and related to contexts that are meaningful for the students. A daunting task at best when Teachers are faced with large numbers of students in their classrooms. However, Teachers can help acknowledge students by representing their cultural diversity. This can be done by embedding cultural symbols, and practices into our buildings, classrooms, and creating online environments that serve to help make students and parents feel welcome and important.
However, it is a challenge to continually create Welcoming Environments in our schools. Especially since we are living in this 21st Century of growing Technology, that more and more people are using on a daily basis.
With increasing demands surrounding school report cards, test scores being linked to school funding, and demands for increased accountability for educators and students, Educators, parents, and students can feel overwhelmed, and forget that creating a Welcoming Environments can be the most powerful tool in our quest to improve student learning.
The following 5 Categories are important when considering how to create a Welcoming Environment within your classroom and school:
- Ongoing, and Open communication
- Physical Environment
- Practices and Policies
- Personal Interaction
- Written Materials and Communications
1. Ongoing, and Open communication with Parents is crucial.
Parents and families of different cultures and special needs, warrant extra communication to foster a feeling of being Welcome in our schools and Classrooms. Whether parents are requesting this communication, or whether extra communication is warranted to further engage students and support their learning, Communication is perhaps the number 1 role of an educator. Though more personalized communication is best done in person, there are aspects of communication that can be met via 21st Century Technologies. For instance, email, blogs, webpages, wikis etc., are all useful tools to support the Communication that already exists, and can provide tools, links, and symbols to integrate and share valuable information. But this should never replace place of person-to-person communication and real-life, real-time interactions that are absolutely necessary to engaging our students.
Parents, staff, community, and students will only become invested in their schools if they feel invited and welcome, and believe that the teacher is willing to reach out to communicate the families, and integrate culture into the process.
Welcoming environments can be created and improved upon by attending to the Physical Environment, School Practices and Policies, Personal Interaction, and Written Materials and Communications. Here are just a few ideas that can be used:
2. Physical Environment:
- Embed Culturally significant symbols, ie., Medicine Wheel, 7 Grandfather Teachings, Dream Catchers, into hallways, classrooms, offices, libraries, websites & blogs, social media ie., School Twitter account.
3. Practices and Policies:
- Promote strong sense of Community, Culture & Caring Policies. Co-create them and post them on school websites.
- Continually refer to these co-created rules on blogs and other forms of social media.
- Restorative Practices explained on social media and web-based platforms.
- Character Education Models
- 21st Century Technologies and Digital Citizenship Policies
- Involving Parents in decision making perhaps through Google-Docs surveys or other assessment tools
- Online Parent Groups
4. Personal Interaction:
- Calling parents, setting up regular meetings, and engaging in open communication with families, whether explicitly requested, or due to the necessity to engage all learners, cultures and special needs.
- Catching parents after school to touch base. It doesn’t take much to make families of all Cultures and Special needs feel welcome and included.
- Leaders in the school working on teambuilding with technologies to bring staff together & recognize accomplishments;
- Co-create and share visions at Staff meetings by brainstorming key ingredients of a Welcoming Environment, include the ideas on a website or blog.
- Do the same with Parent Groups;
- Staff as friendly and inviting to students, staff, and parents, and then inviting them into this digital school community as well.
- Call Parents! Set up regular meetings, and engaging in open communication with families, whether explicitly requested, or due to the necessity to engage all learners, cultures and special needs.
- Make it a general rule to talk positively at school about students, families, cultures, and special needs. There is nothing that will make a family feel more Unwelcome, and Disrespected, then to know that they and the students are being spoken of in negative ways. The world is a very small place. What is said usually does get back around, so make it positive and helpful!
- Put yourself in the position of a Learner, and not always an ‘Expert’. To help families and their children feel welcome, realise that they are in fact equal partners, and equal experts in the process of educating their children. Be open to learning new things with each new classroom and each new student that comes into your care!
- Personally Research the Cultures and Special Needs that you are working with. One cannot assume that the learning that occurred in a University Degree will be applicable to the current situation. Teachers are wonderful and welcoming, because they are equals with the parents and community. They appreciate the diversity of all students, and are real champions of those who have historically experienced more prejudice, racism, bias, and un-preferential treatment.
5. Written Materials and Communications:
- Regular Classroom & School Newsletters, Phone calls, meetings, in whatever format the parents and community wants or needs. Not all people have internet access! Not all parents check their email!
- Classroom & School Websites
- Recognize parent & community volunteers
- Write articles about staff members, volunteers & students
- Parent Handbooks
- Twitter Feeds
- School Facebook Page
- Ministry Learning Management Systems
- Telephone answering machine messages
- And always remembering to limit educational jargon, and write communications at a 6th to 8th grade reading level
- Good Old Fashioned person-to-person communication with the families in need!
All parents and families need to feel welcome, and understood in order to increase engagement and Learning. Welcoming environments can be created by attending to the needs of different cultures and special needs, and keeping the lines of communication open. It is when these lines of communication and strategies to welcome all types of learners break down , that students and families lose trust and faith in the school system, and disengage from the education process. We need to strive to create Welcoming Environments, and create school systems where families feel safe to learn and grow.
How do you create Welcoming Environments in your Classroom and School?
© Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
Seeing your school as others see it.: Welcoming Environments.http://www.education.ky.gov/users/OTL/Beginning_of_School_Year/Seeing%20Your%20School%20As%20Others%20See%20It.pdf