How Do You Want Families to Feel on the First Day of School?

With thanks to Pernille Ripp for title inspiration.

My nieces and and nephew just started at new schools in Washington, D.C. after a move across the country. They were excited and nervous, as you would expect. And so were my brother and sister-in-law. They didn’t know exactly what to expect either and wanted their kids to have a great first day. As educators, we often forget how parents may feel approaching a new school year.

Photo Credit: baggyjumper via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: baggyjumper via Compfight cc

I’ve recently read some excellent back-to-school posts by amazing educators Jose Vilson, Pernille Ripp and Stephen Hurley about caring for students, planning for the emotional side of the classroom, and co-creating a classroom with students. This stuff is really important!

And yet… we also need to think about families. We might be able to come up with a list of words to describe how we would like them to feel, like welcome, happy, included, or confident. How do our actions actually achieve these?

I was not always the most welcoming teacher or principal. In fact, when I look back over some of the things I did, I cringe. I acted like I knew what was best for students and their families. But I didn’t, a fact that it took me a few years and experiences and the modeling of some really great teacher and principal mentors to realize.

Have you ever done this exercise after a learning session?  “I used to think…. but now I think…” It’s a great way to give yourself permission to leave behind old ways of doing things that were not the best and commit to making a change. So I’ll go: “I used to think that parents should leave me alone and let me do my job, but now I think that if they know how much I value their child and their input, we can do a great job together.”

So what does that mean for the first day of school and welcoming families? How about a big fat smile that stretches your face and no curt or frustrated words? How about having parents bring students to classrooms for the first day (or maybe a first week?) How about free coffee or tea on the playground for adults as they arrive? Expand on these to fit your school and your context.

I’ll let Maya Angelou have the last word with a quote I always need to keep in mind:

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”


My Name Is…

Back to School posts are everywhere! It’s that time of year after all. It’s great to read about caring, relationship building, visioning. That is all super important. We know that if students and teachers don’t feel valued at school or if there aren’t good relationships, success for everyone goes waaaay down. But I think there may be a missing ingredient when it comes to relationship building, at least from the posts I read.

What about the students’ names?  

Rusul Alrubail tweeted this out recently:

The link takes you to a really great post called “10 Ways Well-Meaning White Teachers Bring Racism Into Our Schools” and it’s a must-read. Even though it uses an american lens, we can’t let ourselves believe that these things don’t happen in canadian schools too. It made me uncomfortable, since I recognize myself in some of them, but that was good. How else can I continue to face and question my ingrained biases?

Rusul had a conversation about number 4: Intentionally or Unintentionally Mispronouncing Names on Twitter (you can go here to see the whole conversation) which I jumped in on. I, too, believe that naming is powerful. It is also political. There is a long standing tradition in Canada of changing the names of those who come to our shared country when they don’t suit our English or French tongues. I’m really glad that this tradition has almost died out. When we don’t pronounce student or colleagues’ names properly, we diminish ourselves and each other. It’s a message that you’re not that important. And using the excuse of “it’s just too hard” or “those names are crazy!” (yes, I’ve heard that) isn’t OK. 

Rusul’s post, Growing up with my name, is a window into how it feels. Her humour and gentleness in dealing with this subject is inspiring.  I know I’m going to keep making those efforts to pronounce others’ names correctly. I hope you are too.


“We” not “I”

Photo Credit: Martin Gommel via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Martin Gommel via Compfight cc

Language is powerful. People hear and listen to what educators say. When a principal or vice principal says “my schools”, what message is inferred? When a teacher says “my students”, what message is implied?

Next time you are tempted to use “my” or “I”, try using “our” or “we”  instead. Do you see the difference? The second means that we’re all working together. We all take responsibility. We value all voices.

Here are some examples:

I talked to the family, and I decided to implement a plan for the student that I will monitor.

Change to:  We talked to the family, and we decided to implement a plan for the student that we will monitor together.

My school is wonderful! I love my staff and and my students.

Change to: Our school is wonderful! We are a cohesive and hardworking staff who cares for our students.

I hope you can see the power of this simple switch. I challenge you to make the change!