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.”



6 Responses to “How Do You Want Families to Feel on the First Day of School?”

  1. A great post, Sue, and on a topic that is very dear to me! I love how in Kindergarten, we can meet the children and their families before school starts. My partner and I have already reached out to these families through email and through some phone calls. Since there are two new people on our school’s Kindergarten team this year (me being one of them), both classes decided to host an “Open House Visit” for any SK students returning to school this year. Usually they don’t visit the classroom (just the new-to-school students), but we wanted to give them a chance to meet us, see the classroom, and ask any questions they have with their parents before school officially starts. I’m excited about this! I’m also thrilled about a new Kindergarten Program Document that really highlights these strong home/school connections and provides numerous, meaningful ways to make these happen regardless of work schedules, language differences, etc. I’m eager to see the impact that this has in Kindergarten, but also hopefully, in other grades. These connections really matter! I’m very curious to hear what others have to say about this.


    1. Love the open house idea. And of course, it matters what you do at that event. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  2. “I used to think that parents should leave me alone and let me do my job . . .”
    I can relate! With the demands of the job, excitement for the new year and a genuine want to teach . . . It’s easy to overlook what we mean to each student. I can recall starting at my first school and the principal quoting, “Kids won’t care what you know until they know that you care.”

    As I start this year, you have given me much to think about. Building a culture in the classroom facilitates learning in the long run. Thank you for your suggestions. I think it is as simple as greeting parents . . . asking kids about their day or their interests.

    Good luck in September!


    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment, Enzo! I wish you all the best this September – building relationships with students and with families. Have fun!

    An article about Finland and their beginning of school routines. I think it all boils down to something similar – educators want to develop our skills to more fully take care of children’s social-emotional health more than ever before.

    1. Hi Brande – thanks for sharing! I saw this article shared through Twitter as well and thought it was really interesting. What a different culture to North America.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Like what you're reading?

Subscribe now to be notified of new posts

Continue Reading