The Reflection Pool

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.”