Those first few days back for everyone are a crucial time for creating that sense of belonging and inclusivity which is crucial for making everyone feel part of the school community.
It is an opportunity to bring everyone together again, welcome new starters and kick off new strategies and projects for the year ahead. With that in mind, here are a few thoughts to get you started:
Create a welcoming environment
We can begin by ensuring that we are creating a welcoming environment. Greet students, parents, and staff with a positive attitude, and ensure that they feel acknowledged and valued from the moment they enter the school premises. This might be through something as simple as a whole school assembly to which parents are invited, or you might devote a couple of days at the start of term to team-building activities.
Promote a school “buddy” scheme
A mentorship or “buddy” scheme where older or more experienced students and staff members can support and guide newer or younger members of the school community are a great way of creating a sense of support and belonging, particularly for those who may feel new or unfamiliar. But this doesn’t have to be just students and teachers. New parents can be supported by members of the Parents’ Association so that they get to know the ropes and feel part of the greater whole.
Prioritise parent engagement
Parent engagement is a crucial part of a successful school so get new parents involved as early as possible. Organise regular communication channels such as parent-teacher conferences, newsletters, or online platforms to keep parents informed and engaged. Seek their input on school matters and encourage their active participation in school events and activities. With new parents, it is worth getting feedback from them soon after they have started - how was the process of joining the school, what do they find is working well. Remember, this group of parents will bring a fresh pair of eyes to what you do and their thoughts can be really useful.
Celebrate student achievements
People like to be recognised for their achievements and many of them will have been busy doing things over the summer break. Celebrate their accomplishments and publicly recognize the efforts of individuals or groups. This might be with the whole school, or in smaller Year and Form groups, but it will encourage a sense of pride and belonging within the school community.
Provide additional support for the use of Edtech
With technology such a key part of the way a school operates it can be a major source of frustration when things go wrong. Ensure that the school's technology infrastructure, devices, and software are updated, functioning properly, and ready to support your needs. In particular, provide training and support to teachers, students and parents for any new technology tools or platforms being implemented.
Remember, building a strong and inclusive school community takes time and ongoing effort. It requires fostering positive relationships, valuing diverse perspectives, and actively engaging all members in the shared vision and goals of the school. The start of the academic year is the perfect time to establish the shape of the year to come and make everyone feel part of it.