Here are some tips on how to welcome new pupils in 2020.
Creating a sense of belonging doesn’t just happen. Each year Headteachers, staff and parent associations expertly integrate new pupils and families into their school community. With school lockdowns in place, these typical welcome traditions are going to have to be different. Here are five steps that will ensure pupils and parents are enthusiastic about being part of your school.
1. Set boundaries
Strong community leaders (i.e you the Headteacher) need to make it clear who are insiders and outsiders. New families need to know that the community they join shares their values and it is a safe place in which to connect with other families at the school. Here are some do’s and don’ts:
- Don’t send communications to one parent, the primary carer only.
- Do introduce parents to your schools mission and values
- Do encourage parents to be there for each other. This takes off some of the pressure on your teaching staff. See Sample letters.
With boundaries comes gatekeepers. All communities comprise inner and outer rings, where some members have different responsibilities. Offering members a path in which to grow and join an inner ring can reap all kinds of benefits for the school. Including help with fundraising, pupil referrals and pupil retention. Give the PTA, Class Rep or equivalent parent leaders, the authority to invite and approve new parent members.
2. Virtual Initiation to the Community
Initiation into the school community can be as simple as a private message notification or email welcoming pupil and their family into the community. It is important that new families understand who is part of the community. This means introducing them to other families with new pupils in the same class or year. Unofficial cliquey WhatsApp groups can emerge if school leaders don’t manage this.
As meeting in person isn’t possible encourage virtual playdates with new classmates in younger years and virtual coffees for parents in all years. (Here is a Link to an article how to host a virtual coffee)
Invite parents to join the Classlist ‘friendship map’ (see example below). Although it may be hard to imagine right now, finding local families will be valuable in the years to come.
Share community guidelines of what is acceptable behaviour. Here is an example of Classlist’s membership guidelines.
3. Create new rituals
A ritual is any action that signifies a time or event as special or important. Your school will already have a number of traditions or rituals that mark the school calendar. A ritual can be minutes long or a full blown event. When designing new rituals they should have the following characteristics:
|It welcomes its target audience||New parents and pupils|
|It describes its intention||Help pupils get to know each other|
|It refers back to previous traditions how new pupils were made welcome||Visit your class and meet your new teacher|
|It explains how members can participate in the ritual||This year pupils and parents will meet by video link|
|It invites participation according to the instructions||You will receive a video link for a specific date|
|It acknowledges the event that has taken place||A personal card from their new teacher posted to the pupil’s home.
A photo montage of new pupils
4. Create new symbols to signify belonging
Symbols are powerful tools in building community. School logos are the most obvious symbols for reminding members of the school’s values and identity. Giving pupils a token or keepsake that includes the school logo binds loyalty and a sense of belonging. Tell them:
- WHY the school is giving them the token.
- WHAT it symbolises
Thank goodness for e-commerce. Popular items are toys, t-shirts or water bottles with the logo and year. Even better, ask one or two senior pupils to record a video of their experience joining the school and welcome them into the community.
5. Create a virtual school gate
Strong communities have a place where their community gathers. For parents this is often the school gate. With the current lockdown Head teachers need to create a ‘virtual school gate’. In other words create an inclusive online community. Just ensure you have appropriate gatekeepers helping to encourage positive conversations, guidelines on how to participate constructively and moderation is easy to carry out. Lastly, make sure it respects parent privacy and is GDPR compliant.
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