As another year comes to a close, schools start looking towards getting ready for the year ahead. One of the key considerations at this time is welcoming new people into your school community and helping them get organised for starting in a new environment.
For students, parents, and staff, this challenge can be filled with excitement, but also anxiety and stress, which makes now the perfect time to brainstorm ideas to ensure everyone feels welcomed and engaged.
Dr Lyn O’Grady for The Educator states that:
“Students who feel like they are part of the school community, have relationships with teachers and peers which are strong and supportive, and feel like they matter to the people at their school are much more likely to be engaged in school”.
With that in mind, this blog will look at the different types of events, resources, cultural activities, and team-building exercises your school can utilise when welcoming new members of your community.
The most common method of welcoming your new school community is through events, which are an excellent way to get groups of people together to socialise, network and learn.
Events for Students
Orientation day is an important event for new students, as the Department of Education Queensland states:
“Orientation is an important part of children’s transition to school… The aim is to support every child to feel safe and secure and have a sense of belonging at school.”
Orientation Day activities are a great way for students to get a glimpse into how the school day will operate, find classrooms and other facilities, begin socialising with other new students, and meet some of their future teachers.
Some fun activities you can incorporate into your school’s orientation day could include:
- Icebreaker games such as new student bingo.
- Campus scavenger hunts.
- Introducing a buddy system.
- Meet and greet sessions with the different departments.
- A talent show with performances by the current students.
Although orientation days are typically associated with Primary School students and the move up to High School, also consider how you could leverage similar events for students that enter mid-term, or new students starting in other year levels.
The buddy system is another popular in-person method for assisting these types of new students. Research from the Department of Education Victoria says the buddy system can help to “enhance the sense of a friendly and supportive school community” and that “School’s report that the programs promote social and support networks for children.”
Events for Parents
While the buddy system is primarily used for new students, this concept could be expanded to families by introducing their parents to others in your school community. Particularly if they have moved and are new to the area, this is a great way for new parents to develop local relationships and learn more about the ins and outs of school life.
Another type of event that can help get parents and guardians involved is parent information nights. These offer a fantastic opportunity for new parents to network and socialise with the school community, sign up for school activities and other volunteer positions, and learn about the school’s beliefs and values.
Also, consider introducing new parents to the software systems they will be using for various administration tasks (i.e., paying fees, updating addresses etc.) and the systems their child will be using, so they can provide their child with any necessary support while at home.
Events for Teachers
As new teachers may have to adjust to brand-new systems, getting them trained and well-equipped to use them is essential.
Running workshops for staff that cover the systems they use day to day will get them up to speed in no time. Doing this in a group setting will also allow staff to bounce their own experience and ideas off one another. This is a great opportunity for both new staff and existing staff that may need a refresher.
As an alternative to running in-house workshops, see what resources are available from your software provider, as many will have a vast list of training options and sessions that can be tailored to your specific needs.
Newcomers to your school are starting with a blank slate when it comes to what procedures to follow, how to use which systems, and what processes are in place for different activities.
To help everyone get up to speed with the practices you have in place at your school, consider supplying all the relevant beginner information in one location or pack. Having tailored, clearly labelled resources for students, parents, and staff can help prevent them from getting overwhelmed with information that may not be relevant to them yet (or at all).
Providing new students with a 'welcome (back)pack’ is an excellent way of ensuring they have all the necessary school information to get started. Items to include in a welcome pack can consist of:
- Information on the school rules and code of conduct.
- A clear map of the school with labelled classrooms.
- A list of all the co-curricular sign-up options available.
- A 101 guide on how to access and utilise their Student Portal.
Likewise, it is also important to put together a welcome pack for new parents, as the information they require will differ from that of students. Some of the items you may wish to include in a parent welcome pack could consist of:
- School uniform and attendance policy.
- A school fee schedule and payment options information.
- A list of parent groups and ways to volunteer within the school community
- A 101 guide on how to access their Parent Portal and update/action relevant information.
Whether they’ve just graduated or are a veteran teacher that’s moved across to your school, the first day of term can be just as stressful for teachers as they navigate a new school environment on top of new classes, students, and colleagues.
Ensuring they feel supported during this transition is crucial, as Madeline Laurano from the Brandon Hall Group states:
“Organisations with a strong onboarding process improve new hire retention by 82% and productivity by over 70%.”
With this in mind, ensuring your new teachers have a smooth and vigorous onboarding process, with easy access to the resources they need, will give them the best opportunity of succeeding. School-branded welcome kits are not only great exposure for your school but offer new teachers a sense of belonging.
There are many companies that make custom welcome kits that can be branded with your school colours and logo, which could include a long list of items, including:
- Employee induction handbooks
- Personalised welcome letters
- Reusable coffee mugs
- Branded Apparel
New staff will also benefit from a way to quickly learn about new and existing students, their individual needs, and where they are sitting academically and pastorally. Providing staff with easy-to-digest visual insights instead of sifting through reports and spreadsheets will help streamline this process, with systems such as TrackOne Studio’s Learning Analytics Suite offering a way to easily access and explore this data.
Alongside events and resources, including different team-building activities can help new members build connections sooner, make the first day of school less daunting, and help get people excited for their first day.
Although this is common in individual classes or year levels, consider offering a way for students to build connections with the broader school community as well. According to The National Center for Education Statistics, extra-curricular activities offer students opportunities to learn the value of teamwork and build a sense of culture and community.
Kickstarting this process by offering sign-ups or trials for extra-curricular activities early in the school year, or even on Orientation Day, will encourage new students to get involved, offering built-in friendships and a support system whilst they find their footing at school.
Similarly, encouraging new parents to join your P&F association is a great way to help them get engaged and participate in different school activities.
Catholic School Parents Queensland lists that P&F associations have three primary responsibilities:
- Financing, and
With these three responsibilities come many school activities that parents can get involved with, such as social events like welcome BBQs or School Fetes, or volunteer roles such as sports coaching or helping in the school tuckshop.
No matter the role, being a part of the P&F association is a sure-fire way for parents to feel more engaged with their school community.
Ultimately, starting at a new school is going to be a little daunting for any new student, parent, or staff member. However, you can help make the transition as smooth as possible by being informative and supportive. Providing opportunities for people to connect will go a long way towards making the newest members of your school community feel welcome.