Every school administrator aspires to make their community as welcoming as possible. The thing is, it’s not as easily achieved as hanging ‘welcome’ signs and streamers all over the campus, hoping that students will see it and feel it. No. You can only make that positive spirit felt and real when you focus on, ironically, what’s not seen. On the noble virtues, everyone in the community should exercise. If you want to be intentional in creating a welcoming school environment, you should pay attention to these core values:
A school feels welcoming when each member in it treats each other with regard. How does that look like in real life? In classrooms, students feel like teachers listen to them. That even though they’re young, they’re not looked down upon, but their thoughts and feelings are recognised. In the faculty room, teachers consider their fellows as essential partners in training students. They also feel that their opinions matter to their supervisors, that suggestions for improvements are acknowledged, not dismissed. How do you foster this kind of spirit? Focus on activities that will let members of the community know each other better. A strong bond will create a more profound sense of respect for others. So, in classrooms, organise those show-and-tell activities. In the faculty, it could be retreats or occasional lunch-outs, events that allow them to talk about life outside work.
Newcomers in the community will quickly feel like they belong when they feel safe in your campus environment. This doesn’t just pertain to physical safety, mind you. An ‘emotional’ safe space is also necessary, in that people won’t feel anxious, but feel comfortable being themselves, regardless of gender, race, or religion. So how exactly do you highlight ‘emotional’ safe spaces? Interestingly, by making effective use of physical spaces. Some teachers designate a ‘quiet zone’ in classrooms, an area where younger pupils can go to when they need to de-stress or when something’s bothering them. Campus-wide, some school administrators are adding shared, informal amenities, like outdoor canopies or shelters so kids can meet classmates who share the same social background as they are. And then, there’s also the push for upholding the concept of personal space and privacy in bathrooms, with shower cubicles in NZ campuses’ locker rooms an absolute must.
Of course, how your school communicates is also a marker of a welcoming community. This is communication in all forms, take note. Online and offline. Take a look at the words you use in your social media announcements and bulletins. Do they express a sense of enthusiasm, making each member of the community feel belong? Making incoming students enticed to be part of your school? In the same manner, evaluate your feedback mechanism on the campus. Are your offices accessible to parents who have concerns and questions? Do you have volunteers who intentionally reach out to students? Maybe it’s time to change the tone of your messages online. Perhaps it’s time to consider having help desks and more volunteers in your student outreach committee.
How Welcoming is Your School Environment?
A welcoming campus is one of those oft-forgotten factors in student success. Don’t overlook this positive atmosphere on your own. Start building that encouraging aura today.