Welcome Students on the First Day, Every Day (Guest Post)
By Diane Dougherty
How often have we seen this greeting posted on billboards in front of schools? How often have we ourselves posted such a greeting in our very own classrooms? And a fine greeting it is too! We want our students to feel “welcome,” to know that each one is a part of the larger community of learners, to experience the warmth that comes from a sense of belonging; in short to feel gladly received into our classrooms, our “home away from home.”
When we invite guests into our homes, what do we do to ensure that they know they are welcome? Can we apply some of the rules of being a good host/hostess to our beginning of the year (and, really, throughout the year) relationships with our students. As one can find everything online, I googled “How to be a Good Host” and was hardly surprised by the multiple sites available on that topic. Here are ten of these rules from various sites (listed in bold and in italics) that I believe transfer particularly well to the classroom:
- Be Welcoming. “Greet your guests at the door. Never leave them milling around and expect them to follow you.” I used to tell my student teachers, when I was a supervisor, that it is important to greet your students at the door. Have a word for everyone. Notice if someone has had a haircut or a changed look. Mention the Friday football game. Smile. Forget about not smiling until Christmas; let students know you like them (even when it’s hard to do).
- If they come for a main course, have everything ready. “Don’t rush. Move casually; otherwise, you will let your guests think they have become a burden to you.” Have your plans ready to go: texts, paper, handouts, read alouds; all of these need to be on hand. Students should see us as professionals—like Olympic competitors, we should make the performance look effortless.
- Be consistent. “If you always offer your guests the same treatment and the same orientation, it’s very comforting.” Students need to know what to expect. Establish a routine and enforce classroom procedures until they become second nature to everyone.
- Connect. “After getting settled it’s important to go over the evening or the day ahead.” Don’t make students guess the topic and purpose of the lesson. If reflection is expected, don’t make them guess what they will be asked to do.
- Start with the end in sight. “Ironically, the most uncomfortable part of hosting is knowing the endpoint. Be sure you and your guests know how long the visit will be.” Of course, the school day is set; class periods have specific times. However, students should know the expectations for the day (see above) and the expectations for the unit of study. What do we expect them to be able to do when the unit of study is completed?
- Mi Casa Es Su Casa. “The best feeling you can give your guests is that your home is their home.” Make sure your students know everything they need to know (where paper is kept, where completed assignments should be placed, how to ask to be excused, for example) so they don’t have to bother you too often when you are conferring with their classmates or are otherwise engaged with the class.
- Flowers. “It’s an extra touch, but placing fresh flowers in the room spreads the message that you really honor your guest.” Make your classroom attractive. Colorful posters, bulletin boards, a plant, silk flowers go a long way towards making students feel that we have pride in place.
- When you are hosting your guests, there will be times that you have to talk. “When you are talking, show interest in what your guests have to say.” Don’t monopolize the discussions. Let students’ voices be heard. Build on what they have to say and honor their points of view.
- Know your personal goal. “With every guest be sure to know what they enjoy and what you would like to offer them.” Help students to set goals for themselves and keep records of their achievements as well as their progress toward their achievements.
- Fold them into your life. “Try to run your life as you always do and fold your guests into it.” Share your stories. Read with your students. Write with your students. Be a member of the learning community. When we all learn together, magic happens.
To this day I remember classrooms where, as a student, I felt comfortable, at home, and valued. Those classrooms are the places where I grew, where I learned, where I thrived. We can’t be perfect teachers; we can’t even be perfect hosts, but we can strive to do the best we can every day. Welcome students not just the first day of school or the first week of school but every day. Remember, we are members of a classroom community learning together.
Diane Dougherty is a 1989 Writing Fellow and co-directed both the Writing Institute and the Reading and Literature Institute. She is the author, with Lynne Dorfman, of Grammar Matters, published by Stenhouse Publishers and she and Lynne are currently working on a book about formative assessment.