Ah, September… a time for new beginnings and fresh starts in the wide world of education. Hopefully, this is a time to reunite refreshed from the summer break ready to inspire as well as absorb. Of course, at the forefront of every educator’s mind are the new incoming students and how they might feel more welcome and comfortable in their new environment.
The “getting to know you” process for you and your students can start with a very simple gesture. Write letters or notes to each of your incoming students that let them know how you, the teacher, are feeling about the new school year, what you hope to accomplish together, and some information about yourself. Then offer the opportunity for the student to share these same sentiments with you, either by a letter or email (with help from a parent), or an in class conversation. You can use this as a chance to bond with parents as well if you present the child with his or her letter at the end of the first day of school with a parent present. Parents will share the letter with the child and will take note that you have gone the extra mile to have meaningful interactions with their little ones. This will also be an asset for early indicators of the child’s learning preferences and communication style.
Whether you are the teacher of returning students with whom you have had previous interaction or new students who have never set foot in your school, it’s a whole new ballgame. While you more than likely have a great deal of ideas and enthusiasm for upcoming plans and goals, you’ll want to do yourself a favor and scale it back to the basics. Even returning students will need to get back into the comfort of a daily class schedule. Take some time to connect or reconnect with the structure of your program, perhaps offering demonstrations of lunch and snack time procedures or giving detailed tours of your learning environment. Review your class expectations and ask if anyone has input. Perhaps you can remove some of the work from your classroom and slowly introduce it as to not overwhelm students. You will no doubt have a group of very excited little ones on your hands. Allow them the moments they need to fall into a place that they can learn from.
If your program does not already foster a mentor or “buddy” program, consider making a mental note of your returning students who may be excellent leaders and helpers to new students. When possible, include this paring in the transitions of the day. When dismissing the children to a new activity or break time, politely ask the veteran student if he or she would be willing to show a friend how to make the transition smooth. Offer validation and encouragement that explains why you think the child would be a good mentor. For example “Hey Billy, I know that you are great at showing others how to do things at our school, would you mind helping some of our new friends at snack time?” You can also remind the potential leader that there was a time when he or she needed help doing things as well. “Billy, remember when you started coming here and you weren’t sure where to put your snack dishes? I know you really liked it when your friends helped you learn and I was hoping you could help our new friend Sally learn as well.” More often than not, the returning student will feel empowered and validated and will be enthusiastic to help.
Remember to take time to examine and review your learning environment and schedules / routines after the first few days of school to troubleshoot any issues or determine if you are moving in the best direction. It will be much easier to rearrange things earlier before the routine is set for the children. No matter how you chose to begin your school year, it will no doubt be an exciting time filled with the start of a great new academic journey!