A welcoming schoolJun 11, 2021
Families need to feel valued as partners and have an essential role in supporting school life and learning. So developing and maintaining a welcoming school environment is vital in helping all families to feel comfortable. Research shows that family engagement is important to all learners' achievement and success. If parents and caregivers feel intimidated by or excluded from their child's school environment, they will be less likely to engage in supporting their child's learning and wider school life.
In this blog post, we'll be exploring some ideas about how to develop a welcoming school.
A 'family friendly' first impression matters to ensure all families feel that school is a place where they belong. All contact with and visits to the school should be positive.
Signage is so important! At PEN, we visit many schools and have lost count of the number of times we have arrived at a school and were unable to find the appropriate entrance or been faced with unfriendly security signs!
Think of this through parent eyes. They may be unfamiliar with accessing a school and unconfident with who or what to ask for. So instead, have welcome signs in all the languages of the community to guide visitors to reception areas. Make the site easy and safe to navigate for everyone. At key points in the day, ensure staff are present to welcome both children and their families (when appropriate) onto the site. make sure you have parent information display boards, and think carefully about their placement. They need to be where parents can access them, not tucked away behind locked doors.
Reception staff are the 'public relations officers for the school community. This is such an important role. The interaction with the front of house team sets the tone for not only the initial interaction but potentially for a family's long-term relationship with the school.
Reception waiting areas are a window to your school, an opportunity to showcase the school's values, vision and ethos. Avoid wordy leaflets and opt instead for current examples of pupil/student work demonstrating the life and activities at the school. The best examples of this are when schools use welcome TV screens to provide information mixed with interviews of children and young people talking about their experiences of learning at the school.
Clean and Safe
Is your school site a clean, inviting and safe place? A well-maintained site goes a long way to better connect families and schools. Like the front of house team, the site management team have an important role, but make sure that everybody in the school community, teachers, staff, parents' children and young people, know and understand that we all have a role in keeping our school litter free and tidy. A school community that looks cared for implies that it cares for everybody.
Ensure notices are up to date and readable. A school on a clean street, with litter bins emptied regularly, planters refreshed and cared for, tells a story. To keep your school looking its best, develop a clean site strategy with clear policies for staff, pupils and families to follow.
Work with the local community and incorporate environmental and recycling initiatives. Caring for your school environment makes it more inviting for families and positively affects student performance, behaviour and learning in class.
With a healthy school climate, parents see school as a caring place that children and young people look forward to coming to each day. Create a more welcoming and peaceful environment for everybody by focusing on respect as a core value in your mission statement.
To reinforce the message, set a positive tone and communicate clear expectations for the site that students, parents, teachers, and staff work together to build an environment of respect. Ensure the curriculum and your resources reflect the lives of all the children and families at your school. Create learning opportunities for both adults and children. This can be as simple as inviting parents in to read to children.
Make it a part of the school development plan that families are key partners in delivering high-quality teaching and learning. Reflect this in the ongoing induction and CPD programme for all staff working in the school. All colleagues working in the school are responsible for 'customer care'; in this case, not only the children but their families too.
Provide specialist training for front of house staff in areas such as conflict management and offer parents and staff education on the prevention of harassment and bullying.
Make Communication Easy
How your school communicates with home signals an appreciation and respect for the diversity of your families. Provide regular, two-way communication, where possible in home languages, to share information and receive feedback through:
- Home visits
- Phone calls
- Email/text blasts
- Social media
Effective communication empowers and engages parents as partners with schools to support student achievement, development and well being.
Schools are very busy places, with a myriad of interactions between staff, children and their families taking place every day. It is important to occasionally pause, reflect and take stock of the school environment and community from a fresh perspective. This is especially important now you are looking forward to welcoming new families in the coming weeks preparing to start in September.
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