After a brief summer break, our students returned to school today. Never underestimate the opportunity for a fresh start — it was a good day. I was only being slightly facetious when I joked with several staff members that I’m not sure I ever feel more effective as a principal than during the first week of school. I spent the vast majority of my day, out of my office, helping kids. Among other things, I answered questions, interpreted schedules, served as a tour guide, listened to stories about summer, explained the lunch special, reassured, and encouraged. It felt good to really FOCUS on kids.
As I watched our students stream through the front gates at the beginning of the day, I couldn’t help but marvel at the diversity of the group — and be a bit overwhelmed at the prospect of addressing the individual needs of all of these kiddos. Each one arrives in junior high with their own story, their own history — a shadow, if you will. Some are well-prepared, supported, and confident. They are motivated, and eager to learn. Their shadows are exactly where they should be — behind them. For others, the shadows loom large, eclipsing motivation, and extinguishing hope. For these students, school must seem a bit like the movie Groundhog Day — a new year without the promise of change.
How do we help these students come out of the shadows? It starts with caring adults focusing on building connections. Relationships are a BIG deal, and we have to treat them as such. Teachers interested in breaking students out of a negative school cycle will:
- Get to know their kids — developing a keen awareness of their past (and present) circumstances, without letting it cloud judgement about the student’s future.
- Be diligent about searching for successes. They will find a reason to celebrate with every child.
- Consider the strategies, tools, and resources that can be used to learn about the lives of students, and their personal interests.
- Reflect on how they will reach out to student’s who haven’t experienced success in a long time.
- Ensure that every student (within the first week–if not day–of school) walks away with a personal, and positive, experience.