5 Ways to Foster Welcoming Environments for your Students

With so many Educators embarking on a new beginnings this time of year, it is a great time to reflect upon how we can create Welcoming Environments for our students and parents.

Creating classrooms and schools that are Welcoming for both students and parents, is absolutely essential to improving Student Learning and Engagement.

If we look at a Schools Paradigm only, schooling is about bells, standardized tests, inflexible schedules, and teacher/curriculum driven. This set up can be very unwelcoming to many students and their families. However, If we look at an Education Paradigm, school is holistic, and based upon the individual needs of our students, learning is flexible, and related to contexts that are meaningful for the students. A daunting task at best when Teachers are faced with large numbers of students in their classrooms. However, Teachers can help acknowledge students by representing their cultural diversity. This can be done by embedding cultural symbols, and practices into our buildings, classrooms, and creating online environments that serve to help make students and parents feel welcome and important.

However, it is a challenge to continually create Welcoming Environments in our schools. Especially since we are living in this 21st Century of growing Technology, that more and more people are using on a daily basis.

With increasing demands surrounding school report cards, test scores being linked to school funding, and demands for increased accountability for educators and students, Educators, parents, and students can feel overwhelmed, and forget that creating a Welcoming Environments can be the most powerful tool in our quest to improve student learning.

The following 5 Categories are important when considering how to create a Welcoming Environment within your classroom and school:

  • Ongoing, and Open communication
  • Physical Environment
  • Practices and Policies
  • Personal Interaction
  • Written Materials and Communications

 

1. Ongoing, and Open communication with Parents is crucial.

Parents and families of different cultures and special needs, warrant extra communication to foster a feeling of being Welcome in our schools and Classrooms. Whether parents are requesting this communication, or whether extra communication is warranted to further engage students and support their learning, Communication is perhaps the number 1 role of an educator. Though more personalized communication is best done in person, there are aspects of communication that can be met via 21st Century Technologies. For instance, email, blogs, webpages, wikis etc., are all useful tools to support the Communication that already exists, and can provide tools, links, and symbols to integrate and share valuable information.  But this should never replace place of person-to-person communication and real-life, real-time interactions that are absolutely necessary to engaging our students.

Parents, staff, community, and students will only become invested in their schools if they feel invited and welcome, and believe that the teacher is willing to reach out to communicate the families, and integrate culture into the process.

Welcoming environments can be created and improved upon by attending to the Physical Environment, School Practices and Policies, Personal Interaction, and Written Materials and Communications. Here are just a few ideas that can be used:

2. Physical Environment:

  • Embed Culturally significant symbols, ie., Medicine Wheel, 7 Grandfather Teachings, Dream Catchers, into hallways, classrooms, offices, libraries, websites & blogs, social media ie., School Twitter account.

3. Practices and Policies:

  • Promote strong sense of Community, Culture & Caring Policies. Co-create them and post them on school websites.
  • Continually refer to these co-created rules on blogs and other forms of social media.
  • Restorative Practices explained on social media and web-based platforms.
  • Character Education Models
  • 21st Century Technologies and Digital Citizenship Policies
  • Involving Parents in decision making perhaps through Google-Docs surveys or other assessment tools
  • Online Parent Groups

4. Personal Interaction:

  •  Calling parents, setting up regular meetings, and engaging in open communication with families, whether explicitly requested, or due to the necessity to engage all learners, cultures and special needs.
  • Catching parents after school to touch base. It doesn’t take much to make families of all Cultures and Special needs feel welcome and included.
  • Leaders in the school working on teambuilding with technologies to bring staff together & recognize accomplishments;
  • Co-create and share visions at Staff meetings by brainstorming key ingredients of a Welcoming Environment, include the ideas on a website or blog.
  • Do the same with Parent Groups;
  • Staff as friendly and inviting to students, staff, and parents, and then inviting them into this digital school community as well.
  • Call Parents!  Set up regular meetings, and engaging in open communication with families, whether explicitly requested, or due to the necessity to engage all learners, cultures and special needs.
  • Make it a general rule to talk positively at school about students, families, cultures, and special needs. There is nothing that will make a family feel more Unwelcome, and Disrespected, then to know that they and the students are being spoken of in negative ways. The world is a very small place. What is said usually does get back around, so make it positive and helpful!
  • Put yourself in the position of a Learner, and not always an ‘Expert’.  To help families and their children feel welcome, realise that they are in fact equal partners, and equal experts in the process of educating their children. Be open to learning new things with each new classroom and each new student that comes into your care!
  • Personally Research the Cultures and Special Needs that you are working with. One cannot assume that the learning that occurred in a University Degree will be applicable to the current situation. Teachers are wonderful and welcoming, because they are equals with the parents and community. They appreciate the diversity of all students, and are real champions of those who have historically experienced more prejudice, racism, bias, and un-preferential treatment.

5. Written Materials and Communications:

  • Regular Classroom & School Newsletters, Phone calls, meetings, in whatever format the parents and community wants or needs. Not all people have internet access! Not all parents check their email!
  • Classroom & School Websites
  • Recognize parent & community volunteers
  • Write articles about staff members, volunteers & students
  • Parent Handbooks
  • Twitter Feeds
  • School Facebook Page
  • Evernote
  • Dropbox
  • Ministry Learning Management Systems
  • Telephone answering machine messages
  • And always remembering to limit educational jargon, and write communications at a 6th to 8th grade reading level
  • Good Old Fashioned person-to-person communication with the families in need!

 

All parents and families need to feel welcome, and understood in order to increase engagement and Learning. Welcoming environments can be created by attending to the needs of different cultures and special needs, and keeping the lines of communication open. It is when these lines of communication and strategies to welcome all types of learners break down , that students and families lose trust and faith in the school system, and disengage from the education process.  We need to strive to create Welcoming Environments, and create school systems where families feel safe to learn and grow.

How do you create Welcoming Environments in your Classroom and School?

 

Deborah McCallum

 

© Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Resource:

Seeing your school as others see it.: Welcoming Environments.http://www.education.ky.gov/users/OTL/Beginning_of_School_Year/Seeing%20Your%20School%20As%20Others%20See%20It.pdf

5 Considerations for Welcoming Environments in our Schools

77665-Royalty-Free-RF-Clipart-Illustration-Of-A-Circle-Of-Diverse-Happy-Cartoon-Children-Holding-Hands-And-Looking-Up

Fostering welcoming environments in education is essential for improving learning and engagement. Schools can help acknowledge students by representing their cultural diversity. This can be done by embedding cultural symbols, and practices into our buildings, classrooms, and online environments that serve to help make students and parents feel welcome and important.

However, it is a challenge to continually create Welcoming Environments in our schools.

Educators are faced with increasing demands surrounding school report cards, test scores being linked to school funding, and demands for increased accountability for educators and students. Educators, parents, and students often feel overwhelmed, and forget that creating a welcoming environments can be the most powerful tool in our quest to improve student learning.

The following 5 categories are important when considering how to create welcoming environments within your education contexts:

  • Ongoing, and Open communication
  • Physical Environment
  • Practices and Policies
  • Personal Interaction
  • Written Materials and Communications

 

1. Ongoing, and open communication with parents is crucial.

Parents and families of different cultures and special needs, warrant extra communication to foster a feeling of being welcome in our schools and Classrooms. Whether parents are requesting this communication, or whether extra communication is warranted to further engage students and support their learning. Communication is perhaps the number 1 role of an educator. Though more personalized communication is best done in person, there are aspects of communication that can be met via 21st century technologies. For instance, email, blogs, webpages, wikis etc., are all useful tools to support the communication that already exists, and can provide tools, links, and symbols to integrate and share valuable information.  But this should never replace place of person-to-person communication and real-life, real-time interactions that are absolutely necessary to engaging our students.

Parents, staff, community, and students will only become invested in their schools if they feel invited and welcome, and believe that the teacher is willing to reach out to communicate the families, and integrate culture into the process.

Welcoming environments can be created and improved upon by attending to the P© Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education, 2012-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.hysical Environment, School Practices and Policies, Personal Interaction, and Written Materials and Communications. Here are just a few ideas that can be used:

2. Physical Environment:

  • Embed Culturally significant symbols, ie., Medicine Wheel, 7 Grandfather Teachings, Dream Catchers, into hallways, classrooms, offices, libraries, websites & blogs, social media ie., School Twitter account.

3. Practices and Policies:

  • Promote strong sense of Community, Culture & Caring Policies. Co-create them and post them on school websites.
  • Continually refer to these co-created rules on blogs and other forms of social media.
  • Restorative Practices explained on social media and web-based platforms.
  • Character education models
  • 21st Century Technologies and digital citizenship policies
  • Involving Parents in decision making perhaps through Google-Docs surveys or other assessment tools
  • Online Parent Groups

4. Personal Interaction:

Calling parents, setting up regular meetings, and engaging in open communication with families, whether explicitly requested, or due to the necessity to engage all learners, cultures and special needs.

  • Catching parents after school to touch base. It doesn’t take much to make families of all cultures and special needs feel welcome and included.
  • Leaders in the school working on teambuilding with technologies to bring staff together & recognize accomplishments;
  • Co-create and share visions at Staff meetings by brainstorming key ingredients of a Welcoming Environment, include the ideas on a website or blog.
  • Do the same with parent groups;
  • Staff as friendly and inviting to students, staff, and parents, and then inviting them into this digital school community as well.
  • Call parents!  Set up regular meetings, and engaging in open communication with families, whether explicitly requested, or due to the necessity to engage all learners, cultures and special needs.
  • Make it a general rule to talk positively at school about students, families, cultures, and special needs. There is nothing that will make a family feel more unwelcome, and disrespected, then to know that they and the students are being spoken of in negative ways. The world is a very small place. What is said usually does get back around, so make it positive and helpful!
  • Put yourself in the position of a learner, and not an ‘Expert’.  To help families and their children feel welcome, realise that they are in fact equal partners, and equal experts in the process of educating their children. Be open to learning new things with each new classroom and each new student that comes into your care!
  • Personally research the cultures and special needs that you are working with. One cannot assume that the learning that occurred in a University Degree will be applicable to the current situation. Teachers are wonderful and welcoming, because they are equals with the parents and community. They appreciate the diversity of all students, and are real champions of those who have historically experienced more prejudice, racism, bias, and un-preferential treatment.

5. Written Materials and Communications:

  • Regular Classroom & School Newsletters, Phone calls, meetings, in whatever format the parents and community wants or needs. Not all people have internet access! Not all parents check their email!
  • Classroom & School Websites
  • Recognize parent & community volunteers
  • Write articles about staff members, volunteers & students
  • Parent Handbooks
  • Twitter Feeds
  • School Facebook Page
  • Evernote
  • Dropbox
  • Ministry Learning Management Systems
  • Telephone answering machine messages
  • And always remembering to limit educational jargon, and write communications at a 6thto 8th grade reading level
  • Good Old Fashioned person-to-person communication with the families in need!

 

All parents and families need to feel welcome, and understood in order to increase engagement and Learning. Welcoming environments can be created by attending to the needs of different cultures and special needs, and keeping the lines of communication open. It is when these lines of communication and strategies to welcome all types of learners break down , that students and families lose trust and faith in the school system, and disengage from the education process.  For populations including First Nations, Metis & Inuit, the experiences of the Residential school system, and residual effects of this system still exist with our FNMI students today. The last Residential School shut down in the 1990’s.  We need to strive to create welcoming environments, and create school systems where families feel safe to learn and grow.

 

Deborah

Resource:

Seeing your school as others see it.: Welcoming Environments.http://www.education.ky.gov/users/OTL/Beginning_of_School_Year/Seeing%20Your%20School%20As%20Others%20See%20It.pdf

© Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education, 2012-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Restorative Practice Circles

Restorative Practice Circles are based upon the First Nations tradition of Talking Circles. First Nations, Metis & Inuit cultures are built upon oral traditions, therefore Talking Circles have been important ways to maintain and pass down important cultural teachings.

Restorative Practice is a form of justice, where in the classroom, it could be comprised of the person or people who hurt someone else, the person or people who were hurt, and anyone else involved in the incident. Rather than merely punish the wrongdoer, or engage in assertive discipline, everyone has a turn to speak, and it facilitates a deeper understanding of the hurt or incident, what happened, and greater satisfaction among all people in the circle. It incorporates some of the benefits of Talking Circles, in a way that promotes a holistic form of justice.

Restorative Circles provide many benefits including:

  • Fostering turn taking
  • Increasing respect
  • Creating a classroom community
  • Sending positive messages relating to Character, Culture, and Community
  • Allows for everyone to be heard and honoured

The Restorative Circles also work on much deeper levels as well. They provide excellent strategies for incorporating Cognitive, Developmental, Social, and Emotional benefits into the classroom including:

  • The ability to tailor the circle to the specific Developmental stages and needs of the students
  • The ability to be heard is often very therapeutic as well, which can increase student learning and involvement
  • Building strong working alliances in the classroom
  • Building reflection, and metacognition skills into the classroom structure
  • Building social relationships by increasing participation and interactions among students and between students that follow students outside of the classroom
  • Giving Students a greater ‘voice’

The use of Restorative Circles also serves as a great organizational tool or framework that can help Educators with decision making, lesson planning, accommodation of individual learning differences and embedding assessment strategies into the curriculum.

Considerations for Restorative Practice Circles: .

Teachers need to be cognizant of the skills necessary to effectively managing Restorative Practice Circles. These circles have the ability to be very therapeutic in nature as well, and Educators need to know effective ways of managing content being shared. Such skills may include, the ability to provide explicit feedback, positive reinforcement, effective acknowledgement of all participants, and ensuring consistency, good modeling skills, positive feedback, and allowing for adequate ‘Pause Times’ between responses and sharing.

The use of Talking Circles in education provides many benefits to students, not just academically, but also socially and emotionally. But let us not dismiss the importance of Restorative Circles as well as important ways to honour the Cultures of our First Nations, Metis, and Inuit peoples in our Schools and Communities.

 

Deborah McCallum

© Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education, 2012-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Cognitive Science: How thoughts and behaviours impact achievement and success in Education

Cognitive Science is a valid, quantifiable field that is able to help us understand a wide range of issues as they pertain to Education and Learning. The research behind Cognition has been focussed on how we think and the way we learn, and more specifically on the systematic biases in of the schemas that we hold about the ways the world works. Our biases and distortions are often the barriers to an effective education, and therefore, we need to address them within our education system.  Once we begin to recognized what those barriers are, we can engage in discussion, assessment, and appropriate intervention strategies. Intervention strategies can include effective ways for educators to begin to disrupt the thought patterns that lead to maladaptive behaviours. This is essential to help students and Teachers alike to create positive change in the education system.

Aaron T. Beck developed Cognitive Theory because of the belief that humans have the ability to evaluate their own thoughts, which in turn elicit behaviours. Thoughts certainly affect personality. Therefore, individuals must identify and change dysfunctional thoughts and maladaptive cognitive functioning, in order to improve behaviour.

The theory behind our Cognition basically posits that our cognitions (thoughts, beliefs and assumptions), will trigger our affect, behaviour and our motivation. In other words, how we feel will affect how we behave, and they will in turn have profound effects on our motivation to learn.

Self-monitoring is an excellent tool that teachers can use with students, to encourage more reflection, and metacognition skills (thinking about the way we think). Once students develop an increased awareness of their thoughts, then educators can help students engage in appropriate activity scheduling to help students actively dispute maladaptive thoughts, which will in turn affect maladaptive functioning and behaviours in the classroom.

Three cornerstones of Cognitive Theory include:

a) The necessity to recognize the ability for students to self-monitor their own thoughts and behaviour,

b) The ability for Educator(s) and students to collaboratively engage in appropriate activity scheduling, and

c) Active thought disputation.

Maladaptive behaviours basically occur because of maladaptive thoughts and reflexive responses. However, we as humans have the power to be active agents in our own development. Therefore, dysfunctional thoughts can be replaced if an individual engages in activities including deliberate thinking, goal setting, problem solving, and long term planning. With careful questioning and activities such as personalized homework assignments, Cognitive Science really helps to teach us that students can learn to use conscious control of their thoughts in order to recognize and override maladaptive behaviours and poor choices. Other specific activity scheduling strategies can include (but not limited to) Role Playing, Social Skills training, Assertiveness Training, and Talking Circles.

In addition, embedding Character Education, Community building, and a Culture of Caring within our schools is also extremely important to restoring public confidence in the education system, in addition to improving transitions from elementary to high school, and high school to higher education.

It is important for Educators to use questioning to bring about new learning by:

1) Clarifying and defining problem areas

2) Assisting in the identification of thoughts, images and assumptions

3) Examining the meanings of events for a student

4) Assessing the consequences of maintaining maladaptive thoughts and behaviours.

Cognitive Science also has the ability to inform maladaptive behaviours and thought patterns including anxiety and depression in our students. An increasing variable that we as educators are facing when educating each cohort. Cognitive Theory posits that people suffering from depression and anxiety are not consciously seeking failure in their lives, but distorting their own reality by adopting negative views of themselves, and of their potential for happiness. Another key assumption is that negative automatic thoughts are developed through everyday experiences that are perceived as negative. Activity Scheduling interventions are excellent ways to actively dispute negative thoughts and behaviours!

In Cognitive theory, we as educators can use these thoughts to serve as hypotheses that can be subject to empirical validation. Many Educators appreciate the tasks of homework assignments where students  test their own hypotheses, and can make personal observations to refute (or confirm) their hypotheses of their own thoughts and behaviours. Therefore, individuals are always active participants.

 

D. McCallum