I love the beginning of the school year. I especially enjoy seeing how the students I worked with the previous years have grown and developed. I also appreciate catching up with returning colleagues. The counseling program needs to have a plan in place to support new staff, students, and parents. I thought I’d share some of what we do at our school.
New Staff We have over a dozen new staff every year so it takes time to simply get to know each person. It is critical to establish a working relationship with all new classroom teachers whose classes we will be teaching. We provide teachers a one page description of the counseling program in their back to school packets and include more information in the staff handbook. All our forms are available on Blackboard but it is sometimes useful to hand new teachers a hard copy (exp. Referral form) and let them know more are available online. We want a collaborative relationship with the teachers so we need to take time to meet with them. It is important to remember what new teachers fear most, typically classroom management and parent relationships. We tell teachers we will assist in these areas in any way they need. We try to minimize any paperwork we ask of teachers because that is an area that many new staff already feels is overwhelming. We also want teachers to see us as experts and resources. We do a training for all new staff in our schoolwide bullying prevention program during preservice week where we provide a healthy snack because this group frequently is so overwhelmed they don’t even take time to eat. We go back to coach them on the implementation of the bullying program during the first quarter. Some years we give new staff a small gift from the counselors. We also take their pictures.
New Students During the first week of school these children are our primary focus. The first day of school we give them buttons to wear so all staff will know they are new and should introduce themselves to these children. During the first week, we host 3 sessions to welcome our new students in grades 1-5 (we generally do a session for grade 1, one for grades 2&3, and finally grades 4&5). During these sessions (held in our beautiful courtyard weather permitting) we do an interview activity, share a healthy snack, play a trivia game about our school, read a book about being new, take their pictures, give them a “New Student Survival Bag”, and Passport. The Passport contains pictures of staff in the school who work with all the children. The new students are assigned a buddy who helps them find the people in the passport and ask them two questions and the responses get recorded. They are given 2 weeks to do this activity and then they bring the completed passport to one of the counselors for a prize. We follow-up with new students and have lunch with them one or two times during September. During the first week we also go into every class to reintroduce ourselves to all the students and we always try to include the new students in that introductory lesson. Finally, we do a large bulletin board display to welcome our new staff and students that is displayed in the main hall during September. Many of our new students end up being in friendship groups that start in October.
New parents We make our program visible to new families at the Open House during pre-service week via an information table and just being available near our offices. The first morning of school (right after drop-off) we co-host a Boo Hoo Breakfast for parents of kindergarten and any students new to our school. We talk about the counseling program, adjustment to a new school and school year, and a little about separation anxiety using a brief PowerPoint. We explain the resources and services we offer parents. Our PTA offers new families a buddy family to help them become part of our learning community. We continue to outreach to new families at Back-to School Night and Fall Parent-Teacher Conferences.
New beginnings offer new challenges. Because the counselors share part of the responsibility for school climate, it is important to help new staff, students, and parents feel welcome and begin to build relationships. What good ideas do you have to assist the newbies?