We'd like to thank Pixar for the inspiration for this post about ideas for welcoming new students. Anyone recall this scene from the film Inside Out?
Sure, this is fiction. It comes from the mind of the writers of the movie. The scene is set up as a dramatic development of our main character to move the story along. That said, it’s absolutely correct to position the first day of school for any kid as a major life event in their life.
Here's how welcoming new students can become a major event in itself—for both you and them.
That's right—biographies. In this case we mean read biographies as a general practice for your professional development. Why? Because history has a way of looking at a person’s story from afar and putting things into context.
As a teacher regularly welcoming new students, you're only witnessing a very minute period in their lives. They all have greatness in them.
By reading biographies, you put a lens on welcoming new students as important. As an example let’s pick Albert Einstein. Have a look at this Times article entitled 20 Things You Need to Know About Einstein too.
One interesting fact about Einstein is that he was slow to speak. After all, a headmaster once predicted Einstein would not amount to very much. Uh, no.
How about Charles Darwin? He once wrote:
“I was considered by all my masters and my father a very ordinary boy, rather below the common standard of intellect.”
And a more recent example? Here's something from a recently published memoir by one of the world's greatest songwriters, Bruce Springsteen:
“Before my grammar school education was over I’d have my knuckles classically rapped, my tie pulled ’til I choked; be struck in the head, shut into a dark closet and stuffed into a trash can while being told this is where I belonged. “
So what's the point of all these? It's to show that when you read biographies you get a sense that greatness came from ‘somewhere.’ Teachers can't really tell who a kid’s going to be when they grow up.
They might take first impressions and pigeonhole a certain kid as ‘unteachable’ or ‘won’t amount to anything.’
Maybe that new kid will be the “destroyer of superbugs.”
Put on the lens that that new kid in your class might change the world someday.
Respect their Name
When welcoming new students, knowing names is important. What people call someone everyday becomes their identity. Make sure you know it and memorize it as soon as the child meets you for the first time.
Think about the implications of this. When someone calls your name, how do you feel? Do you feel acknowledged? Or do you feel a sense of dread as if you did something wrong?
When someone calls your name you are immediately drawn into a conversation on a personal level.
What is the tone that this child hears most when his/her name is called? Can you create a sense of respect and welcoming when you utter the name of a new kid? How about every kid in your class, for that matter?
This is a great piece about the power of someone’s name. What about your own name? Do you know how it has shaped your own life?
When you go to a doctor’s office their name is right there on a plaque or a nameplate on their desk. Give the kids name tags. Either they can wear them or their desk has something with their name on it. Have the new kid’s name already on their desk (make sure it’s spelled correctly, and it’s the name they want to be called, i.e. a nickname that they prefer). You can use a simple font and then have them personalize it with their own artistic embellishments.
Set an Example
Treat everyone in your class with the same respect, patience, expectation, and attention. This way the new student knows he/she will be safe.
When they see how you treat everyone else, they know they will be treated the same.
That said, this can be hard to do. Here’s some help from Teaching Tolerance.
The atmosphere in your class has to have an aura of safety even for the most difficult of children. This is a sacred rule for creating a classroom students can call home.
Have Welcome Resources Ready
Here is a great little handout to give to the new kid. If you flip your class, get that welcome video up and running. If their home life is lo-tech or no-tech, you can still allow viewing the welcome video on a computer at school.
The written handbook is always useful. Nevertheless, don’t overwhelm the new kid on the first day by going over the whole thing at one time. Take it in short spurts. Of course, a friendly phone call to the parents goes a long way.
Allow for Quick Success
One more effective practice for welcoming new students is to give them tasks that are easily successful. Simply finding their desk, doing a simple math problem on the board, or passing a worksheet up the row correctly are all successes that can be acknowledged in a small way.
That’s how you can help the new kid feel welcome and in the right place. Teach them how to have successes.
So the Story Goes
By becoming familiar with the story of the hero throughout life—struggling through hardships, failures and shortcomings—you get a sense of the potential of that new kid sitting in your class for the first time.
You honor their presence with respectful use of their name. You foster respect throughout the entire class. You prepare your resources for welcoming new students. You set up opportunities for success (don’t keep it easy, challenge them a little!).
Welcome, Albert Einstein—your desk is right here.