A fundamental first step to nurturing student growth and development is ensuring that students feel safe, comfortable, and are able to be their authentic selves at school. These feelings of belonging and connectedness lay the foundation for deeper engagement and learning across the school community. When students feel seen and valued they are more eager to come to school, ask questions, take risks in exploring new content and activities, and share their thoughts and insights.
In order to accomplish this, it is important for educators to be intentional about getting to know students, finding ways to connect with them and their interests, and becoming a trusted and reliable presence in their lives. School counselors can play an important role in leading these efforts within a school building.
Be present and visible to students and families.
Even though the beginning of the school year brings piles of paperwork and logistical challenges, try to find time in your schedule to connect with students in both formal and informal ways. Greet students as they arrive for school, walk the halls during transitions between classes, and join students for lunch or recess periods if possible. A friendly hello or quick high five can be incredibly meaningful for a student and signal to them they are an important part of the school community. Make an effort to learn and say students’ names when you interact with them. This simple act conveys to students that there is someone at the school who knows and cares about them. And, as you get to know students, teachers will see you as someone who they can partner with to support them in best meeting student needs.
Check in on students.
Early in the year, take special care to reach out to students and families who you know you will be working with or anyone new to the school community. Consider convening a new student lunch group so students can get to know you, connect with one another, and share feelings and questions. Reach out to students who have struggled with engagement or attendance in the past to re-establish connections with school and build positive communication channels. Let their families know you are ready to welcome them at school and will support them throughout the school year.
Connect families in need with relevant resources.
The beginning of the school year can be a stressful and taxing time for families. Some families struggle with the transition of going back to school. Transportation and childcare support before and after school, as well as back-to-school related expenses can not only be burdens but also blockers. Counselors can help to connect students and families to community resources to support these needs. And, this outreach establishes that the school is a partner with a vested interest in supporting students and families–building and strengthening relationships between the school and home.
Keep a finger on the pulse of the school’s climate.
Because of the deep relationships counselors have with schools, families, and colleagues, they can provide a unique perspective on the community as a whole. They also bring a critical student-centered expertise and approach to understanding and nurturing a positive school culture and climate. During the first weeks of school, make note of how students are interacting with one another, how engaged students and families are, the frequency of disciplinary issues, and other patterns and behaviors that shed light on student wellbeing. Communicate with administrators and teachers when you observe successes and positive dynamics, and offer tips and strategies to get ahead of any concerning trends. And, let families and school staff know that you are available and willing to listen, strategize, and support them throughout the school year.