Friday, July 28, 2017

Developing Orientation Processes for Schools and Students

Our team is working to elevate and enrich our orientation process for the school year. We have found that when students and families are distanced from the good information, and opportunities to connect, at the beginning of the year, that distance only widens as the year goes on resulting in a gap in academic success and a positive experience of school.

What will our new orientation events include?

There are many elements of orientation we'll review as we plan ahead.

Information Share
We have found that many families don't know about the supports available to them, supports that may help their child do better in school including:
  • scholarships/enrollment in extracurricular events, field studies and after school programs
  • available social/emotional services/help
  • the opportunity to borrow a computer for the year
  • the ability to speak up at any time to advocate for their child
We may create a folder or booklet for all families that is in both paper copy and online. We may also need to have this booklet recreated in specific language for students who come from families where English is a second language. 

Intake Survey
We'll work to create a better intake survey for all families, and do what we can to receive a completed survey from every family. It may be that some of these surveys are filled out at an early-year family meeting particularly if it's a family for whom English is a second language. This survey will help us to know families well and be able to reach families when needed. 

Relationship Building
Since the orientation events that exist have been in place for decades, there hasn't been any changes to reflect the research demonstrating that positive relationships are critical to good learning and teaching. Hence the orientations in place, in general, are short, highly-populated and teacher-led rather than interactive. We will look at ways to host a number of orientation activities and events that foster deeper relationship building. Those activities will likely include the following:
  • Early year meeting for students distanced by geography from the school
  • Early year meeting with new students and students who are distanced from the school neighborhood
  • Early year parent meeting for new families/families who request an early meeting
  • Curriculum Night which focuses, in part, on relationship building amongst families
  • Small group student lunches
  • Team building activities/events
Last year we had a very successful family-student event at a local museum. It was a lot of fun and boosted positive relationships that resulted in better learning. We want to do more of this. 

Our team has created a virtual classroom website to support families and students. We use a number of technology programs to support student learning, and we send out a newsletter weekly via the Internet. Yet, not all families have the ability to access these supports for a large number of reasons. We'll discuss why that might be true and how to use orientations to bridge the technology divide. We'll also suggest that families set up a family gmail that they can use to track school correspondence and allow their child to use for emails that parents can monitor and check. 

Family-to-Family Connections
Long ago I read a research article stating that many valuable connections that lead to student success are formed on the sidelines of student events. Our team will look at how our students' families access this opportunity to spend time on the sidelines while watching their students perform, play sports or learn together. We'll think about this as we work with our PTO to support positive events for our fifth grade team. 

Building Teamwork and Respect for One Another
We'll use the orientations to build teamwork and respect for one another through targeted discussions and lessons about learning differences, race/culture, mindsets, and social-emotional learning lessons. We'll also plan a number of enjoyable team building activities at the start of the year in order to give students a chance to get to know one another, make new friends and discover what they have in common. 

I work with a terrific team of talented educators. I'm sure that they will have a lot of great thinking to add to the ideas above. I'm sure our work with families and students with this revised orientation process will also lead to betterment. I'm looking forward to the work ahead.

We may also want to consider the Hosting Conversations research as we build this orientation effort.