Residents of Southeast Asia understand typhoons. As the winds pick up, people in the community scramble to secure windows, haul terrace furniture inside, and stock up on food.
"T minus 1" is Orientation Day. Parents and students come to the classroom and introduce themselves. Even though I've just been through a pre-service week typhoon, I must appear poised, professional, and approachable.
Over the years, I have learned some tricks to making a good first impression.
1. Send out letters in advance
I was raised to not talk too much about myself (I'm still struggling with the "About Me" page of this website). But parents and students want to know something about me.
Fortunately, I'm a writer, and I can share information about myself in letter form. I email one Parent Letter and one Student Letter. I've heard of teachers sending postcards - which students love to receive. I would probably send postcards to lower elementary students.
The goal of the parent letter is to establish trust and connect with parents personally. I love it when the mothers share that they, too, are writers and when fathers ask me about my favorite golf courses in India.
The student letter should build students' anticipation about the year. They've seen previous fifth graders march through school in Civil War uniforms - they can't wait to have their turn. Everyone loves camp week. I inform students about other things they can look forward to experiencing.
2. Give parents an activity so that you can talk with students.
Computers are ready so that parents can double-check their emergency contact information and update personal contact details. Parents add their names to an emergency phone tree (those at the top of the "tree" are willing to call three to four other parents, as necessary). Finally, they consent (or do not consent) to allowing us to share their email addresses with other parents who want are planning birthday parties and such.
While parents accomplish those tasks, I chat with students. I want to learning about their summers, their pets, their summer reading, and their hobbies.
3. Give students an activity so that you can talk with parents.
I like to see which students can independently follow multi-step directions. I have an Orientation Day Checklist ready for each student. One important 5th grade reading skill is the ability to follow multi-step directions. Students are anxious to impress me with their reading ability and independence.
While students are working through the checklist, I ask parents about their summer, their levels of jet lag, and their transitions to Hong Kong (this is especially important to discuss with new families).
4. Empathize with the "typhoon" the parents now experience.
I suppose Orientation Day is the day that the typhoon begins for parents. Were they ready to provide their children's emergency contact information? Have they correctly identified their children's bus numbers? Have they purchased the correct uniforms?
I also realize that, In the expat community, a good number of parents are overcoming jet lag or are in the throws of culture shock.
The parents and students want to make good first impressions on me as much as I want to make leave good impressions with them. Like many teachers, parents and students may lose sleep in the excitement and anxiety of a new school year.
We're all in this together.
5. Authentically and personally connect with students and parents the first week.
With students, I try to state a specific, personal observation on the first full day of school. Some of my phrases include the following:
When I make those connections and make the students smile, I send a quick email to parents (sometimes a phone call). This helps assure them that their child is happy and that I am getting to know their child as an individual. In the email, I also thanks and acknowledge parents' input from the Parent Letter. I want parents to know that their input is appreciated.
As student and parents feel comfortable, the typhoon of worries dissipates.
Maurice Elias has similar ideas for beginning the year well with students and parents. What strategies do you have for making students and families feel comfortable at the start of a school year?