There will be differences in approaches according to grade level when it comes to welcoming new students into your classroom. For older students, this usually consists of a greeting by the teacher, followed by making them feel like they aren’t being treated differently than anyone else in the class. Older students typically would not want any more attention on them beyond that.
For younger elementary age students, more should go into the effort. At these critical ages, there is more at stake for the long-term mental and emotional well being of a student. Moving to a new area and a new school is a major life event, especially for a younger child who is learning to form friendships with peers and bonds of trust with authority figures outside the home. A new school and staff, especially the classroom teacher, can play a pivotal role in helping students make this transition successfully.
Main Purpose is to Make Students Feel Welcome
The following are some of the main reasons to make students feel welcome in your classroom:
- Developing Strong Student/Teacher Rapport: A strong teacher/student relationship will put students in the best position to grow and flourish. Students need to trust and follow their teachers, especially at younger ages where they do not yet possess a strong internal sense of self-confidence.
- Academic Performance: In order for students to focus properly on academics, they must feel safe, secure and comfortable in the school setting. Without that, academics will be one of the last things on their mind.
- Social and Emotional Health: A student’s social and emotional health is as important as their academic standing and performance. No student should feel unwelcome, intimidated, isolated, or bullied. Any teacher or other staff member that fails to see this and/or allows it to happen has failed at their job. Your first mission is to ensure physical safety and mental well being.
- Forming Positive Peer Relationships: A teacher can make an immediate impact on the students in the classroom by signaling to them that the new student in the classroom is to be welcomed . Younger children and most of the time older ones will immediately follow the lead of the influencer, who in this case is the teacher. With this underway, the new student now faces a very good chance that they will be approached at lunch, at recess, on the bus etc., by students looking to make friends. Never underestimate what that first impression can do and never forget the power you possess to make this happen or not.
Challenges and Obstacles
There may be some ongoing issues that can serve as obstacles to making students feel welcome in the classroom:
- Attendance Issues: If a new student is chronically absent, this can adversely impact the ability to make them feel welcome, as their ongoing presence is a prerequisite to consistently make them feel welcome.
- A Poorly Managed Classroom: A teacher who does not manage their classroom well is setting a poor example for all students, especially newer ones who are looking for direction and guidance. Students will not put their confidence in poor leaders and managers. A badly managed class can only add to their unease.
- Bad Peer Dynamics Within the Class: A poorly managed class creates a domino effect and can lead to multiple dysfunctions within the classroom setting. An ineffective teacher cannot gain the respect of their students, and unhealthy relationships and dynamics will follow. Students will subconsciously fill this void by establishing their own hierarchies, and most of the time that means socially dominant bullies will rise to the top. The new student will fall along this hierarchy depending on their own personality and prior experiences. Good classroom dynamics require a strong and disciplined leadership style that makes all feel welcomed, whatever level of confidence a student possesses. Stronger personality types need to know that they will be kept in check, while more passive personality types will know that they will be protected and supported.
- Low Self-Esteem and Confidence Level: A student who comes in with a low level of confidence and self-esteem is going to need some extra help. Do not hesitate to utilize other staff, including the principal and school counselor to give the student a boost of confidence and support.
Strategies and Best Practices
A list of best practices should be employed by the classroom teacher including:
- Welcoming Items/Packet: Something as small as a school trinket (keychain, magnet, sticker, etc.) can go a long way in making a child feel welcomed.
- A Proper Introduction: Make sure you properly introduce the new student to the rest of the classroom in a warm and welcoming fashion, but do not spend an extended time on it either, putting too much attention on them and risk embarrassing the child.
- Immediately Countering Negative Peer Behavior: Any sign of adverse behavior directed at a new student needs to be addressed and stopped immediately.
- Fostering Opportunities for Building Teacher/Student Rapport: If you have a rotating schedule of having lunch with your students or related types of activities, make sure you invite the new student to join you.
- Fostering Opportunities for Developing Good Peer Relationships: Avoid being heavy handed, but make sure you are keeping an eye on the progress of your new student. Talk to the students in your class that are more mature and that can be trusted to see how things are going. Don’t hesitate to ask a student or two to be a go-between and reach out to the student and invite them to sit at their lunch table, on the bus and join them at recess.
The above recommended resources include many more ideas on how to make students feel welcomed in your classroom. Be as creative as you want, but do not neglect the core basics as to why and how you make students feel welcomed. A creative facade must be anchored by a strong underlying foundation that can only be established through strong and dynamic leadership by the classroom teacher.