Friday, 6 January 2017

The Welcome Mat

In our self-regulation course at the MEHRIT Centre, Dr. Shanker suggested that we approach and then enter a school with an eye for hidden stressors. As a former instructional coach and consultant, part of my job was going out and supporting educators, administrators, students, parents and trustees in our schools so this idea is something that I can really connect with, although at the time I wasn't looking at it through the lens of self-regulation.  When I presented to newly hired teachers, I suggested that they reflect on their experience as supply teachers.  Which schools made them feel welcome? Why did they feel welcome in those schools. What were the factors that created the sense of belonging?  
From my own perspective, it had a lot to do with those first impressions.  Do the bulletin boards just inside the school have warm messages that promote community or are they filled with stern warnings?  Do school buildings and grounds appear cared for or neglected?  Does the person greeting me in the office welcome me with a warm smile and pleasant tone or I am barked at or simply ignored?  I can remember being at one school and waiting and waiting at the counter in the office while several people scurried about yet no one acknowledged me.  I wondered 'how would a parent feel if they were coming here to register their child? How would a student feel if they were coming to the office for assistance?  At another school, I entered the very large office and introduced myself. Without looking up, the secretary told me to sign in at the podium. I wandered over to what I thought was the sign in book and she hollered at me, "THE PODIUM!  THE PODIUM!!"  I wonder how stressful it was for staff, students and parents at that school.  I know my heart was pounding! *
Upon reflection, I can see where those schools with the warning signs in the hall, the hollering staff or the schools were I stood in the office being ignored and wondering what I should do raised my stress level, not only about my welcome but about how the rest of my day at that school was going to go.  The schools were the staff were warm and welcoming made me feel like I was in a safe place and lowered my stress level.  At one school, whenever visitors are at the school for a parent meeting, to volunteer or some other reason, the principal greets them and offers them a bottle of water or a coffee or tea.  It's a gesture that always makes me feel like I'm in a building with kind and caring people.  At many schools, the office staff greet visitors warmly, and offer to walk them to their destination (especially in the larger buildings) or have a student come down to accompany the visitor to where they are going.   When I arrive at a school, I have the physical stress of lugging a cart full of resources and materials as well as the mental stress of the agenda for the visit - hoping I can successfully meet everyone's needs in the time allotted.  Having someone walk me to where I'm going so I don't have the added stress of getting lost is wonderful.

Little things can make such a big difference in the stress level of everyone in the building.  My suggestion is to enter your building, your classroom, your staffroom, your office using the eyes of a stranger or ask a critical friend to do it for you. What do they see? What do they hear? How do they feel? What would you see/feel/hear if you were a parent? a potential student? a student teacher? a superintendent?
What are you already doing to reduce stressors for staff, students and visitors to your school? your classroom?
What changes could be made to reduce hidden stressors?

*I debated whether or not to include the examples that increased my stress and considered using hypothetical situations.  But the situations I described had a powerful impact on me.  I can still remember how I felt, so I decided to include them, not to blame, shame or judge those involved but illustrate how a simple action can have a powerful impact on others.  Both of those situations made me much more aware of my own actions in the future.  If I have offended anyone, that was not my intent.


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