Community Building From Day One

A new school year always brings changes.  For us, that change is the fact that we’ve been released to work on the Shift full time for this year.  For the past year and a half we’ve been teaching two classes in the morning and then working on sharing innovative HDSB stories for one period each in the afternoon.  This was a great set up for us, as it allowed us to keep a foot in the classroom and field test some of the interesting things we’ve been hearing about. It was also challenging, as our ability to travel and meet with other innovators was somewhat limited.

On Tuesday, the first day of class, we used our extra time to visit two schools to see how they start building a community with their students from day one.  We know that a safe and inclusive community is key to creating a school where innovation can thrive. We’ve also learned that community is something that needs to be built continuously.




Iroquois Ridge High School invited us in to see how the first few hours of the first school day works to build community right out of the gate.  Grade Nines are welcomed by the Grade 11 and 12 students on the school’s Link Crew, new students in Grades Ten to Twelve are welcomed by a welcoming team called Ridge United, new staff are brought on board and even parents get a small taste of what high school is like. It was great to see how they made sure to foster a welcoming atmosphere to all newcomers to the Ridge community, not just the grade 9s.

We then dropped in on Irma Coulson Public School which, on first view, looked to be in the middle of some sort of high energy festival.  We could see the back field as we walked in the front door and assumed that the by volume of noise and intensity of activity that a concert was going on.  Nope...it was just recess. We really are out of our element when it comes to the daily routines of elementary school. We were pleasantly surprised when the Kindergarten teachers spoke about how quickly their “kindies” had stopped crying once their parents left (who were probably crying more than their children were!).



That’s when it struck us just how scary the new school year can be.  For students new to a building, or school in general, where they don’t know anyone, don’t understand or the norms and routines or what is expected of them, the new school year can be filled with uncertainty.  It’s this reason that makes the work teachers, students and everyone in the building do to build community so important. When a new student is able to start the school year on solid ground, with a positive, welcoming experience, they are able to feed off that positive energy to be more engaged, more excited, and ultimately, achieve better in school.

Curriculum is important, teaching and learning is important, but as we’ve seen students will grow more if they can exist in a school or classroom where positive community is built intentionally every day. If you are interested, check out some community building activities we posted last year on the blog.  But don’t just listen to us!  Check out the work that Iroquois Ridge and Irma Coulson staff and students started on day one of the school year.