Launching the school year with clear messages about the school’s vision and values sets the tone for the year. Explicit messages that clearly articulate the many groups of people who are welcome in your school serve to break isolation and invisibility. Those families who may be hesitantly wondering how they will be received because of a perceived difference may move closer to initiating contact or responding to an invitation. At the very least they may remember that initial message should a difficulty or need arise.
Schools can explicitly welcome and express their full acceptance of a range of groups. A vague message that “everyone is welcome” is unlikely to reassure groups that have been traditionally excluded and disenfranchised within many of our society’s institutions. For example, schools can aim to increase the visibility of the following groups of people:
- transgendered or transsexual (families, staff members and students);
- lesbian, gay or bisexual (families, staff members and students);
- immigrants, refugees and newcomers to Canada;
- ethnocultural minority groups;
- religious minority groups;
- linguistic minority groups;
- people with disabilities, including physical, intellectual and learning disabilities;
- parents and caregivers of all ages;
- families with diverse compositions;
Early opportunities to introduce parents and caregivers to the values and vision underpinning the school’s safe and inclusive culture include a combination of the following:
- Open House;
- orientation meeting;
- Meet the Teacher Night;
- messages on the school website;
- simple statements transmitted via school communications.
Of course, building trust is a gradual process and messages are transmitted both explicitly and implicitly. Schools will need to consistently reinforce this welcoming message throughout the school year.