Laying Down the Welcome Mat

by Sherri Wilson

What does your front door look like? At my house there’s a beautiful doormat covered with colorful flowers and a friendly message written in a fancy script. A pink daisy wreath hangs on my door that I switch out with the seasons. I want everyone who visits to know they are welcome. I bet your home looks inviting, too. Now, have you ever taken a look at the front door of your school or early learning center?

I’ve been to schools and preschools that looked like prisons, with large signs that pronounce what is NOT welcome in their building and threatening messages like “No Trespassing” and “You must report to the office to enter the building.” If the families in your school community have had negative experiences when they went to school, that really isn’t going make them eager to pay you a visit!

Look, the type of family engagement that has the biggest impact on student academic achievement doesn’t even happen in the school —  the biggest impact comes from what families do at home. What families do at home, however, can be greatly enriched by information and support from teachers. That means we should do everything we can to encourage families to visit and feel a part of the whole learning community!

When families visit a school or early learning program, they have the opportunity to learn what their kids should know and be able to do, and how well they are currently doing. They can also learn strategies to support their children’s learning from home and advocate for extra support they might need at school.

So I want you to do me a favor. Go outside the building and pretend you have never been there before. Look at the entryway, then go in. Take a long, hard look at the messages you display and how prominent they are. Then decide if those messages convey that all families are welcome. Need some tips? Try these if you want to open the doors to working together to support student success.

  • Make sure the largest sign you have says, “Welcome.” Also, bonus points if you say it in every language of the families in your community!
  • Make the signs that are legally required smaller than the signs that make families feel welcome. Bonus points if you can rewrite the signs in a family friendly language!
  • Keep the area around the front door clean and litter free. Consider putting actual welcome mats outside the door to make families feel more at home!

Remember, family engagement is an important strategy for student success. The more welcome families feel when they enter your building, the more likely they will come in to access the programs and services you have to help them support their children’s education.

Sherri Wilson, Senior Director of Consultative Services, Scholastic, and a member of the NAFSCE board