by Connie Dougherty, School Counselor, Cold Water Elementary School
Cold Water School’s transformation to a School of Character can be summed up perfectly by this quote:
“A person who feels appreciated will always do more than what is expected.”
The major changes that have happened in the front office of Cold Water School (Florissant, Missouri) within the last five years are a true testament to creating a caring school community. The vital components that make Cold Water a School of Character used to get lost amongst all of the stakeholders in our school, especially those who weren’t regularly in the classroom.
An Inclusive Community
When administrators made a priority of supporting autonomy and belonging within all of our support staff, the changes were astounding. Just as students thrive when teachers proactively establish a caring culture, so did our secretaries and in turn our entire school community.
One thing that helped make the change was making sure all support staff were included and invited to participate in any staff meetings or school functions. Creating this opportunity for socializing and collaboration helped everyone involved develop more meaningful and rewarding relationships. Our back to school activity, the Amazing Race, was a great example of this bonding as it was a great way to reconnect after summer break and to strengthen the relationships of everyone in our building.
Training and Professional Development for All
Support staff were encouraged to join classroom teachers in becoming certified in character education. Since support staff mentor students and secretaries are in frequent contact with them as they check in and out of the building, they too have an important role in our students’ daily lives and success in school. In fact, many of our students have been known to make a strong connection and seek out our support staff throughout the day.
Sharing Our Passions
The principal’s secretary serves as a great example of the dedication and enthusiasm in our community. She has a great love for our Veterans and contributed to our character education efforts by promoting activities within our building for Veteran’s Day. The entire school stood behind her and the Community Outreach Committee and PTA supported her plans and helped to create memorable events. She felt compelled to share her hobbies and passions with the school and community now that she feels a greater sense of belonging.
Creating a Welcoming Environment
We spend the majority of our week within our school building. Not only do we need the school to be a welcoming place for our families, but we also need it to be a friendly and respectful environment for all of our staff. One way we increased morale and excitement within the building is by offering our staff and guests coffee, hot tea, hot chocolate, water and popcorn for those who visit after 10a.m. The smell alone when walking into our building makes everyone feel welcome. When you combine that with a conscious effort to greet everyone with a smile, it’s hard not to feel good when walking into or waiting in the office at Cold Water School.
The office is also decorated for the holidays/seasons throughout the year, creating a cheerful and homelike atmosphere. Scrapbooks and parent magazines are available for families to look through as they wait. The artifacts in our office help to validate our commitment to character education and partnering with our families. Parents are welcome to come into our building at any time. They are encouraged to eat with their child at lunch or participate in numerous afterschool and evening activities.
I have always been able to get the “feel” of a school upon the first few moments I arrive. I also know how important first impressions are and difficult to change. That is why we strive to make our community to feel welcomed to our school starting in the office. There is a fee to provide these items – but if it creates a happier place for everyone to work and visit – it is worth it! We are continuously reflecting on our practices and making our climate a priority.