By Erika Haskins and Aidin Carey
I started taking piano lessons at the age of eight. Fueled by an intrinsic desire to excel, and bolstered with great encouragement, I practiced for hours every day after school and on weekends. Within months, I reached a level of mastery that qualified me to participate in a youth competition. I memorized every note in every bar on the page, and practiced my piece ceaselessly.
My performance was awful.
I walked onto the platform with my chin tucked into my chest, a staunch resolve to avoid eye contact with the panel of judges, and a spectacular failure to exude a single ounce of confidence, presence, or poise. I hadn’t internalized a ritual warm-up to familiarize my tiny hands with the tone and bounce of an unfamiliar set of keys. I didn’t think to adjust the bench so I wouldn’t have to stretch my toes to touch the pedals. I walked up to a strange instrument, under a spotlight, with no rehearsed routine that would help manage the wave of anxiety I was feeling in the minutes leading up to that moment.
Knowing my piece inside out didn’t seem to matter anymore. In shuffling onto that stage like I was walking across a cozy rug in my living room, I disrupted my own ability to perform with authenticity. My instructor realized instantly – and with some dismay – that we hadn’t rehearsed the most important part of the piece: taking the stage for a strong and moving performance before even touching the keys.
Just as I desperately needed preparation on that fateful afternoon, our students crave systems that support their success in “taking the stage” every day at school. These eager young minds deserve systems that identify a distinct threshold for clearly defined culture and expectations; systems supporting urgency, and infusing joy into the very first hour of their day.
For school leaders at BES, three of the most vital morning systems are:
- Morning meeting
- Transition to first period
Designing start-of-day systems based in core cultural beliefs, then sweating every detail of their execution, results in long-term dividends for students and staff alike. In this post, we talk about the first system: planning and executing a seamless, urgent student arrival.
Arrival is one of the most important systems to get right every single day. Just as the start of a race sets the runner up for success or failure, the start of the day puts students on the path that they will follow for the rest of the day. A strong arrival system allows a school to establish its culture and its expectations from the moment a student enters the space. Students get the message loud and clear: in our school we behave a certain way, we greet each other with a certain respect, and we complete necessary tasks in a particular fashion. All successful schools have spent significant time thinking through every minute detail of their arrival system to make sure that it is safe, urgent, and positive.
In doing this planning, a school must consider all of the participants in the system: students, caretakers, school staff, and transportation staff. A strong arrival system stipulates how, when, where, and why each group participates in the system.
HOW – Students arrive at school by bus, by foot, or by car, dropped off by a caretaker. When they arrive they know if they are expected to join a line, wait in a certain area, or enter the school immediately If they are on foot, they know how and when to cross any streets. If arriving by car or by school bus, they know where to exit the vehicle an how to walk to the building from the drop-off point, Students know how to greet members of the school community and how to conduct themselves once they join the line or enter the building.
WHEN – Students must arrive at the school within a certain window of time. For example, they cannot arrive before 7:15 – when a staff member will be posted outside -and if they arrive after 7:45 they are marked tardy.
WHERE – Students enter the building only through the designated entrance. They know where to wait if arrival has not started.
WHY – The movement of students into the building can be an extremely dangerous time. It is one of the two times of the day that the world outside your school building is physically part of your school. Students have been hit by cars, lost, or injured during arrival at schools that did not have a carefully regulated arrival system.
HOW – Caretakers bring students to school either on foot or by car.
WHEN – Caretakers must drop-off students within a certain window of time, not earlier and not later than the school specifies. Caretakers need to know when students need to arrive in order to receive breakfast.
WHERE – Caretakers dropping students off by car need to know how to drive up to and away from the school and exactly where to drop off. Caretakers on foot need to know where students should be brought and where caretakers should wait. If caretakers wish to speak to someone in the school, they need to know where to do so during arrival, and if anyone will be available at that time.
WHY– Arrival is one of the few school procedures with which caretakers interact on a regular basis. It is extremely important for the fluidity of the system that they know their role to the same precise level of detail as the school staff. Students have been hit by cars on their way from their family’s car to the school building at schools that did not have a system for how students should be dropped off.
HOW – All school staff have a specific role: some greet students with a warm handshake at the door, some give out breakfast, some check uniform, some monitor the line outside, and some remain in the halls to ensure students get into the classroom urgently and safely. School staff sets the positive tone for the day in interactions with students during arrival.
WHEN – School staff know the exact window in which they remain at their arrival post. They arrive at school in the morning in time to prepare for the day, and understanding that full engagement in their post’s duties is crucial once students begin to arrive.
WHERE – Staff members are posted strategically around the building to ensure efficient arrival of students into classroom/cafeteria/community space. Strategic spots could include: crosswalks of nearby streets, the school bus drop-off zone, the public bus stop, the caretaker drop-off point, the front of the building, the threshold to the building, the hallway, outside bathrooms and water fountains, and both inside and at the thresholds of classrooms/cafeteria/community space.
WHY – School staff must lead by example: establishing professional expectations for arrival will ensure a strong start to the day for all students.
HOW – School bus and van drivers pick up students in designated places and drop them off at school. Bus drivers might wait to allow students off the bus until a staff member comes to get them, or there might be a monitor on the bus who brings students off the bus and to the school building. The expectations for behavior are the same on the bus as they are in the school.
WHEN – Bus and van drivers know the window in which they must drop students off. They know that if they are earlier than a certain time they should keep students on the bus, and they know that they must not arrive late.
WHERE – Schools buses and vans have a specified place to drop off students. The placement of buses and vans takes into account how many vehicles there are and how much curb space is needed for the drop off.
WHY – School buses can be a place that is detrimental to school culture because the school’s standards are not maintained. A successful arrival system engages the transportation staff in holding high expectations for student behavior, and for maintaining safe functionality of the bus space.
While all social and environmental factors affecting children’s lives outside of school do not fall within our locus of control, every second of what happens upon crossing the threshold of the school can be clearly defined to support student learning and character development.