Setting the Stage for Success

Setting the Stage for Success

Imagine that you are a student entering a new school for the first time. Picture the scene. What would be on your mind? You might be wondering, “Will I make friends here? Will I be popular?” Or, “Will my teachers like me? Will they care about me?” Or, “Will I be able to do the work here? Will I be smart enough?” Or, in all too many cases, “Will I be safe here? Will I be teased, shunned, humiliated?”

These questions reveal our basic psychological needs—for emotional and physical safety; for close, supportive relationships—a sense of “connectedness” (Resnick et al., 1997) or “belongingness” (Baumeister & Leary, 1995); for autonomy, or a say in what happens to us; and for a sense of competence—a belief that we are capable people and able to learn. These fundamental needs shape human motivation and have major implications for learning and development. We are willing to work very hard to preserve our sense of safety, belonging, autonomy, and competence (Deci & Ryan, l985).

We also bond with the people and institutions that help us satisfy our needs (Watson, Battistich, & Solomon, 1997), which makes the creation of caring, inclusive, participatory communities for our students especially important. When a school meets students' basic psychological needs, students become increasingly committed to the school's norms, values, and goals. And by enlisting students in maintaining that sense of community, the school provides opportunities for students to learn skills and develop habits that will benefit them throughout their lives.

The beginning of the school year is an optimal time for creating a school community that supports students' social and emotional needs and sets the stage for a successful year. Some of the approaches that research suggests foster this sense of community include:

  • Actively cultivate respectful, supportive relationships among students, teachers, and parents.
  • Emphasize common purposes and ideals.
  • Provide regular opportunities for service and cooperation.
  • Provide developmentally appropriate opportunities for autonomy and influence.
Starting the school year with a plan for how to intentionally create supportive learning communities and focus on relationship-building on our campuses will have a huge impact on setting the foundation for a successful school year.

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"What you do today can improve all your tomorrows."
–Ralph Marston

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