First day (copy)

Culpeper County High School reading teacher Mindy McCabe goes over first day of school basics with her students on Monday.

As students, teachers and staff head back to school this week, there is an energy throughout the community that happens each year as school starts.

Local businesses have geared up for back-to-school shopping, and many are looking for part time employees as their student summer employees are no longer available. Teachers have their rooms ready and have engaged in professional development. Parents have purchased supplies and new outfits for their children, and all the first day photos have been taken.

Developing positive relationships at the beginning of the year creates a strong foundation. Students need to connect with their teachers from the very beginning. Helping teachers to understand the individual allows them to address the student’s strengths and weaknesses. It also helps them to understand any circumstances the student may be facing that will affect their ability to focus and learn. There are always potentially negative events that happen throughout the year, but if a teacher has a good understanding of a student, they can navigate the bumps in the road more easily.

Parents need to develop relationships with teachers. I recognize this may be more difficult as students reach high school, but it is critical to keep communication open so that students are supported throughout the school year. Parents and teachers must work as a team to make sure the student stays on track and meets the necessary requirements for graduation. Parents may also need to connect with Food Service to address the student’s dietary needs. Sharing information with the bus driver may also be helpful to address specific concerns.

Teachers need to develop positive relationships with their peers. Teachers need to support each other. The job is extremely difficult. Seeking guidance from more experienced teachers helps new hires to deal with issues they’ve never encountered. Simply having a veteran teacher to bounce ideas off of can provide the encouragement that will help new teachers stick with it. Teachers may share ideas and techniques with each other which will improve their likelihood of reaching students of all learning styles and abilities.

Administrators must develop a collaborative relationship with all their faculty and staff. The year goes much smoother when everyone works as a team and does their part to reach the goal of educating every student. All staff members—para-educators, guidance, administrative assistants, food service staff, nurses, transportation staff, bus drivers and custodial staff—are critical to the successful daily operations of the school.

The community needs to have a positive relationship with educators. No matter what school they attend, these children belong to all of us and they are our future. Community members can provide supplies or financial support. They can become a tutor or mentor, a coach or a guest speaker. Local businesses can provide opportunities for learning through internships or field trips.

There are several critical components to make all these relationships work. First and foremost, there must be a level of respect for all involved. Individuals must be respected for their expertise and experience. Time is precious. Keeping meetings short and unessential paperwork to a minimum allows for more time to be spent with students. Communication must be open and two-way. Each person must truly listen, as well as talk. Decisions must take into consideration the input of all those affected. Individuals must be trusted to do their job, and not micro-managed. Above all, the main focus must be on what is best for the students.

As another year starts, remember to take into account the buses in your travel time. Many CCPS buses now have cameras—passing a school bus that is loading or unloading is against the law. Putting children’s lives in danger is not worth the few minutes you have to wait.

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Elizabeth Hutchins is a former educator and Culpeper County School Board member.