Four Vital Elements Needed to Create a Welcoming School

by Guest Contributors

Creating a school environment that is welcoming and inclusive for all students requires a “whole school” approach.

Post submitted by Kimmie Fink, Welcoming Schools Consultant

Creating a school environment that is welcoming and inclusive for all students requires a “whole school” approach. It requires structural, relational and instructional changes, and proactive buy-in from all staff. Fortunately, Welcoming Schools has created this handy checklist to guide elementary schools in improving school climate to ensure that all students and families feel welcome.

The first key component is inclusive language. Official school forms and online communications honor all family structures and are accessible to families who speak a language other than English. In the classroom, teachers use the words like “caring adult(s) at home” instead of “your mom and dad” and address students as “learners” or “third graders” instead of “boys and girls.”

Diverse books and images are also vital to an inclusive school environment. Posters and bulletin board displays showcase diversity and promote respect for all people. Students have access to books that provide both mirrors (reflecting their own experiences and identities) and windows (fostering appreciation of differences). Not sure if your books fit the bill? Check out the Welcoming Schools list of recommended books here.

In a welcoming school, all school staff step up to stop mean words and actions. Teachers and support staff always interrupt hurtful name-calling and use such incidents as teachable moments. They participate in professional development that specifically trains them in how to address bias-based bullying.

The final element in creating a welcoming school is setting a positive, inclusive tone for all. There are clear, school-wide rules establishing respect for all students and families. Bullying and harassment policies specifically enumerate marginalized groups. School staff foster active relationships with families.

Whether you’re verifying that your school is on the right track or beginning the process to make your school a welcoming place for all, the checklist is a great place to start. Welcoming Schools has numerous resources like it at your disposal, and we’re here to support you in this essential undertaking.

HRC's Welcoming Schools is the nation's premier program dedicated to creating respectful and supportive elementary schools in embracing family diversity, creating LGBTQ-inclusive schools, preventing bias-based bullying, creating gender-expansive schools, and supporting transgender and non-binary students.