I miss summer vacation already! I miss the control I have over who I see and what I do, and I miss filling my days with family activities and carving out special time for the important people in my life. The lack of obligations is better than the rush and flurry of school days. Back to school means suddenly my life is filled with new people (ugh!) and semi-awkward contrived school community events (double ugh!). Events my kids usually love for their chaotic wildness where they tear around like maniacs and are then give extra melty, extra sticky popsicles while the grown ups flock to the edges and engage in the complicated art of small talk. UGH! We all hate this right? Right?! I hate this.
BUT I have a strong belief in community, and I believe a solid community makes better schools, makes our children safer, and makes us more tolerant. I basically believe strong communities are the answer to most things. Really. So I will overcome my distaste for awkward conversations and small talk, and I will power through. Because I believe it matters.
There is really just one answer. Be Present. So, do it. Go to the school community events and Back-to-School Night. Loiter around the school office, make friends with the secretaries (even though sometimes that’s difficult – what is it with school secretaries?!) and with your child’s teacher, learn the name of your school custodian, volunteer for anything you are available for, and maybe even engage in some small talk on the playground.
Here is a handy guide to navigating the playground small talk and the back-to-school nights so that you can create community at your school. Even if you don’t really feel like it.
1. Learn names
I know, it’s impossible. Believe me, I know. Here’s the thing. If we admit it’s impossible right out of the gate people understand, because it’s the same for them. Admit you kind of suck at remembering, ask again, apologize in advance for asking the next time you meet. We all get it!
2. It doesn’t have to be all small talk
Dive right in. Share something personal. No, not that personal, get your mind out of the gutter! Sheesh! Share a challenge that you’ve had in the past, something you’re nervous about regarding the beginning of school or a place where your child has struggled. We’re all human and we share in our insecurities and our fears. Especially when it comes to our sweet babies.
3. Read the school’s communications
Some schools are better at this than others. Some overdo it, some under do it, but they all do it in some form. Read through the emails and papers, paying special attention to the calendars. Mark special dates down as you go along. I know you’ve got your phone in your hand already.
I know not everyone has during-the-day time to volunteer. That’s okay. I encourage you to reach out to the PTA anyway, and see if there’s a place where you can add your time and/or expertise. It doesn’t have to be in a traditional way. There are loads of opportunities, traditional and non-traditional, weekend and mid-school day, or even projects that can be done at home.
5. Smile and make eye contact
It’s not revolutionary, but it’s difficult sometimes. Meeting new people and building school community is intimidating. It’s like dating all over again. It involves not hiding behind your phone. It involves putting yourself out there. Be brave. It’s good for you and it’s good for you kiddos.
I’d love to hear how you’re overcoming the intimidation of back-to-school and how you’re building a school community in your and your child’s lives school. Please share what has worked or not worked for you.