Students working within the classroom McMillan - Raelene's Classroom

Gentle Starts, Giant Connections

February 1, 2024

As we start each school day at McMillan Elementary, we seek connections with colleagues to chat about how we are feeling, the Netflix show we watched the night before, or how our kids' team performed at last night's game. We seek a morning connection to ground us for the emotional, social and mental demands of our day. Our students are no different. They, too, need this foundation to set them up for a successful day of learning.

We introduced the idea of a soft start, aligning this with our school's and district's strategic goals. As a staff, we noticed in recent years a shift in our school community as many students were coming to school without breakfast, many seeking connection to staff and one another, and a growing number of students arriving late to school. Teachers observed that students appeared disengaged when they arrived. Having No Guilt (to read, but please show up to chat) Book Studies on Desautels' "Connections Over Compliance" and Carrington's "Feeling Seen," the resounding statements about the importance of connections further propelled us as a school team.  

Starting our days with soft starts included having this time as a prep time for our non-enrolling teachers, including our ELL teacher, Mrs. Johnson. She volunteered to start each day by feeding and connecting with our most vulnerable students as the "Hungry Husky Café Manager" (wearing a husky apron, no less). Mrs. Johnson's passion has been evident through her home-baked muffins and carefully curated breaky options funded by ministry resources. The deepest joy is found in the time she has to connect with her Hungry Husky Café customers -- some are there to eat, others are there to chat with her. The success of the café led to a community food drive where families donated non-perishables and toiletry items that other McMillan families may benefit from. These items are housed in our community cupboards in our foyer and are available anytime for our families.

The soft start has created leadership opportunities for students to be library leaders collecting and shelving books and for students to participate in our Joy and Kindness Club. The J&K Club brings morning joy and kindness to students and staff through thoughtful gestures and treats, generously financially supported by our PAC. The connection between student leadership, our PAC, and the community has been a remarkable offshoot of our soft start.

Within the classrooms, teachers are noticing several shifts, including the reduced number of tardy students. Kids are now arriving on time, keen to connect with classmates and staff. The calm and gentle start to the day includes students having a choice in how they start their day with options including reading, drawing, Play-Doh creations, chatting with friends and teachers, eating at the café, or embarking on leadership activities. Teachers feel that they understand their students more and at a deeper level because of the time they spend focusing on having conversations with students and learning about their interests, challenges, and successes outside of school. 
After a soft start, students feel engaged and ready to participate in academics. The creativity, curiosity and calm connections from students in those first minutes of each day has created a positive energy that is felt throughout McMillan Elementary and commented on by guests visiting us.

What started as an idea for student and staff connection has turned out to be something bigger than we could have ever imagined just a few short months ago. It has become an investment in our students, staff, and McMillan community.

McMillan Elementary