And that’s because gates are thresholds and thresholds symbolise beginnings. I’m reminded of the Chronicles of Narnia stories where the protagonists stand at the entrance of a portal that leads to another world. This is somewhat like the start of school where students leave one world; home and the outside, and then enter the world of the school. And because of this very true fact, school gates all across the world are critically important as they very much set the tone for ethos and culture of the school environment!

Picture schools as being like a machine. The machine has various component parts that help it to function. Sometimes parts of the machine are broken and need fixing, and other times all parts are running smoothly- just like a well-oiled machine! So when I recently had the opportunity to share with the entire secondary school team about the importance of pastoral care, like a mechanic deconstructing an engine into its component parts to identify the function and significance of each mechanism, I felt the need to break down and compartmentalise the various ‘sites’ where pastoral care takes place. The most obvious are classrooms, playgrounds, small group sessions (including form time), but then I considered the gate- the threshold. The place where it all starts. Students filter in one by one, each with their own narrative, their unique start to the day. The thing is, some have better starts then others. Some are waved off with kisses and warm, tender cuddles. They leave their homes girded with the security that they are loved beyond measure. For others, this is not how their opening chapter begins. Let’s turn our attention to these children and we can clearly understand why pastoral care starts at the gate.

Here you are safe…

When we greet students with a warm smile and a cheery “good morning” or “how are you?” we are letting them know that here they will be protected.

I see you…

When we deliberately attempt to make eye contact with our students, we are saying “you are visible, you matter.”

I value you…

When we ask simple questions, “how are you this morning?” even the rhetorical ones such as “Ready for the day?” we are saying your story matters. Your life and opinions are valued.

And yes, invariably some kids will ignore you, just as some adults will. That’s not the point. The point is, as an adult you are demonstrating to a young person that you care and much can be said for that. You are putting pastoral care first. And that’s why it all starts at the gate…

Click here for a list of questions and prompts you can use to ask at the gate to build connections with students.

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