Teachers have an important role to play in smoothing the transition to secondary school for their students. By thinking about their transition plan, school staff can enhance the wellbeing of their students, ensuring the start of secondary school will be a positive one.
1. Be prepared
With a variety of social, emotional and academic elements at play, teachers are best placed to assist with a smooth transition into secondary school by preparing a range of initiatives and working with other staff to maximise the student experience.
- Access and read student files on your new students. Past school reports, doctor recommendations and other records can suggest strategies to smooth the transition of incoming students, particularly those who might need a little more support.
- Work with school administration to make contact with your new students during the summer holidays before Term 1 begins. You could mail them a postcard or send a friendly email saying, ‘Hope you have had a great break. We can’t wait to see you when school starts’, or make a courtesy phone call. This early contact will help bridge the communication and contact gap in the transition process.
- At the start of the term, set up email folders/files and storage systems for each of your new students. This step will save time later on, and serves as a ‘go to’ for any correspondence, notes or information relating to that student.
- Anticipate the questions that students are most likely to ask, and address these intentionally. For example, include answers to these FAQs in your early communications with them, such as during orientation. Try to ensure that both you and the school administration are consistent in your responses.
- Plan a transition program that continues until Term 2 of the new school year. This transition plan could include afternoons of shared activities, social opportunities, and other orientation programs such as peer support in which the transitioning students have further exposure to their new school and peers.
2. Know your students
Relationships are central to the success of any student transition, especially into secondary school. It is important that the transitioning student has people they feel comfortable going to if they need support. This person could be the year coordinator, pastoral care teacher, deputy principal, wellbeing officer, teacher mentor or a peer. To help students feel welcome, and to encourage relationship building, consider the way you greet them and the opportunities you create to get to know them.
- Smile at and greet each student whenever you see them around the school, or in class, to help them feel comfortable and welcome. Find out something they are interested in, and ask them about it.
- Take time to get to know your students. Games and activities are helpful ways to form groups and to encourage bonding. Actively look for opportunities, and the right space and place, to facilitate this.
- Give students regular opportunities to share about themselves and their interests. This could be done through a ‘letter to the teacher’ writing activity, the ‘two truths and a lie’ game, a Fantale ‘Who am I?’ simulation, a shoebox display of personal items, or even a student survey.
- Learn your students’ names as quickly as possible! If photos are available, try to learn their names before they transition. The sooner you have learnt and use their names, the sooner students will feel known, which will encourage them to form positive relationships with you.
- Use the ReachOut student snapshot survey to help you get to know your students and better understand how they are feeling about secondary school.
3. Create a sense of belonging
Students’ transition from focusing on surviving in an unfamiliar environment to thriving at school is related to how quickly they develop a sense of belonging there.
- Consider identifying a space (lunch area, quad) just for the year group to meet together, socialise and build relationships with their peers.
- Provide opportunities for the cohort to bond and get to know each other better. A camp or a special ‘day’ early in Term 1 can lay a strong foundation in creating a sense of shared identity and experience for the year group.
- Have class teachers meet students at the same spot during the first few weeks of school to assist in the movement between classes. This makes the transition to secondary school much less overwhelming, as students won’t be worried about becoming lost and it narrows the gap between students and teachers.
- Find ways to help students see their new school as a place of comfort and security. Ensure that students know where to go if they need help or support, and where key staff can be located.
- Older students can be used as mentors, buddies and peer supporters to provide advice, wisdom and encouragement. Providing platforms and encouraging opportunities, in both a formal and an informal capacity, for older students to share with the younger ones can help them to feel welcome in the school environment.
- Present students with a welcome pack. It might be connected to the pastoral systems in place at the school (such as a house/patron structure) or a home room approach, where other students can write welcome notes, and provide a map of the school, a notepad, email list and bookmark with key staff photos, names, position titles, etc.
What can I do now?
- Reflect on your current school transition plan and how you could improve it.
- Begin to build, or further develop, a welcoming culture, one that seeks to foster engagement and belonging.
- Identify the different stakeholders within your school community that you can partner with to ensure a smooth and successful transition experience.
- Help your students develop strategies and skills for a smooth transition.