How to support new high school students

Starting high school is an incredibly exciting time for students and their families, but the transition period can also create some anxiety.

Teachers face the challenge of helping new students to settle into this time of life and play a big role in their experience of high school. Here are some strategies you can use to support students who are struggling with the move to high school.

Provide a safe space for students

Students will be faced with many changes and challenges as they find their way around their new school, including experiencing information overload. It’s important, therefore, that students have safe places they can go to, to take a break or seek help.

While the classroom should always foster social inclusion, acceptance, active listening and understanding, the school library and student services building are typically quieter places where students can retreat to if they feel overwhelmed.

Make sure that your students are aware of these locations early in their high school experience, so that they can make effective use of them.

Check in with other teachers

If you identify a student who could be struggling with high school life, share your concerns about them with other teachers so that they can help, too.

Regularly check in with colleagues to track how students are progressing during their transition and to see if things are improving. If a student appears to be having a hard time for a prolonged period, it’s important to refer them to the available support services, and to touch base with their parents or carers to see what's going on.

Having an allocated time for teachers to get together and share information about their year group can help in identifying students who need more support.

Be available to your students

It’s important to have a good understanding of who your students are as individuals. This includes being aware of their personalities, typical moods, interests, and learning strengths and weaknesses. It’s essential that students feel comfortable enough to approach their teachers, so be approachable and open to any questions they may have. If a student opens up to you about how they are feeling, validate their thoughts.

Telling them that everything will be okay can come across as dismissive. Instead, take the time to really listen to them and understand their point of view, and work with them to come up with solutions they could try that might improve their situation.

For example, if you notice that a student regularly forgets their workbooks, you could suggest they try using a multi-subject exercise book, so they then only have to remember to bring one notebook for all their classes.

If a problem is more serious, and you suspect the student is struggling emotionally, it’s important to refer them to your school’s support services.

Provide helpful information

New students face the challenge of remembering a lot of information as they adjust to their new environment and high school routine.

Teachers need to communicate study expectations, rules, tasks and timetable information simply and clearly, so that students have the best opportunity to learn.

You could provide them with an easy-to-understand welcome pack that includes the basic information your cohort needs in order to start their high school journey. This might include a map of the school grounds, advice on how to create a study routine and how to access support, and suggestions for extracurricular activities.

What can I do now?

  • Help your students develop strategies and skills for a smooth transition.