Schools have recognised that transition can be a stressful time. This issue we look at the ways schools help pupils prepare for the changes ahead and how you can manage transition for yourself

Faced with the prospect of change, most of us (pupils and teachers alike) will feel both a sense of loss at the end of a stage in our life, and also feelings of trepidation, excitement and sometimes fear.

All of these emotions will act as drivers for our behaviour. When faced with an ‘out-of-my-comfort-zone’ experience, it is all too easy to allow our natural fight or flight mechanisms take over. Many schools have recognised these issues and as a result provide an extensive transition period for pupils. This does not just apply to pupils who will be changing schools, or moving up a year, but also for pupils coming to the end of their full-time education.

Visits to the new school or classes, the arrangement of buddy systems and meetings with new teaching and support staff are all part of the process, and they are put into practice during the summer term – well ahead of the holidays, giving pupils the best possible preparation for the changes that lie ahead. Activities will include:

  • discussions about the different school, classes or colleges and work-experience that pupils will be moving on to
  • opportunities to meet and talk about changes to the school day, timetables, journey to and from school, college or work
  • visits to the new environments
  • opportunities to experience the types of lessons and work that lie ahead
  • a chance to speak with pupils already at the stage your pupils are moving into.

For the majority of pupils these preparations work well. The stress caused by the change and upheaval of change is still present, but the preparatory activities have given pupils the opportunity to experience the new school, college or work environment and the linked discussions have also helped them to devise not just coping strategies, but strategies to both recognise how they are feeling and to have the necessary skills to manage it.

So, while teachers and support staff work very hard to help prepare pupils for the changes that lie ahead, who is responsible for our emotions and wellbeing? The stress and anticipation felt by pupils is just as likely to be present among the staff – on top of which is the exhaustion felt as the current academic year comes to an end.

Practical tips
To some extent the pre-transition experiences you have provided for the pupils will also help you to prepare for the new pupils and classes arriving in September. Unfortunately, when at a low ebb (and this is often the case at the end of a physically and emotionally tiring term), it is very easy to become negative. How many times have you quickly scanned down your class lists for September and, recognising certain names, already begin to experience that overwhelming sense of dread? Negative reactions may include:

’Oh no, I remember his brother!’ ’I’ve already met…’

’I’ve heard that Year 6 is one of the most difficult the school has had in years!’

All these thoughts and comments are certainly not helpful in your own preparations for the new school year!

To effectively manage the transition for yourself, it is important to remain positive and to make judgments based on objective evidence, not simply on hearsay, rumour and anecdotal evidence.

In the same way that you have provided experiential opportunities for all pupils in your care, so you should undertake to make the same types of experiences for yourself.

Activities could include:

  • sharing teaching experiences or swapping roles (tutor groups, etc), enabling you to meet the new groups on your terms
  • a thorough reading of record sheets, evaluations and so on
  • making sure you are aware not only of the pupils who have individual education plans or behaviour plans, but also of the staff arrangements which are documented to help the pupils achieve their set targets
  • reviewing your existing arrangements in your teaching and learning. Don’t make any assumptions about the behaviour of your new set of pupils. Keep in mind the need to teach your behavioural expectations in just the same way that you would teach any curriculum area
  • taking a fresh look at your teaching and learning environment. Is it looking tired? Are there any outstanding maintenance jobs that need to be completed before the new term starts?
  • working in partnership with colleagues and offering support where appropriate. As thoughts and emotions drive our behaviour, it is important to gain the support of colleagues to enable us to remain positive, confident and focused. Preparation now will ensure that the busy few weeks of the new term will be organised, positive and well-behaved!

This e-bulletin issue was first published in June 2009

About the author: Dave Stott has nearly 30 years’ teaching experience including seven years as a headteacher. He has worked in mainstream and special schools and Local Authority Behaviour Support Services, and is now a writer, consultant and trainer.