The beginning of the new school year can be a very challenging time for students. Transition is a word that is used a lot in schools – usually referring to the move from primary to secondary – and much is done in most schools to make the transition smooth. New Intake Meetings, Taster Days and all manner of approaches are used to help make the shift to ‘big school’ a little bit easier for students.
There is good reason for this, of course. Evidence has shown for years that students often experience an academic ‘dip’ during this period. However, studies have also shown that a similar dip can occur in the transition between Year 7 and Year 8.
The length of the summer holidays could be a factor, but the fact is that there is transition and upheaval for students of all ages at the start of any new academic year. Primary school children meet a new teacher who will teach them throughout the year, all day and every day. Secondary school students are faced with a whole new set of teachers.
Of course, the transition between KS2 and KS3, or KS3 and KS4 is more pronounced – but any transition can be difficult to handle. And at the start of any new school year students are moving into the unknown. That’s daunting for anyone.
Students feel stress at the start of term for different reasons. It could be the fear of not making friends, finding their way around – or not being able to cope with the academic demands of the year ahead. Therefore, it is important for teachers to reduce the uncertainty that students are feeling and to remove ambiguity from the classroom environment.
To do this teachers need to be explicit about what is and is not acceptable behaviour and conduct. The key messages that will set the tone for the year ahead – and reduce uncertainty and ambiguity – need to be given repeatedly.
Challenge and support
Establishing what the boundaries are in the classroom is crucial in settling students into the new school year. Equally important is creating an environment that is challenging and supportive in equal measure. Too much challenge and not enough support can lead to stress and anxiety. However, too much support can lead to complacency, reliance and boredom. Getting the balance right so that the teacher can cater for the needs of all students in a class is of critical importance.
A growth mindset
Academic success, or success more generally, is not ‘all in the mind’ – but having a positive mindset is incredibly important. Fostering a culture in the classroom where students can deal with making mistakes and facing failure, and genuinely believe that they can make the improvements necessary to get higher grades is the key to success. Once you have ensured that students are settled into the new term it is vital that they remain settled. A poor mark or grade get unsettle and unhinge a lot of previous good work. Students need to be able to cope with whatever the new school year throws at them. This is why the culture that a teacher creates is so important.