Help Students Who Are Adjusting to a New School: A Game Plan for Teachers

Anxiety and worry are not uncommon in grade-school children. They can stem from the start of a new school year, an upcoming test, or friendship drama. Another scenario that can lead to stress in students is adjusting to a new school or learning environment. If you’re preparing your class for a move to middle school or welcoming newcomers into your classroom, here are a few ways you can help students fight off nerves and approach these new situations confidently.

female middle school student, smiling, happy, adjusting to a new school

The Adjustment: Moving to a New School Building in the District

Moving from the comfort and close-knit feel of an elementary school building to an intermediate or middle school building can cause anxiety for students who thrive on routine and familiarity. Whether you are helping third graders move to an intermediate school, or fifth and sixth graders move to a middle school, adjusting to a new school will be easier if the students have more opportunity to spend time in the new environment.

The Approach: Make the Unknown Familiar to Them

Give advancing students the opportunity to mingle with those already attending the school. Arrange for your students to participate in a group activity or lesson with teachers and students from upper grades. Be sure to host the gathering in the new building. This will give your kids a chance to become familiar with next year’s teachers’ names and faces and the layout of their new school.

Pair an incoming fourth grader with a future fifth grader (or incoming seventh grader with a future eighth grader) to create a bond for success in the upcoming school year. The small comfort of knowing at least one older face can help incoming students feel at ease on their first day.

Select several students who are preparing to depart the new school (sixth graders for those entering an intermediate school or eighth graders for those entering middle school) to host a panel discussion for your class. Sharing their experiences, embarrassing stories, and tips for a successful adjustment can lessen students’ anxiety over making a mistake. Ask your kids to be prepared with questions.

You should also encourage your advancing students to anonymously write a letter to their new teacher, noting their fears, excitements, and curiosities about switching schools. If you’ve been following the #IWishMyTeacherKnew social media initiative, you know that students are ready and willing to share a lot about themselves when they are given the chance to do so in a safe environment.

The Adjustment: Starting School in a New Town

Remember your first day as a new teacher? You entered a new building where you knew no one, hoping to meet someone friendly. It’s scary for an adult and can be even scarier for a student. If you have a new student, whether from out of town or out of state, there are ways that you can make them feel like a welcomed and valuable part of the class.

The Approach: Find Ways to Encourage Friendships

Start by choosing a student mentor to partner with the newcomer, someone who has demonstrated qualities of kindness and responsibility. This mentor will help the new student more socially than academically, so he or she should be able to navigate many peer groups. In addition to making introductions to other classmates, the mentor can assist the new student with lockers, find special classrooms, and the flow of the lunchroom.

You can also host a Welcome Lunch for your new student. Invite three or four other kids from your class (more than that might be overwhelming) to join you for lunch in the classroom or outside. Take care to choose those who share the same interests (science, sports, or art) or who you know live nearby the new student. You can also use brain breaks or morning meeting sessions to play ice breaker games so the new student gets to know his/her classmates and vice versa.

The Adjustment: Rotating Between Classrooms for Different Subject Study

It’s not just adjusting to a new school that can make students feel nervous but also moving between classrooms for different subjects for the first time. This used to be a rite of passage reserved for middle school or junior high, but today “departmentalizing” is happening in elementary school.

The Approach: Organization is the Key to Success

Take advantage of the start of the school year when subject rotation isn’t routine. Create an opportunity for students to meet with each teacher they’ll be working with, not just their homeroom teacher. Turn the tables and let the teachers rotate among each classroom where they can lead a reading, math, or science activity, depending on their specialty.

From there, the success of departmentalizing really depends on the students’ organization and responsibility. Set your students up for success by making it easy for them to keep all learning materials together as they travel between rooms. Consider these items for a tote bag that they can carry from classroom to classroom:

  • a set of color-coded, two-pocket folders, each one labeled for a subject
  • an accordion binder that can keep subject folders separated
  • a pencil case containing pencils, highlighters, dry erase markers, post-it notes, etc. that students will need at all times

When you can help students feel comfortable and confident in any new situation, they can better focus on learning.

Let your fellow teachers know how you’ve helped students move to middle school, enter your school district, or rotate classrooms with confidence and success. Share in the comments below!

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