5 Ways to Help Students Make a Smooth Transition Back to School

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My daughter Nina is a night owl. She loves to stay up late, reading, gaming, chatting with her sister and friends, or catching up on her favorite television shows. And I don’t stop her, when she has no reason to rise early the next day. This is what summer and weekends are made for, after all.

In our house, the party typically ends on August 1st. This is when early morning field and ice hockey practices begin, and although this makes juggling our work calendars a bit of a nightmare, my husband and I are grateful for the early start of these seasons. They help our family make the transition from summer back to school easier. Nina is up early visiting with old friends, making new ones, and developing a little bit of much needed self-discipline.

I know that many families don’t have this particular advantage and that the first weeks of school often find students and teachers overwhelmed by the transition. There are areas to be aware of when teachers return to school each year. Attending to them during those initial days made the shift from summer to school year a bit less miserable for all.

5 ways to help students transition back to school

1. Know that they’re tired, and they’re hungry

All summer long, they’ve been sleeping and eating on their own time tables. Nudging their systems back onto a schedule takes a bit of time. Incorporating activities that invite kids to move and play more often and allowing or even bringing in snacks to share can help.

2. Realize that their social groups have changed

They may not have seen certain friends all summer, they may have experienced a falling-out or two, and there may be new friends to welcome into their circles. Collaborative learning opportunities will help kids rekindle relationships, establish new ones, and learn how to learn (and not just play) together again. Provide time for catching up and socializing too. This isn’t a waste. It’s an investment that will bear fruit when it comes time to dig into academic learning.

3. Consider the special things they’ll miss 

Our family began some tremendous transitions this summer, as several close friends and family members passed away and our eldest daughter left home to attend college for the first time. She left her little sister behind, and I know that they are missing one another.

For all of these reasons, our family is looking forward to the start of classes in coming weeks. This is where our girls will find comfort in their friends, their teachers and coaches, their routines, and their learning. I sure hope these experiences don’t begin with long lectures about rules, grades, testing, expectations, and consequences. I was the teacher who once did this myself, so I know why it often happens. I wish I had a do-over now, though.

4. Wonder about their dreams

Summers are often spent vacationing with friends and family, traveling to special places, and investing in hobbies and interests that we may not have time for all year. See that kid whose staring out the window, living a million miles away from you in his head? Invite him to use whatever he’s dreaming about as the driving force behind his learning if you can. It helps bring him back to school.

5. Know they’re daunted

My husband and I had the opportunity to attend Freshman Convocation at Rochester Institute of Technology last week. Here, we listened to Joe Williams, Lecturer and Field Experience Coordinator in the Department of Criminal Justice, speak to incoming freshman, including our daughter, about the start of their college careers.

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He reminded students of the incredible opportunity they’ve been given to attend such a distinguished school. He spoke to the brass ring swinging before them and the fact that very few students have the advantages that they have been given, too.

More important, he told them that they wouldn’t be there unless the admissions committee and plenty of others believed in them. He told them to believe in themselves and to never, ever feel as if they didn’t deserve to be attending that school. He told them they would be successful, that the faculty there would ensure it, and that help was all around them when they needed it. He told them that everyone would need it at some point, and that needing help was no indication of failure.

He didn’t resort to scare tactics by telling them that some huge number of freshmen would drop out before graduation (raise your hand if you heard that one yourself).

He didn’t suggest that high school was no preparation for what they were about to face.

He didn’t speak to rules or grades or consequences.

In short, he didn’t treat them like naïve, incompetent children.

He told these young women and men that he believed in them, that they earned the right to be there, and that although it would be very hard, he knew they would do well.

He said that it was only natural for them to feel daunted, but he also reminded them that they weren’t alone. He let them know that soon, they would grow to know and love a whole new family of teachers and peers and support staff on campus.

It was the perfect way to welcome a sea of new students to the start of the school year.

So, maybe you should do this, too. Or, maybe you have your own ideas.

I’m curious to know how you help your own students make the transition from summer back to school year. Whether you are a primary teacher or a high school teacher, I’d love to hear from you.

Share your ideas in the comment section, and inspire us.

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A former English teacher, Angela Stockman is the founder of the WNY Young Writer's Studio, a community of writers and teachers of writing in Buffalo, New York. She is also an education consultant with expertise in curriculum design, instructional coaching, and assessment. Read more from Angela at Angelastockman.com.

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