Transitions and Belonging: Eight Ways to Transform Your Transition Process for the 2024 School Year.
6 minute read time
As we begin to prepare for another teaching year here in Australia, there’s oh-so-much excitement in the air as people start thinking about their new classes, learn new names and meet with new families.
With this excitement comes a decent amount of overwhelm – fostering new relationships, developing year-long curriculum plans, setting our assessment intentions, designing the physical learning environment and putting some thought into how we will foster a positive classroom culture and learning community. Phew! I’m exhausted just thinking about it.
Do you know one key ingredient to the recipe that is the beginning of the year that, unfortunately, often goes by the wayside? The transition process.
What do I mean by transition process? The actions that we take when welcoming new children and families into our spaces, also defined by Dockett and Perry (2015) as a way to create a bridge between home and school before the child has even stepped foot in your classroom.
Successful transitions are critical for young children, especially those first entering a school-based classroom (typically kindergarten/preschool). In fact, research has consistently told us about the strong link between a child’s early school transitions and their long-term social and emotional wellbeing and academic engagement and achievement (Babić, 2017; Einarsdottir, 2011; Fabian & Dunlop, 2007; O’Kane, 2016; Wilders & Levy, 2021).
Sounds too good to be true, right? It’s not. Effective transitions are like magic for young children. You know what else effective transitions do? Foster children’s overall sense of belonging.
As with effective transitions, a child’s sense of belonging - how they perceive how they are accepted, valued and included - directly impacts their academic learning, wellbeing, engagement and behaviour (Gregory et al., 2021).
Right – I think I’ve sold you on transitions. Let’s get into the good stuff and explore eight ways that you can strengthen your transition process. This year. Like, right now.
One: Connect with children and their families prior to the school year and open up two-way communication.
This is a biggie, although nothing revolutionary –opening up lines of communication with both the child AND family. This can be as simple as an email to families and a letter to child.
For families: an email introducing yourself, sharing essential information, ways to get in contact with you (good time to set some boundaries here!) and that you’re looking forward to working with them to support their child. An added step here, when communicating the necessities to the families, is to also be sure you’re communicating the what with the why. For example – why are you sending an email home? Families will value things a great deal more when they know there’s a purpose and reason behind them.
For children: a letter, book or video introducing yourself, that you’re excited to be their teacher, some of the fun things you hope to do with them throughout the school year and a tour of the class/school.
Please also don’t get caught in the trap of thinking that transitions are only about sending information home. Sure, we need to send a decent amount of information home – timetables, what to pack, key policies – but be mindful to not just throw information at them. How are you receiving information or making opportunities to receive information? This leads me to the next point.
Two: Find out about them.
How can you establish a sense of understanding of the children and families before officially teaching them? How can you get the ball rolling on getting to the know them?
There are many pathways for this, and here are two:
1) Ask them. You can send out digital onboarding forms asking them about their family context, things the child enjoys, what the child would like you to know about them before starting the school year, etc. This is crucial information for you. It’s important here to recognising that you’re all going to be teaching in very diverse communities and some families may be non-responsive, but that does not mean you shouldn’t try.
2) You can also speak with previous teachers – what was the child like to teach? Can you access previous academic reports and student files? Be aware here of subjectivity – everyone has a different relationship with all children so try not to let one teacher’s opinion of a child skew yours.
Three: Embed what you learn about them into your programming and learning environment.
Ok, you’ve gathered information about the children/families. Now what? How can you embed what you learn about them into your environment or programming? Can you use some of the children’s interests to set up some learning invitations? Can you develop a line of inquiry from some repeating interests from multiple children? Can you further support a family expecting a tricky transition?
Four: Don’t be afraid to share information about yourself.
No, I don’t mean your darkest fears and deepest desires! I mean who you are as a person. Are you a cat person? Are you going on a holiday before school returns? What’s your favourite food? Help them to not only see you as a person but also potentially create some familiarity and discover similarities. You’re a human with a life outside of the classroom – let them learn this.
Five: Have some support resources readily available to share.
One of the strongest examples of this is if you have learned that some families are expecting a tricky transition. Why not make up a support pack that outlines what separation anxiety is, what separation difficulties can look like and ways they can support their child in the lead up to school starting?
Six: Meet and greets.
This is one of my favourites. Is there a way to have children and families come and visit you and the classroom before starting? If not, can you organise a family picnic somewhere local to the school prior to the school year? Some schools have excellent processes around this but, sadly, many don’t. If your school doesn’t, can you advocate for it?
Seven: Rethink rigid ‘kiss and drop’ rules.
If there’s one rule/policy that gives me the icks, it’s this one (ok, there are a few that do, but this one’s a big one for me!). Please, for the love of all things cinnamon scrolls, PLEASE reconsider the rigid policy of parents/caregivers not being allowed to stay after the bell has gone. Sure, some children do well with this, and many don’t. One look at the Circle of Security gives us all we need to know – children need that sense of safety and security in their environments, as well as with their caregivers, in order for rich learning to occur. Booting parents/caregivers out the door because the clock says so ain't it. I know that many school put this one into place, so it's up to you to advocate for the children in your class. You got this.
Eight: Be flexible.
Not every child and family will have a smooth transition, and that’s ok. Sure, have a process, but know that you’ll likely need your process to have a few different pathways.
Effective transitions quite literally set children up for life, and that is both empowering and daunting for us. Follow these steps and you're well on your way to playing a powerful role in the lives of the children in your class.
Babić, N. (2017). Continuity and discontinuity in education: Example of transition from preschool to school. Early Child Development and Care, 187(10), 1596–1609. https://doi. org/10.1080/03004430.2017.1301935.
Barblett, L., Boylan, F., & Ruscoe, A. (2023). Transforming transitions to primary school: Using children’s funds of knowledge and identity. European Early Childhood Education Research Journal, 1-15. https://doi.org/10.25958/n8qh-em74
Dockett, S., & Perry, B. (2015). Transition to school: Times of opportunity, expectation, aspiration, and entitlement. In J. M. Iorio & W. Parnell (Eds.), Rethinking readiness in early childhood education: Critical cultural studies of childhood (pp. 123-140). Palgrave Macmillan.
Einarsdottir, J. (2011). Icelandic’s children’s early education transition experiences. Early Education and Development, 22(5), 737–756. https://doi.org/10.1080/10409289.2011.597027.
Fabian, H., & Dunlop, A. W. (2007). Outcomes of good practice in transition processes for children entering primary school. Working Papers in Early Childhood Development, No 42. Bernard van Leer Foundation. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ ED522698.pdf.
Wilders, C., & Levy, R. (2021). “I don’t really like the thing what you do, I like it more because you get the stickers”: The impact of rules and rewards on children’s transition experiences. International Journal of Early Years Education, 29(4), 391–404. https://doi.org/10.1080/09669760.2020.1759401