As the summer draws to a close, young people across the country head back to school with a mix of emotions and experiences. For some, this autumn might bring a new teacher, new subjects or a new school entirely. Many might be worried about harder subjects or the exams they will embark on this year, or maybe they feel excited and optimistic about what is ahead.
As teachers and support staff it can be helpful to think through what we can do to help make this next transition a smooth one for our students. So how can you help students settle in well this year?
Before jumping into the new school year, it’s helpful to take a moment to reflect on the last year. Take a bit of time to pause and think about how the last year went. What went well for you and your students? What felt hard work or frustrating? Are there any areas of encouragement you can think about or points for praise?
Using this time to reflect can be a helpful way to learn from your experiences and encourage yourself in what’s working well. This will allow you to better support your new students as they settle in. As you reflect, try to then see the new year as a fresh start and a new beginning. If you’ve had a difficult year previously, this doesn’t need to taint what is to come. Remember this is true for your students too. Sometimes children come into your class with baggage from last year, ways they were treated, relationships they had with teachers or peers. Try not to make assumptions about new students before you have got to know them for yourself.
2) Build positive relationships with students and parents
From the beginning of the year, try to start the process of building positive relationships with each of your students. Perhaps you could do some activities early on in the year to get to know them better or offer some times in the week where you are available to chat with them if they would like to. Make sure anything you offer is manageable and something you can follow through with. Think about how you can communicate your support for them early on so that they know they can come to you with any of their concerns. It’s also important to develop positive relationships with their parents too, this will look different depending on the age of your students. Try to keep them in the loop where possible, sharing both the encouragements and challenges you are seeing in their child.
3) Encourage connections amongst students
Another way to help your students settle in is to encourage connections amongst themselves. Think about activities you can do early on that encourage collaboration and getting to know one another. Try to listen to the chatter before and after lessons to better understand the things they are passionate about or interested in. Help them to listen to one another and check in with each other.
Perhaps there are ways you can encourage their individuality so that they know it’s okay to feel different from one another. Often young people can struggle because they feel isolated and alone. Helping them to see that their individuality is important and something to be celebrated will help them to feel more comfortable and secure.
4) Think about your environment
The physical environment of a classroom can make a huge difference to how comfortable students feel. Use your personality and creativity to make your classroom a space that helps them to learn and makes them feel welcomed. Perhaps you could ask students to come up with some ideas for this.
It’s also helpful to think about the mood and tone of your classroom too. How do staff interact with students? Are there moments of fun and laughter? All of these factors contribute to a space feeling safe, secure, comfortable and welcoming.
5) Set boundaries
Students thrive when they clearly understand what is expected of them and what limitations there are in place to keep them safe and promote their development. If you outline from the beginning of the year what your expectations are of them and follow through on these, they will always know where they stand.
Sometimes your firm boundaries can clash with a lack of boundaries experienced at home but this should encourage you to stand firm in those you have set in place for them in school. Frame them in a positive way, and explain why they are so important for them. Boundaries should encourage young people to take risks, make mistakes and learn to fail whilst developing resilience along the way.
6) Be conscious of children more at risk
It can be helpful to be aware of some of the risk factors affecting your students so that you can be conscious of those who might find it particularly difficult to settle. Some risk factors include those intrinsic within a child such as genetic conditions, SEND needs, developmental delays, physical illness or pre-existing mental health issues.
Risk can also come from situations within the wider family such as bereavement, separation, abuse, criminality or parents who face mental health issues. School situations can put some children more at risk, for example through bullying, discrimination, friendship issues, peer pressure or poor relationships with school and staff. Finally it is good to be conscious of those for whom their wider community puts them at risk such as those with a socio-economic disadvantage and those who lack access to support.
7) Look out for signs that they're not okay
As your students settle into the new year, take note if any of them seem to change in their mood or behaviour over time. This can often be a sign that they are struggling with something and may benefit from some extra support. Some signs to look out for are:
- Becoming withdrawn
- Acting out
- Friendship changes
- School refusal/increased absence
- Lack of interest or motivation
- Heightened emotions such as sadness, anxiety or anger
- Risk taking behaviour
- Self critical
If you become concerned about a child, chat to them about it. Offer your support and signpost them to other people they can reach out to if they need help. Invite others into this conversation if you feel overwhelmed, don’t feel you have to support them all on your own.
You won’t get everything right and will make mistakes along the way but taking the time to help your students settle in over the next few weeks will let them know they are valued and you are there to support them this year.