Friday, November 14, 2008

Maintaining a Positive Classroom Environment: Handling Student Transitions

Before school started you probably spent quite a bit of time determining how you would welcome your students and create a positive classroom environment for them. You may have implemented special introductions, ice-breakers, and bonding type activities. But what do you do when students arrive during the school year? It can be difficult to add a new personality into a mix of people that seems to be working well. How can you make the transition smooth for all your students?

First, have a welcome packet prepared in advance. This packet should include all the information/handouts you passed out during the first day and week of school. Your new students will need to know your homework and grading policy, your discipline plan, the expectations and procedures of the classroom, and a little bit of information about you. Some of this may have been communicated verbally at the start of school. You should take some time to write down any of this information not included in a handout since you will not have time to go over it all again every time you receive a new student.

Packet Materials:

  • Welcome letter and Goody Bag (maybe spirit items such as a pencil, badge, or sticker)
  • List of classroom expectations and consequences for not meeting expectations
  • List of classroom procedures
  • Homework policy/information
  • Grading policy/information
  • A Teacher information sheet – what do students and their parents need to know about you? You might include your philosophy of teaching (how you operate), your pet peeves (so students know what NOT to do), and a little background information about yourself. Try to remember the spiel you gave your students at the beginning of the year and write it down.
  • Student Information Sheet/Get to Know Sheet (this may have been an activity you did with the other students the first or second day of class)
  • Parent Information Sheet (parents fill out to give you contact information, let you know whether they are interested in volunteering, bring you up to date on what is going on with their child/comments and concerns from the previous school to help you)

Second, develop a tradition within the classroom for introducing the new student. Being introduced by the teacher can be incredibly embarrassing for most new students. Instead, try to find a student within the classroom who is both well-liked and compassionate. Introduce the new student to that person and ask him/her to make the introductions around class and school. Can you find a way to make this an honored “position”? One of your class jobs could be that of “Ambassador” with several students on the list. Have students apply for this job and set specific requirements to be met in order to be considered. Make it a position of esteem with extra freedoms or benefits attached to it. This will help make being an ambassador a highly sought position within the classroom.

Part of the job of Ambassador should be as an advocate for the new student. As such, you should take some time to train your ambassadors in ways to be a positive advocate. One example would be inviting the new student to join him/her for lunch. This is a wonderful time for the new student to be introduced to another group of people. Another example is to offer the “low-down” on the other teachers of the school. What does each expect from students? What is acceptable and not acceptable to do in each class? This kind of information will help keep students (especially secondary students) from making unwitting mistakes which may haunt them throughout the year. Remember to tell your ambassadors that an advocate is someone who helps, defends, and watches out for another person.

Throughout the year you should also set aside time for the class to participate in bonding/ice-breaking activities. These won’t necessarily be name games, but rather activities that help students rely on one another and get to know each other better. This allows new students a chance to bond with other students within the class and form deeper relationships with their new classmates. It isn’t time wasted, either. Building relationships between the teacher and the students as well as between the students themselves maintains a positive classroom culture. This in turn helps prevent discipline issues which cause distractions and lost learning time.

The other half of this coin deals with the issue of students leaving in the middle of the year. How can you help these students transition? Leaving the familiar and facing the unknown can be very traumatic for students. There may be times when you are given several days or weeks notice before a student leaves. Other times you may not find out until the day the student leaves. The worst scenario is when you don’t find out until after the student is already gone. So what can you do? Below are a few suggestions to help with closure and transition:

  • Have a few (or a stack) of “Good Bye” or “We’ll Miss You” cards ready to go.
  • Have students in the class sign the card and write messages to the student who is leaving.
  • Give the card to the student OR mail to the address on file in the school office. Most people have their mail forwarded and the student will receive the card.
  • Use a paper bag instead of a card. Have students sign and write messages on the bag. Allow students to put personal messages, photos, or small appropriate items as “going away gifts”. Include a message of encouragement from yourself and some candy or a pencil and bookmark inside the bag. Staple it shut and give to the student before he/she leaves.

Call the student before he/she moves and offer words of encouragement. You might even give out your school email address so the student can write and let you know how everything is going at the new school. Sometimes this link to the familiar can provide a strong system of support to a student who moves.

Whether coming or going, remember that developing and maintaining relationships with students is the key to developing a positive classroom environment and the respect of your class.


How do you currently welcome new students to your classroom? Do you have a packet of information ready to pass out as soon as a student enters? What is included in your packet? How might you utilize the other students in helping to make the new student feel more welcome in the classroom? What are some other activities you might incorporate to help the new student become a part of your classroom culture? Do you feel the idea of student ambassadors would be helpful in welcoming new students to you class? Why or why not? Do you currently do anything special to say good-bye to a student who is leaving? Why or why not? What do you do, if anything? Why do you think it would be helpful to have some way of saying good-bye to students leaving the school? What strategy do you think would work best for you and your class?

Inspirational Thought:
“Where did we ever get the crazy idea that in order to make children do better, first we have to make them feel worse? Think of the last time you felt humiliated or treated unfairly. Did you feel like cooperating or doing better?”
~Jane Nelson

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