Every new school year, teachers welcome a new crop of students into their classroom fold. Making those who are new to the building feel connected and supported is a crucial part of building a positive classroom and school climate.
An even bigger challenge than students who are entering the school’s lowest grade level are young people who have transferred into the district, possibly once the school year is already underway. It can be difficult for transfer students to not only leave friends behind at another school, but also to be surrounded by new classmates who already know each other.
While every new-to-the-building student is different, there are a handful of key steps that educators can take to ensure that newcomers feel welcome.
Make time for staff-student connections
During the student’s first week of school, set aside a few brief “chat sessions” when you talk informally about how he or she perceives the new school. You may want to ask questions such as:
With these conversations, you’ll begin building a personal relationship and show students that you are someone they can trust. Be sure to continue to check in with students during the first few months of school.
Facilitate student-student connections
Students who are new to the building often benefit from having a “transition pal” or peer mentor who can “show them the ropes.” Nothing can be more intimidating for a new student than not knowing where the bathrooms are or which lunch line in the cafeteria is the best. A trained and supervised youth mentor (whether the same age or older) can give new students a building tour, engage them in school activities and continue to check in with them periodically throughout the year. Even better, mentors can help newcomers begin making friends.
If a new student has transferred into the district, make sure that his/her classmates have a role in extending the welcome. Ask classmates to imagine how they would feel if they were new to the building, and teach concrete behaviors they can use to ease the transition for the new student. Some of these may include:
Many schools also schedule structured activities where new students get to meet classmates and schoolmates in a fun and relaxed atmosphere. Activities can include icebreakers, scavenger hunts, friendly competitions or games that encourage young people to work in teams to accomplish a goal.
Include parents in the transition process
Another great resource for getting to know new students is their parents. If your school hosts an open house at the beginning of the year, seek out these parents. If time at the open house is short, or if a student has transferred in after the year has already begun, arrange a time when you can discuss any concerns they have about the transition. Because students are often hesitant to admit that they’re having a hard time, parents may offer a more honest assessment of how students are dealing with the change.
You may learn that a new student really loves math, but struggles with it, or that he dislikes language arts class, despite being a talented writer. You may be able to suggest extracurricular groups the student would enjoy based on a parent’s suggestions.
Finally, remember to maintain a watchful eye throughout the school year. Check in with the young person and his/her parents to make sure things are going smoothly, and watch how s/he is adjusting both academically and socially. All of this will make the transition a better experience for the student.