The Transition Back to School

Successful transitions from summertime to school.

Preparing for goal setting

For Middle Level

To begin the new school year, before I ask students to develop their goals and declarations, I engage them in a conversation about the abrupt transition they're being asked to make—from summer time off to school. Regardless of how they've spent their vacation, chances are school life will be a dramatic change.

Anticipating this transitional phase, I use our meeting time on our first day to brainstorm with students and create lists of the ways they spent time in the summer. After reflecting on this list, we discuss how they'll be expected to spend their days at school. We look for the differences, name them, and talk about how we can go about getting used to the rigors of school life again. Here is our process.

Summer vs. school year
After forming a circle, we acknowledge as a group that the routines and expectations we live by at home are very different from those at school. I ask students to share reasons why we are governed by different expectations in these two settings. I remind them that our classroom community will become their second home and that we each play a role in shaping it into a healthy and safe one.

To ensure that I reach each student, I let them know that even teachers have to make a transition—from "summer-minded" people with no schedules and no routines to "school-minded" teachers who are responsible for educating young minds. I let them know that they have the power to govern their own actions, but when they are being unsafe, it is my job to guide them back toward responsibility, which, in turn, allows them the opportunity to achieve their goals.

We draw images that represent transformation: a tea cup morphs into a car, for instance, or a hammock becomes a school chair, or an ice cream cone turns into a pencil. This further interests students in the idea of change itself. The playful acknowledgment of the demands of life in school helps set the stage for them to declare specific, attainable goals for the year.

School year routines made real
Finally, we create charts about what school routines might look, sound, and feel like. How will we begin each day? How will we circle up for meetings? What protocols will we use for participating in discussions (hand-raising, calling out, calling on each other)? The more specific I can be with them about appropriate school behaviors, the easier it is to hold them to those behaviors.

This procedure helps my students shift into a school-oriented mindset on a positive, relationship-building note. They see that I care about and appreciate them, and that I have empathy for them. They also see that I expect them to make the leap from summer to fall, and that I will insist they do so. After these discussions, students are better prepared to create meaningful goals and to adhere to our rules, rather than push back against them. Most importantly, they are introduced to a new way of thinking, a way to proactively strategize how to be successful at the beginning of any big transition in their lives.

Dexter Yee Yick taught 5th and 6th graders at New City School in Minneapolis MN.

Published September 2009