Settling in to a new term- excerpt from my making a difference book

Settling in

Focus for the half term

For this half term we are going to be focusing on and thinking about getting to know and build relationships with the children in your class. The first half term is crucial for developing initial relationships and this can often provide the relational template for the rest of the year. We are going to be looking at developing new skills of using reflective language to support this process of you developing new relationships. When you have a new class, you may not know the children’s story, what they live with or have experienced and how this has impacted on them. A child’s experiences outside of school will always have a huge impact on them and affect their ability to focus and engage with their learning. The beginning of the year can be an anxiety provoking and stressful time for both children and school staff and is the time when the initial relationships with your new class are developed. This first half term is crucial for getting to know and develop relationships with the children and I encourage you to invest as much time as you can in this, you will reap the rewards of this later on in the year.

How children may present

There may be children in your new class who you already know a bit about or you may have heard about them from other staff, if this is the case then try and put any preconceived ideas about them to one side and begin with a fresh start to enable you both to have the best chance of success at building a new relationship. The children in your class will come to you with their own experiences of how adults behave and their own sense of how they see the world. This will have a big impact on their ability to feel settled in their new class and their ability to build a relationship with you. Some of the children will experience the world as feeling safe and secure and adults as being consistent and predictable. These children experience the world as safe, fun and exciting and think that other people are generally nice and kind. They usually feel good about themselves, they have a sense of confidence and self-esteem and are able to manage the change to a new class quite easily.

However, other children in your class may have experienced something very different. They may experience the world outside of school as frightening, unsettling and traumatic. They may experience adults as unpredictable, chaotic and overwhelmed. These children can find it hard to feel good about themselves, they may have had periods of their lives where they have been ignored or met with hostility and therefore can find it hard to hold onto and believe positive things about themselves. For these children, the change to a new class and developing a relationship with a new class teacher, can be very stressful and frightening.   It is important to remember that all behaviour from children is a form of communication and provides a useful insight in to how they are feeling.

Relationships

In order to help children to feel settled and secure in their new class, spend as much time as you can getting to know them. This can be done in a relaxed and informal way as well as by providing more structured opportunities too. If the class has been mixed up and they are not used to being together, it will help to do some work on this too so they feel like a more cohesive unit. Spending extra time with a child can have a huge impact on them, and investing just five minutes a day can help with this.  This can be done at lunchtime while you are clearing up or setting out the class and can provide children with a different experience of a staff relationship. The child can be involved in helping put out equipment or tidying the pencils and it enables an informal interaction to take place and the relationship to develop. The outcome for the child is beneficial in terms of relationship experience and developing confidence and self-esteem. The sense of purpose and importance developed by offering children the opportunity to help with jobs enables them to feel better about themselves. However, a note of caution is necessary to ensure that children do not feel they are only of value or importance when they are helping other people, so this needs to be considered when identifying children who may benefit from this additional input.

Possible reasons for their behaviour

Change can be very hard for some children, and developing a new relationship with a new teacher can be difficult for them. Some children will be worried that you will have unrealistic expectations or may not like them, other children may have heard negative things about you from other children. It is essential that you are clear at the beginning with the whole class that the start of the year is a fresh start for everyone, as this will help to reduce anxiety. It is also worth considering the impact of the summer break away from school, for some children this will involve having little structure, few or no rules and boundaries and sometimes not enough sleep. All of these can impact on their first few weeks adjusting to being back at school.

Strategies to try

  • Spend time with the whole class talking about the kind of class they want to have, how they want it to feel etc, depending on their age, encourage them to work in pairs to identify ways they can create this E.g. “We want to feel relaxed, we can do this by helping each other”
  • Be consistent and predictable so the children come to know and trust what to expect from you
  • Acknowledge the changes that are occurring as they are happening E.g. “It can feel really hard and a bit strange at the start of the year as we don’t know each other yet, but we will get to know each other the more we spend time together”
  • Implement a settling in activity with the class where they are encouraged to draw or write about their worries or fears about being in a new class. These can be put in a box for you to look at individually or shared with the class as a discussion. (Keep them as they will be looked at again with the children in the last half term)
  • Use gentle reminders of whole class behavioural expectations E.g. ‘Who can I see that looks ready to listen? Who can I see that looks ready for learning?’
  • Spend time getting to know them by informal discussions before or after lunch or at the end of the day E.g. “Let’s go round the class and everyone say what their favourite colour/thing to eat is”
  • Try to think about the meaning behind any behaviour E.g. Why they are doing something,  rather than just looking at what they are doing
  • Understand that their behaviour is trying to tell you something and communicate to them that you are trying to understand this E.g. “I can see you are really angry and I’m wondering why that is?”

My Making a Difference book is on sale until the end of September. Use code backtoschool at the checkout for a 20% discount to help you settle in this new term.

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