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.


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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Back to school

Thought this might be useful to help children’s transition back to school and in the coming weeks.

Tips and strategies for school staff.
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Behaviour that may indicate more support is needed with transition

As transition approaches in school, look out for the following behavioural changes that may indicate a child needs extra support:

  • Start to become clingier to you
  • Demonstrate a difficulty managing change
  • Begins asking about their new class and new teacher and what will happen very early in the half term
  • Show signs of being, anxious, upset or worried whenever transition is mentioned

Strategies to try

Identify the children in who may need extra support with the move and start preparing them for this as soon as possible. Provide weekly walks to the new area and acknowledge any feelings this may evoke in them. E.g. “It can feel a bit difficult moving to another part of the school, but remember there will be lots of people to help you feel settled.”

Identify and discuss any significant differences with moving from Key stage one to Key stage two, or from one class to another for example, different playground, change of break or lunchtime.

Encourage each child to make a list of the adults in school they can talk to and approach for help and support if they need it.

Acknowledge and keep revisiting the subject of change and ensure the children know they will be able to talk to you even when they are in their new class with another teacher.

For more strategies see my book

When they have had their transition time with their new teacher, encourage them to identify and discuss the similarities and differences, along with exploring their feelings about them. E.g. “The tables are set out differently, I’m worried who I will be sitting with”.

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Free Reflective Language Poster

This free poster introduces the concept of reflective language with some examples for you to try in school.  Reflective language is a highly effective and easy to use behaviour management approach which I teach to staff in primary schools across the North of England. 

You can learn more by watching my free video which introduces the concept of reflective language and provides further examples for you to use.  It is also one of the strategies encouraged in my Making a Difference guide, a book full of insights and strategies for primary school staff to use to help enhance the emotional well-being and manage the behaviour of the children they work with.

Download the poster here

View my free video here

Find out more about the making a difference guide here

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Is this child being dramatic or is it a lack of resilience?

I observed some behaviour from a 10 year old this week which was referred to as being dramatic and overreacting, which made me wonder about how this child was feeling and what he may have been trying to communicate. He was told he would miss one minute of his golden time on Friday afternoon for calling out in class, which is a common occurrence for him. At this point he said “oh no” did a big sigh and put his head on his desk. His teacher talked to me afterwards about his “dramatic” behaviour and whilst I agreed it was a big reaction to the situation, I encouraged her to think about how what he was actually showing us was how little resilience he has, when losing a minute can seem like the end of the world. The next time you see a child having a big reaction to something small, stop for a minute and think about their level of resilience and how you can work with them to help them to develop it.

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Try a different way of responding to behaviour this week

Instead of the usual way of responding to behaviour which usually involves giving an instruction, try a more exploratory approach and see what happens

Instead of: Try  this:
Sit still I can see you’re finding it hard to sit still, I wonder if it
would help if you came and sat nearer me
I can hear you talking, wonder if you would like me to
explain it again
I can see you haven’t started writing yet, I wonder if you
would like some help

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“I might get it wrong….”

This week a teacher asked me what he could do about a 10 year old boy in his class who kept finding excuses why he couldn’t do much writing in class. The child was often preoccupied, daydreaming and never produced much work. The teacher was becoming increasingly worried about this and had tried keeping him in at break to complete work but even this hadn’t made much difference. I have worked with children who are so anxious about getting things wrong that they don’t even attempt things. The sense of failure for these children is so overwhelming that it can feel safer to opt out altogether rather than risk this happening. I wondered if this child was worried about making mistakes and suggested that he offer him the opportunity to write on loose paper rather than in his book and to explain to him that there is plenty of paper so he can have as much as he needs. I suggested the teacher talk to him about his fear, remind him it’s ok to make mistakes and offer him the chance to glue the paper in his book if he wanted to, but that this was not the main purpose. Watch this space……..

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How to help a child who can’t sit still at carpet time

I am constantly asked by teachers in school how to manage a child who can’t sit still at carpet time so thought it would be useful to share some ideas. I often observe children at this time and these children stand out immediately as they are easily restless and fidgety and distract themselves and the children sitting near them. Oh what to do with these children other than send them away from the carpet, which may be a short term solution but doesn’t help the child or support them to change their behaviour.

These children can activate a whole range of feelings in the adults that are trying to teach them, including frustration, annoyance, irritability and rage, all of which are perfectly understandable but none of which will help the child to change their behaviour. I have seen even the most patient of teachers rise to frustration as they are asking the child politely for the seventeenth time to sit still. You may be familiar with this yourself, you consider yourself to be quite patient and understanding and have good relationships with the children you work with, but having to manage children who show us this behaviour on a regular basis can be a challenge for anyone!

Firstly, it can be useful to think about why a child may be showing us this behaviour. For me, any behaviour from a child is trying to communicate something to us, and it is our job as adults working with children to try and work out what that is. As adults, we can choose to ask for support when we need it, we can reassure ourselves when things are difficult and we have an understanding that difficult things pass and tomorrow is another day and things may feel different then. Children however experience the world very differently; they do not have the same language skills as adults or the same level of cognitive understanding and have not yet developed the skills of positive self talk and self soothing. Children show us how they are feeling and what they need through their behaviour and therefore children who are happy, settled and feeling safe in the world are able to relax, concentrate, sit reasonably still and engage with their learning. There may be a range of possible reasons why a child finds it difficult to sit still at carpet time including:

  • Feeling anxious or worried about something at home or school
  • Not having enough sleep or being hungry
  • Preoccupied with relationships with parents or carers


  • Show the child how to sit, this may sound odd but it works, so sit on the floor with a child and show them how to position their body in a way that’s comfortable and enables them to sit easily.
  • Consider practicalities such as where the child is sat, can they see you easily, can they hear you, are they near distractions, have they got enough physical space.
  • Show the child on the clock or give them a timer so they know how long they are expected to sit for, how many of us have been in situations where its hard to listen and we become preoccupied with how long it will last and thinking about our escape.
  • Make the child a carpet mat to sit on, let them choose some coloured card, cut out a circle large enough to sit on easily and decorate it if they wish. Give the child the responsibility for getting the mat and putting it away. This has worked well with many children as it shows them the parameters of space that is theirs, very helpful with children who find this hard. Show the child how to sit on it and keep their arms and legs inside the shape.
  • Acknowledge even the smallest of successes, for example, “I can see you are trying so hard to keep your legs still, well done for trying.”

Sitting still on a carpet is a task that many adults, myself included would find very difficult, so consider how long the children need to be sat for and how realistic it is to be expect them not to move. The whole class, including those who can manage to sit still would benefit from moving their arms and stretching at least every 5-10 minutes.

Good luck, practise patience and perseverance with anything new you are trying.

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How survival strategies can be misinterpreted

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about how behaviours in school can be misunderstood, its so important that we try and understand the feelings behind the behaviour, rather than making our own judgements and interpretations

  • Hyper-vigilance = being nosy
  • Lack of engagement = being lazy
  • Running off = avoiding work
  • Frequently touching things = interfering
  • Shouting out (poor self-regulation) = being disruptive
  • Lack of empathy = uncaring
  • Inability to understand others feelings = selfish
  • Confrontational = being rude
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The Child who won’t put pen to paper

Does this sound familiar… I’ve had a few conversations with teachers this week about children in their class who are producing very little or no work.   There may be several possible reasons for this behaviour including children being worried about making mistakes and getting things wrong.

If if a child doesn’t actually put anything on the paper then they can’t be told off for getting it wrong or making a mistake. This behaviour can be perceived as being lazy or not bothered. However, it may also due to anxiety. We are only two weeks in to the new school year and children are having to adjust to being back at school, being in a different class and in the majority of cases with a new teacher.  For some children managing all this can be incredibly difficult and cause high levels of anxiety. They are still getting to know your expectations and how you respond to certain situations including what will happen if they get something wrong or make a mistake.

If you have a child in your class who appears to be avoiding starting working or is not producing much work it may be useful to acknowledge this by talking to the whole class and saying “We are still getting to know each other and this can feel hard because you may not know what to expect from me.  Some children may be worried about what I will do if they get something wrong or make a mistake but everyone makes mistakes and gets things wrong sometimes  I make mistakes and have to do things again and but that’s how we learn” .

It can also be helpful to share a story of a mistake you made, how you felt and what you did. This not only provides permission but also models perseverance.

Try this and I’d love to hear how you get on



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