The word ‘transition’ is one you will hear banded around a lot right now as children finish one year of school and prepare to go on to the next. There are certain times that are felt to to be ‘key’ transitions such as starting nursery, nursery to P1, P7 to secondary, but for a child with attachment issues, each and every transition is key for them and it needs to be handled with care. Lets have a look at what our good old dictionary deems as the meaning of ‘transition.’
Transition – (verb) undergo or cause to undergo a process or period of transition.
A transition is not an ending and a new beginning, but rather a gradual move from one to another. In terms of school, the key people to transition between are the class teachers. The end of term is unfortunate in that it hampers the process of transition somewhat by creating a natural end (of term) and a new beginning (new term) with a HUGE gap in between – 7 weeks in our case. Obviously, this is inevitable, but what it does, is forces us to heighten the importance of either side of the the holiday. Just because the calendar says that the term is to end, that does not mean in any way, shape or form, that our children are ready for the relationship with the teacher they have spend a year building up, to end. It is therefore up to educators to ensure that that relationship remains, but with a new one added in (with the new teacher), to gradually take prominence.
I am absolutely over the moon with how amazingly my boys’ school dealt with this transition. Both find change very unsettling and it causes a huge amount of stress and anxiety at home, with some CPV (Child to parent violence) added in to the mix. However, I saw a huge change in both boys this year as a direct result of the planning and execution of transitional activities that took place.
Lets start with Tom. If you have read my blog for a while (thank you 🙂 and if not, get reading!!), you will know that due to multiple moves through the care system, prior to coming to join our family, Tom really struggles with change. It is for this reason, that the school decided last year to keep the same class teacher with him, moving in to P5. This worked amazingly, but I was slightly concerned how he would take the change this year. The school identified as early as possible who his new teacher was to be, and informally (without Tom knowing), she began making a point of just saying hello and chatting to him when the opportunity should arise in the corridors. The teacher then went away on school camp with Tom alongside the current teacher. He came home telling me how lovely that teacher was – I already knew that she was to be his teacher for next year so was doing secret fist pumps without him seeing! When the teacher lists were revealed to the pupils, I was expecting a build up of anxiety, but it just never came. I think he could already tell that things would be okay. At the official end of term, I was again thinking that this might be the time for him to have a meltdown about the loss of the wonderful teacher he had had for the past two years, but again, it just never happened. The new teacher had worked so hard to build up enough of a relationship with him prior to him even knowing that when he found out she was to be his teacher, all anxiety and fear had been removed. He was also left with a very key message from his previous teacher. She reminded him that this was not the end of their relationship – she would be in the school albeit with another class, but that he could come and see her and speak to her anytime he liked. She told him this, told me the same and asked me to really reinforce it to him at home. She really understood that the relationship that they had built up was still key to his continuing success.
Just before the beginning of the new term, Tom went in to school to spend some time just getting to know his new teacher. He came out laughing and genuinely excited for the term to begin. We went in again the day before the start of term and took in some cakes he had made and he again spoke with the new teacher. Her parting words were to tell him that they would just be doing some getting to know you activities for the first week and that she was really looking forward to getting to know him. Wow, what a powerful message for him to go home with. I could not be happier with the way staff in particular had built a transition around Tom and ensured that his needs were central to it all.
Tiny had a similar experience. His new teacher was actually to be one that Tom had already had in a previous class and so this was an excellent link for Tiny. She was able to start taking Tiny out of class for short sessions before the holidays so they could start getting to know one another. She also took the whole class for some of the days at the end of term so that she became a familiar part of the class and Tiny’s experiences. Prior to the end of term, photographs were taken of her with Tiny as well as photographs of their new classroom. This was the perfect visual prompt for Tiny during the holidays to remind him that his new classroom would be a safe place because he already had a relationship built up with his new teacher.
Again, before the new term, Tiny went to spend some time, with with the Nurture teacher and his new class teacher and also took in cakes the day before term began.
Normally, I would have two boys extremely anxious and unable to sleep the night before going back to school, and also the morning of going – they would be up extremely early and unable to relax. I just didn’t have this. Both were excited but in a positive way, the anxiety they could have felt had been greatly reduced.
This really is a prime example of a ‘transition’ rather than an ending/beginning.
For me, the success of this transition relied solely upon the people involved and the relationships they had with the boys. Sadly, there was one incident that happened within the holidays that actually could have sabotaged the work of all of those involved. When I explain this incident, I’m not doing it to have a ‘dig’ at the teacher, but I merely want it to highlight the importance of staff truly understanding attachment and what their actions can do to potentially cause harm.
During one of the many days in the school holidays, we visited a local park where we were going to be meeting up with some wonderful fellow adopters and their children. As we were getting ourselves out the car, I noticed Tiny’s teacher from the year just gone, walking towards the park, past our car. I pointed her out to Tiny and he began waving. She appeared to look in our direction, as he was waving, but she turned away and continued walking. We headed to the park where she was (and we were going too) to find that Tiny’s new teacher was also there as well. His new teacher was so excited to see Tiny and Tom too (who she previously taught) and was asking them all about their holidays. She shouted to me that she had seen us driving in and was waving to us, but we never saw her. She chatted away with the boys for a good 10 minutes and all the time, Tiny’s previous teacher who was standing right next to them, never even said hello to Tiny. Now, I get it, when you are a teacher and you are on your holidays, a lot of of the time, you really cringe when you end up seeing children and parents from school because you just want a break from ‘work.’ But what this teacher didn’t get, was that Tiny didn’t know that and he had spent a year with her and wasn’t ready to just be ignored. Thankfully, the enthusiasm and love radiating from the new teacher was enough to mask this glaringly obvious situation and I am grateful that Tiny didn’t appear to notice.
The key message as I’ve already said is relationships. Get those right, and not only will you have a child who begins to trust you, but you will help them see that you won’t ‘forget them’ because that is always their greatest fear.
If your children have returned to school, what was their transition like? Schools, what measures did you put in place to help reduce anxiety levels of your most vulnerable pupils coming back to school? I loom forward to hearing your stories in the comments.