How To Prepare Students For Change
‘The quality of your life is in direct proportion to the amount of uncertainty you are able to live with’.
For some people uncertainty and change are extremely difficult. Some of your students will find change very challenging and may act out by being disruptive or refusing to cooperate when change occurs.
While we cannot eliminate all change from a student’s school day, we can put some strategies in place that help students to cope and hopefully prevent difficult behaviour or meltdowns that may result from their anxiety.
A positive classroom climate provides stability, predictability and certainty that can help prevent off-task, disruptive behaviour in students.
1. Tell students if there is going to be a change of teacher. Let students know in advance if you are going to be away and if possible who their relief teacher will be. This gives them time to get used to the idea and be more accepting of the change.
2. Have a plan if you are away unexpectedly. There will be days when you are sick or have an emergency and you do not have a chance to let students know in advance of your absence.
For these situations, organise that the Deputy or an executive staff member goes to your classroom and let students know. Ideally, this would be someone with whom the students have a relationship, someone they know and trust.
3. Plan for transitions. Students who find change difficult may act out during transitions from the floor to the desk, from playground to classroom, from Maths to Science.
Pre-warning students who have trouble during transition times by using timers, going to a time out space, transitioning before or after everyone else, allowing them additional time to process the change will all help alleviate some of the stress.
Use your knowledge of the student and ask them what will help. If they are able to give you some feedback on how well the strategy works for them that can assist you to evaluate and adjust plans.
4. Use a visual schedule. Think how you feel when you go to a meeting or a PD and you are given an agenda or a schedule so that you know when the breaks are and what time you will finish and also what will be expected of you.
Having this knowledge gives you certainty and helps you organise your time better. All students benefit from the use of a visual schedule to support their learning and reduce anxiety about what is going to happen next.
Use a visual timetable or schedule to let students know what is going to happen in the lesson and during the day.
In a primary classroom, it may mean a daily schedule that lists the lessons for the day with words and pictures.
In a high school classroom, it means breaking the lesson up into blocks of time that include a settling or ‘do now activity, teacher instruction, movement/brain break, group work, individual work and free time.
When students know that they are not going to be expected to sit and listen for an extended period of time, they will be able to regulate their behaviour more effectively.
5. Remove the stress. If a student finds assembly too difficult to manage (evidenced by lack of self-regulation in said assembly) then find an alternative space for the student during that time.
If the student must attend because there is nowhere else to go, reduce the stress as much as possible. You could allow them to wear headphones, sit close to the doorway, sit apart from the class, sit near the teacher or sit on a seat rather than on the floor.
Use whatever strategies work to keep the student calm and inform other students or staff that it is all part of their ‘Success Plan’.
Giving students strategies to deal with change will help them learn to manage their emotional response to change and develop the skills to be effective learners.