Transition to School

Sep 10, 2017 by

How can school leaders help students to successfully navigate the new academic year? Here are a few suggestions.

Understanding the issues that are on the minds of students and parents as they transition back into the milieu of the school environment is an essential component of being a successful school leader. Back to school time is very important for every student. It can be a difficult period for them and their families. Students may have become used to the freedom of summer vacation and they are not able to adjust to the discipline of the classroom. Then some young people are very anxious about having a new teacher, classmates and even a new school. All of this causes elevated anxiety for most students who are even used to these changes.

Sending their children back to school is very difficult for many parents who are experiencing some form of financial difficulty or hardship of any kind.  The start of the academic year can lead to real practical problems for students and this could impact their ability to adapt to their new environment and even their learning outcomes.

A school leader, be they a principal or a district superintendent should be aware of the special challenges that arise. Failure to adapt to a new learning environment can be detrimental to those students education that they serve.  A leader needs to be aware of the issues and to strategize for these up and coming challenges to mitigate their impact on their students.

Back to School Anxieties

New experiences are exciting and can be intimidating. This is the case with attending the first day back at school after summer vacation. Many children relish the challenge of a new academic year. There are many who fear change and how it impacts them. Many students are worried about their teacher and their peers in the classroom. Will they fit in? Then there are concerns over the new curriculum and the expectation that more demands are placed on students than last year. Many students are concerned about just being made fun of or constant harassment or bullying. Certain groups of children are more likely to be anxious than others.   Among these are children who have special learning needs and who often find academic learning challenging.  Then there are those students who have transferred from another school. These anxieties are real and can cause real upset for students.

Several studies have shown that anxiety can have the following consequences. Students who are anxious generally do not perform as well in the classroom and in evaluations. This is because of a series of factors, including a reluctance to engage with their teachers, a lack of confidence and a reluctance to participate in learning. There are several ways that a school leader can relieve the fears of students and help them to re-integrate back into the learning community.   School leaders should make clear to faculty and staff that students’ anxieties about a new school year are real and needs to be addressed. The importance of students adapting to the new academic year should be stressed to the teachers. A school leader can and persuade their staff to be available to students.   Communications can be very helpful in reducing stress and anxiety.  It is important that school staff help the students with their challenges and if necessary even refer them to guidance. Teachers can be encouraged to outline the positive aspects of the coming year, such as field trips. They can engage in positive messaging and stress the positives about the academic year and reassure everyone that they have the capabilities to succeed, this can help the members of their classroom to stay engaged.  The school principal should inform parents that they can contact him or her on any issue relating to a student’s anxieties. Teachers need to understand that they need to be available for any parent and to help them with their concerns.  That means returning emails within a two day time frame. Special care must be taken with students who are new to the school and those that have special needs. School leaders may take interventions to make sure that they are integrating successfully into the school environment.  They can suggest that their parents use technology such as apps to help these young people with their concerns and anxieties.

Disadvantaged Students

Back to school time can be very difficult for those students whose families are deprived or socially excluded. They may lack some of the basics for school. They may not have the clothing or the books that students are expected to have for the academic year.   This is particularly the case among minorities. Many families relying on social services or who are living on or below the poverty line find school registration fees, athletic fees and supplies exclusionary. This can lead to a student becoming anxious or even missing out on certain extra- curricular activities that are important for their development and education.

A school leader can help the situation in the following ways. Leaders can make sure that any costs associated with education are kept as low as possible and if practical, they should be abolished. One local school district has a fund for any parent that cannot pay the mandated athletic fees. This is necessary to close the achievement gap in schools.  Budget constraints are a problem for every school leader and if they are not able to minimize or abolish certain school expenses then they should adopt a pragmatic approach to their payment. They need to communicate with those parents who find it difficult to come up with these fees and decide on alternative ways for these families to pay, e.g. a prolonged payment plan. This can take the pressure off hard-pressed parents and allow children to successfully matriculate into the new year.

The biggest portion of a parent’s Back to School budget is spent on clothing. It can account for 93% of all costs at the start of the academic year. A school leader can help parents by ensuring that school clothing required is not unnecessarily expensive. This can help students from poorer backgrounds not to feel conscious of their family’s lack of resources and improve their prospects of quickly adapting to the new academic year.


Back to school, New School Year, student anxiety, school costs, anxiety.

Comment Below on what innovative strategies your school or school district uses to help students adjust to the new school year.


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Copland, M. A. (2003). Leadership of inquiry: Building and sustaining capacity for school improvement. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 25(4), 375-395. Retrieved from:

Ladd, G. W. (1990). Having friends, keeping friends, making friends, and being liked by peers in the classroom: Predictors of children’s early school adjustment?. Child Development, 61(4), 1081-1100. Retrieved from:

Skinner, E. A., & Belmont, M. J. (1993). Motivation in the classroom: Reciprocal effects of teacher behavior and student engagement across the school year. Journal of Educational Psychology, 85(4), 571-581. Retrieved from:


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