Fidelma Healy Eames, PhD
Change can be daunting at the best of times. Given the uncertainty about school plans for September, it will require an extra dose of flexibility on the part of 6th class pupils finishing school this week. The absence of face-to-face school for the past three months took many teachers off-side and the preparation that would normally be done in intimate settings was removed.
For the past few weeks I’ve been running a webinar on ‘Transition to Second-Level: Preparing for Change’ which has attracted hundreds of parents and their 6th class children. The feedback has been revealing. The main purpose of the talk is to raise awareness about the transition from primary to second-level as a key defining moment in a child’s life, to discuss and examine ways to support them through this significant change.
In a 2016 ESRI study ‘Moving Up: The experiences of first year students in post-primary education’, the authors note ‘the transition from primary to post-primary education has been recognised as a crucial stage in young people's schooling career. Young people's experiences of the transition process can influence their subsequent academic and social development and difficulties during the transfer from primary to post-primary school can contribute to later educational failure’. Certainly, a transition not to be taken for granted.
So how do we help our children? The evidence is that change is not as scary when young people know what to expect.
Taster days and visits to their new second-level school, where this happened, are most helpful. But it also helps to make this topic personal and to tell your story to your child – don’t be afraid to share your significant memories about what you found easy and hard about your transition and importantly, how you coped. It is good to think back so you can walk in their shoes. This will also be a useful reference point for both you and them in the future when they may be faced with an issue they are struggling with. Having shared your story you can genuinely say ‘I understand’ and they’ll be more likely to believe you!
What are the key changes your child will experience?
Changes happens across a number of areas There are school-based organisational changes. It could be summed up as ‘more of everything’ – lots of new faces - more teachers, more students, and more classes, even more lockers. Increased workload changes with homework now being assigned by a number of teachers each day instead of just one teacher. More tests including classroom-based assessments (CBAs) as part of the Junior Cert and the need for the young person to be organised and to begin to take responsibility for their own learning. These are significant changes after the intimacy of one dedicated teacher in primary school. This culture change is sometimes referred to as ‘big fish little fish’ - the senior pupils in primary school a few months ago are now the juniors in their new secondary school. Alongside all of this comes personal changes – physical changes – the longer school day, perhaps travelling on a bus/train, means they will be more tired initially until they adjust to their new timetable. Social changes - being accepted by their peer group is hugely important to them. Managing friendships - making, losing and maintaining friends while all part of growing up can sap a lot of energy and deflect from their schoolwork. Likewise, managing social media is a significant challenge that needs attention. And just when you think this is quite enough for anyone to handle, add in puberty! Puberty is a time of rapid brain development and identity formation, with many emotional changes for boys and girls. Emerson describes it as ‘the passage from the unconscious to the conscious, from the sleep of passions to their rage’. I outline all of this because as parents we need to allow for this. Each change needs to be discussed and prepared for so it doesn’t come as a shock.
Listening to their concerns is vital. Having asked pupils what they are looking forward to and what they are worried about, it is quite normal to hear they are excited and nervous simultaneously. Many list being excited about making new friends, changing classes, more sports, school teams, the canteen and studying new subjects especially practical ones. Common worries listed include being lost or late for class, losing friends, being left out, bullies, getting into trouble, homework, study and tests.
A 2010 study by West et. al revealed that ‘after a year in secondary school (age 13), the majority recalled having had difficulties of adjustment to both school and peer groups at the beginning of secondary education. It was mainly pupils with ‘lower ability and lower self‐esteem, those who were anxious, and less prepared for secondary school, who experienced poorer school transitions’.
So how can you prepare your child to cope?
There are practical things that should be done eg., parents should walk the child through a map of the school, always know where reception is if they get lost, look at the timetable together and discuss which books they need with them before break, after lunch etc. Ask them how they would like to organise their locker, their sports gear, their room for study purposes. Give them the autonomy to tell you what would help them. I recall my son asking for big boxes to separate his stuff. Agree an evening homework routine bearing in mind dinner time and after school activities. Visit the NCCA website and download the pupil passport which invites the child to complete a one-page profile about themselves. This is useful. They can carry this with them and provide a copy for each of their teachers if they are having difficulty communicating. Likewise, the parent can also complete ‘my child’s profile’ from their perspective.
Practical things aside, the real answer to coping with change lies in upskilling your child to be stronger emotionally and socially, so they can be more resilient, and learn to bounce back from setbacks. These are lessons that will serve them their whole life.
As parents we have busy lives. Make an extra special effort to be more available from September to Halloween to help them settle in and get the new routine going. Together you have worked well in getting this far. And remember - your job is not to fix things or to remove frustration, anger, worries or disappointment, your job is to create the safety for them to feel it so they can deal with it. You are giving them their wings!
Dr. Fidelma Healy Eames is a teacher educator and Director of Study and Careers, specialising in Learning to learn, Wellbeing and Careers - www.studyandcareers.ie
For an appointment email: email@example.com or call 091-792017.
Written by Dr. Fidelma Healy Eames & Ms. Sara Hannafin, this text is based on the premise that students learn differently. Beginning with a chapter on helping you to figure out how you learn best, it provides you with a range of strategies and mindset approaches to make your study and learning more effective. It meets the 'learning to learn' intentions of the curriculum.
Successful Studying: Towards Becoming an Independent Learner is a 20 page Student booklet designed by Fidelma Healy Eames, PhD. It provides a menu of activities that supports the work of our Study Skills & Mindset courses at second-level, based on our book 'Switching on for Learning: A Student Guide to Exam & Career Success'.
As parents our intention is to give our children "roots" and give them "wings". Strong roots to help them believe in themselves and to give them a good start in life. Wings to help them set out on their own and become independent.
This journey is not always plain sailing for every child or young person. Some benefit from individual help from time to time. Study & Careers believes in the innate talent and uniqueness of every child. It knows that timely help can enable your learner to overcome challenges they face along the way. To do so, it offers courses for you the parent and one-to-one private consultations to support your student.
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