January 21, 2022
I’d been planning this blog post for the beginning of the Spring term for a few months, sketching ideas, refreshing my memory from past experience, etc. I remember how crazy it can be to come back after Winter Break, ready to tackle the last half of the year and finally feel like you were making progress, then change happens. Or worse, you found out day before the start of break but couldn’t do much over the gap. I have had to change subjects, move rooms, do both, and even moved schools midyear. It’s stressful, but if done properly, can go smoothly for all involved.
As luck would have it, earlier today, I talked with my Principal and am…taking over a classroom mid-year, so to speak, in the virtual world. As things change, people move and our students get shifted since they are all at different paces and places. In my particular situation, I am moving from a virtual lab teacher working with brick-and-mortar schools on a set schedule to the same course, but with students that are home schooled or taking the course independently, in addition to their regular school day.
While my virtual experience will be a little different than a brick-and-mortar school experiences, there are some basic guidelines that can help any teacher transitioning into a new classroom with students that are already established in that class.
ASK FOR TIMELINES AND SUPPORT To be successful, be clear on timelines for the transition. Ask when the change will start and when it will be completed, how long you have to transition, if you will have coverage or be expected to teach while transitioning. You may need help moving your items to a new location and clearing out the new room if you are physically moving classrooms (I’ve done this and know how hard it can be!), so be sure to ask if someone is available to help you or if you are able to enlist the help of students during a particular class or all classes one day. Also be sure to ask what you need to do to wrap up what you are leaving behind. You may need to leave your lesson plans or even have the replacement teacher shadow you to learn, so ask!
FOCUS ON TEACHING This may seem like a no brainer, but many of us in the field are nurturers and caretakers by nature, so we focus on making our classrooms welcoming and visually appealing–and there is no shame in this! But, sometimes there isn’t downtime between the old and new and we don’t want to lose momentum with learning. If you can’t get a weekend or a couple of days of coverage to move, you can work on the room before/after school or do it slowly so you can focus on their skills. A clean and clear room isn’t a bad environment, and you can slowly get things organized and settled the way you like it. I often need to “live” in the new space for a bit to see how I will use it anyway. Also, make reviewing those IEPs and learning plans a priority in the first day or two, or even before you start with the kids, if possible. You want to be aware of struggles that may pop up fast and get ahead of them.
TRANSITION SLOWLY Change can be hard on everyone, but so much more so on students. They have a new person, teaching style, greeting and decor to get used to, so try to make changes a little at a time. If you are taking over due to students being behind from a long term sub or learning struggles, it may be best to keep the room and seating the same and get them into the new routine of how they will work and learn, then change gradually. I learned the hard way one year that changing everything all at once can backfire–especially when the teacher leaving didn’t tell them they were leaving until the day before and didn’t give them a “why”. The kids were resentful and we had a lot of issues until I figured this out and we addressed it.
COMMUNICATE Be sure to chat with your parents and students, as well as your old and new teaching teams. The students may have the biggest issue, especially younger ones, since they often form attachments with their teacher. If you are able to, give a WHY, but remember not to share too much or say negative things. Sometimes a change is necessary, even when nothing is wrong, and that can be hard for some to understand. It’s good to share your methods of communication and expectations, as well as methods. If you had the joy of working with the teacher you are taking over for, sharing similarities in teaching style or personality can help. Take the time to talk everyday about how they are handling the transition. Some may be comfortable with an anonymous ticket out the door to give honest feedback. Take it in stride if it isn’t positive, not all students can express emotions in a positive way, so just be grateful they are being honest and go from there.
SURVEY THEM This goes along with communication–survey your parents and students about things they liked or would like to see change, as well as preferred times and methods of communicating and what they want you to know about the student to help them succeed. Just keep it brief–a few quick questions should get you what you need to know. You can get this information by a phone call or sending a link to a google form via text or email (whichever is allowed or preferred) to make it quick and easy to sort and organize. It’s also good to continue checking in with them for several weeks to see how they are adapting. If someone is struggling, chat with your guidance office for support.
Most of all, give yourself and your students grace throughout this process. Talk to a coworker or trusted leader at school about how things are going and to seek advice if there are obstacles. No one expects you to have your rhythm in a new class from day one, so capitalize on drawing from experts that are not in a beginning of year frenzy. And remember, there’s a reason you were chosen for this change–you handle change well, you are amazing in your craft, you are very similar to the teacher they are losing and will fit in well–so have confidence in you.
Be sure to share below other success tips you have in the comments! I am by no means and expert and transitions will always be around. I am sure others would love to gather ideas from a variety of teachers and experiences!