Want to know what your child's school staff really hope to see in the first few days of the new school year?
Just what are their expectations, of both you and your child?
To answer these questions and more, WhichSchoolAdvisor.com spoke with: Nick Arnsby, maths teacher at Jumeirah Baccalaureate School, Jenny Stephen, the ex-executive director at Hartland International School, Mike Embley, principal at Nord Anglia International School Dubai, Joanne Taylor, grade 5 teacher at Jumeirah Baccalaureate School Dubai and Helen Black head of primary at Dubai British School- Jumeirah Park, also in Dubai.
What are the biggest issues you see in class the first few days into the new school year?
Nick: Rubber necking, feeling tired, not enough sleep and jet lagged!
Mike: Pupils learning new routines is perhaps the one that most people think we think about the most... but in fact this is only really true in Early Years (and very important!).
For older students in both primary school and secondary school the most important area that teachers keep an eye on is in fact social. Making sure that no one is 'left out'. Perhaps the shy quiet child needs a different kind of helping hand from the teacher to establish friendships than the outgoing one, but all children think about who they will be sitting next to on the first day.
Joanne: Teachers wish to build strong relationships with the parents of their class so communication will be the foundation for this. Please ensure contact information is up to date so that parents will receive all communications and be contacted easily if the need should arise. Many questions parents have, are often answered through such communications. Children will be tired, which can lead to them being slightly more emotional. This may result in them sharing partial anecdotes of events that have occurred during school so if you feel you need to discuss them with the teacher, we would very much appreciate it if you digested the information first and approached us in a patient manner. After a two month vacation that has often been spent with immediate family and close friends, children need to re-establish themselves in a larger group with new dynamics. This process takes a little time and can lead to some initial misunderstandings. Be reassured that the teachers will work through them with the children.
Helen: The biggest issues are usually centred around class relationships, children getting to know one another and forming friendships. It can also be difficult for some children if they have come from a completely different system or environment. It may take a few weeks to adjust. Getting used to the new environment which is often bigger than they have been use to can be daunting for some children and parents. If families encourage positive conversations about change and new beginnings at home before the new school year this always helps.
What are the likely issues children may have in the first few weeks of school?
Nick: The shock of being as free as a bird (maybe being a full-time gamer) to school regime, where they are not in complete control of their time or demands on it!
Many students 'default' setting is 'me' not 'we'. By this I mean that gaming, i-pod, social media are pulling students away from 'real world' socialising and toward 'virtual socialising'. One just needs to go to any restaurant and see a table of 5 friends not talking, with an eerie blue glow around their faces, pecking on their devices.
You can't make those true lifelong friends if your nose is always in your iPad. Parents need to encourage a device plan at home e.g. no devices during dinner etc.
And, remember… be friendly, asking for help is a strength not a weakness... It takes teamwork to make the dream work.
Mike: Finding friends. This is key during these first few weeks. Friendship groups shift and are dynamic of course but teachers keep a very close eye on this. It might be a simple word of encouragement or teachers making room at a dining table that might appear full. It’s a thousand small things not a single big thing. As principal of an academic school it might seem odd that I should stress this point again but I am concerned with the practical much of the time.
Joanne: The first few weeks of a new school year place many pressures on new children. Please take the time to establish routines at home as this will benefit your child in the school environment. Homework expectations for each grade will be explained to you at the start of the year. Keeping extra-curricular activities to a minimum will allow your child the time to be eased back in. If your child is new to the school, arranging playdates will allow your child to build relationships with their classmates.
Helen: The biggest issues are usually around settling and making new friends. We are very lucky that all of our children are new and our teachers will have a particular focus on settling and friendship/social skills in the first few weeks while we become a school community. Parents can help with this by encouraging positive conversations about making new friends and how to be a good friend before children start.
It also helps to role-play with young children how it feels when someone is kind to you and how you can help others who may look lost in the playground. Talk about the strategies and language we use for making friends, this will give children a good toolkit to use when they are in the position to make new friends.
What should parents expect in the first few weeks of school?
Jenny: They should expect their child to be well taught. It's more what they shouldn't expect, like massive amounts of homework, glowing progress in every subject or a place in the first team. Children need time to breathe in those first few weeks. If they have a happy and secure start to the year they're far more likely to stay happy throughout it.
Mike: A chance to come in and see the classroom and meet the teacher before school starts is actually more important to parents than many things that occur during the first few weeks of school. That being said the first couple of weeks should be the time that parents can come into the school on a formal basis and get a picture from the schools leadership team about where the school is going. It is important to reinforce these points every single year otherwise the schools values tend to become rather lost in the melee of day to day items.
Joanne: The first few weeks are a learning curve for everyone so PATIENCE is crucial. Children need the time to acclimatise to their new learning environment, as they will learn new routines, meet new children and build an initial bond with their new teacher. Teachers also need time to teach these routines, provide activities for the children to bond and relax into their new classroom and also to begin to recognise all of you. There will be a session where all the parents of the class will be invited into school to meet the teacher so information can be shared and any questions may be answered. Please give yourselves time during this crucial period. It can be very hectic in the morning re-establishing routines so it is important to build the habit of preparing everything the night before, once timetables have been distributed, to reduce the likelihood of essentials such as PE kits being forgotten. Depending on the grade of the child, teachers will also perform ‘back to school’ assessments to gauge where the children are in their understanding after the two-month vacation. There is nothing to worry about and no need to prep your child for these. Teachers would like children to be as relaxed and stress-free as possible.
Helen: There will be lots of information given to parents, try to come to coffee mornings, induction meetings and meet the teacher evenings. This will give you a much better idea of what your child will experience. We will be asking you to sign up for extra curricular clubs, parent reps, parent volunteers and explaining a lot about the systems in school and our curriculum during the first few weeks.
Expect younger children to be tired and all children to be full of exciting stories about their new friends and teachers. For Key Stage One children the tears can occasionally come after a week or so, once they realise that they are going to school every day for the foreseeable future...so don't be concerned by this. Your child may come home and describe things that are different to your own experiences of school, if you are at all concerned speak to the class teacher at the end of the day or make an appointment to see them. The senior leadership team all have an open door policy and will be very visible in school so if you have any concerns at all- just ask!
What signs should parents look out for in the first few weeks which would indicate their child may be experiencing issues?
Nick: Normal parental rules apply. It's very difficult to adopt a one size fits all approach to this.
As a parent you know your child best, and unusual behavior for them may need following up. Normally this is just resolved by a chat and some parental wisdom…..a problem shared etc. However, schools in particular form tutors and counsellors are always happy to provide any support and guidance which may aid the situation.
Jenny: Why should parents expect issues? Watch out for self-fulfilling prophecies- where the child senses their parents' fear and becomes more vulnerable. Any parent knows if their child is troubled, but it's better for them and your blood pressure to assume they're not going to be. And if they are, schools are well used to dealing with them. So the lesson is to trust your child and to trust the school. If the parents model anxiety, the children will be anxious.
Mike: The first couple of days can be stressful and not all children enjoy them. They might express anxiety but I would urge parents not to overreact. A child needs to learn problem solving skills as well as academic skills. It is quite natural to be apprehensive. Many children love their first days of school but some do not. This does not mean that there is a problem. However if, after perhaps 10 days or so, your child is still not enjoying their new school or is withdrawn at home or making excuses (such as tummy ache or phantom headaches) then I would suggest requesting a meeting with the teacher.
Joanne: Please be assured that teachers will make contact with you if they feel your child may be experiencing difficulties in the school environment. However, if you notice any specific changes with your child in the home environment such as them informing you they are ill every morning before school, even though they are perfectly healthy, you may wish to meet with your child’s teacher so you can discuss any possible causes for this.
Helen: If their child is quieter than usual or doesn't want to go to school or comes home and tells them anything that concerns them speak to their class teacher. It is very unusual for any child not to enjoy spending time in an environment like ours so we are hoping that any problems will be very easily fixed. Often it just needs a little time, team work and some honest, open discussion.
What in your view are the top three things parents should do in the first 2 weeks of school to help their children ease happily into the new school year?
1. Help foster a positive 'can do attitude.'
2. Ensure Time Management Infrastructure is implemented.
3. Sleeping routines and strategies for device control. re: distraction and hindering social skills.
Jenny: Let me and the school get on with it! There's one thing parents need to do at the start of the year, throughout it and throughout a child's life. Provide unconditional love. If parents make a fuss over the start of the school year, don't be surprised if the child picks it up, amplifies it and sends it straight back to you with added interest.
The top three things you can do: relax and listen, relax and enjoy, relax and trust!
Mike: Don’t fuss too much! Let them get on with it. Children enjoy school for the vast majority of the time and many don’t in fact benefit from “helicopter parents”. Make sure you go to school events that parents are requested to attend, make sure you go to their plays, sports days and recitals. And definitely their parents evenings. Show support and interest in their learning. I think that’s quite enough!
Joanne: Follow these simple rules...
1. Be strict with bed times and sticking with the bedtime routine. Sleep is crucial!
2. Find time to discuss their timetable with them. Make a nightly plan of the things they need to pack ready for the following day at school, (younger children may not be able to read so pictures can be printed off for them to see what they need).
3. Leave home with plenty of time to arrive at school so that children have a relatively calm start to their day. We know it can be very emotional for parents to leave their child with a new teacher, particularly if it is their first time at school. Children may find this separation equally challenging. Please remain calm as possible as emotional extremes can make this even more difficult for your child. Tell them that you love them and that you cannot wait to hear about their exciting day when you pick them up later.
4. Trust us and believe we will do the very best we can for your child
Helen: Make sure you have signed up to the appropriate parent communication channels and that you check every day in your child's school bag, on communicator and on the school website. This is essential for knowing what is happening at school.
Get your child into a positive routine. Make sure they arrive on time with everything they need, make sure they are collected on time with a smile at the need of the day. Also ensure that they go to bed early so they are not tired and have breakfast before they come to school to ensure their brains are nourished and ready for all the new learning! Make sure drinking water becomes part of their routine.
Don't stress! be positive about your child's new school, new friends and ask about their day. Be enthusiastic when they bring their homework project home and if they say something concerning try to respond calmly with a laid back attitude. Then discuss it with their class teacher the following day. Build positive relationships with the staff at school, trust that we only want the very best for your child.