Social & Emotional issues

The Importance of Well Managed School Transitions

International schools are known for having a high degree of turnover and transitions affect everyone involved. Students and their families, staff and teachers. If you are the one moving or staying, the chances are you will be affected by the characteristics of transitions. By transitioning between schools we are talking about students moving from different countries, changing schools systems and/or moving from public to private schooling (and vice-versa).

We need more schools willing to understand the profound impact mobility has on their educational mission and how to better support students and their families, staff and teachers. Research already shows that mobility is affecting our students not only emotionally but also academically.  Schools dealing well with transition will have a step forward on keeping their students happy, attracting new families and maintaining their academic results high.

The Need for a Transition Programme 

As a transition professional and a parent of two third culture kids (TCK), I am fully aware about the need of a comprehensive transition programme in schools. This need is more clear and urgent for all kinds of professionals involved in transitions, being counsellors, coaches or school advisors. As John Hattie’s work and research on Visible Learning says. “Well-managed transition can add significant value to a life and to a learning journey.” On the other end, a badly managed transition can harm both emotionally and academically our students. In other words, it is important to say a proper goodbye to be able to say a clear hello. Schools should be the supporting stone for that to happen.

While we do not have a functioning transition department inside each school, it is my opinion that all schools can benefit from a full time school counsellor and a psychologist that understand the matter at hand. Especially International schools. If you can have one of each of these professionals, you will be increasing even further your chances to succeed in the role of supporting your community. Everybody has to know that this or these professionals are available at all times. Their office location should be, ideally, central and known by all. Students, parents, teachers and staff should feel welcome and this/these professionals should be heard during internal meetings. They, together with academic results, are the ones that will feed-back to head of schools and directors their school community’s well-being.

Including the Parents

Make sure you include the parents to your programme, they do not always notice – or know – that they are also part of the transition their children are going through. Parents might underestimate the impact a big move can have on themselves. It is important to note that, when a parent is struggling, like with finding a community or a sense of belonging, a child may be able to sense this shift. This can make a difference on how a child views and lives a transition even from a young age. By extending your services to be able to listen to their families, you increase the chances that your students and staff will settle well.

Equally, as some people in transition are likely to isolate themselves and see their surroundings as a threat, one of the roles for the school is to include them, and extend that helping hand. At times, this can be done by creating a safe space in which all parties involved can feel heard, whilst at others, it is by creating school events that welcome everyone, and  making sure to have staff that speak different languages and understand different cultures.

Create space and designate staff to listen. When stories are listened to from an empathetic point of view, we are not only welcoming them to our community. We are also opening our hearts to the joy of learning new things and embracing multiculturalism. That is the essential beauty of an international school!

Understanding the Difficulties

Understanding and accepting the difficulties of moving is part of the homework these families have to do. Accepting that schools have students sitting in their classroom who need a space to find out who they are – sometimes not for the first time – before they are ready to learn, is an international school’s job. The size of your school doesn’t matter, the feeling should be the same. Warm and welcoming, as if it was a small family school.

Everyone needs that little bit of extra support while in transition. Our main goal is to support students and families to both stay, leave and settle in well. Every transition starts with saying goodbye for the ones leaving and prepares for the ones arriving. And, as Doug Otta says in his book. “Without ‘stayers’ who are emotionally ready and willing to connect, the ‘arrivers’ have nobody to connect with!

I am aware, through experience, of how lengthy this process can be. Also, I know I look for schools that have a team ready to make sure my family transition goes as smoothly as possible. I believe attachments and relationships are the two strongest pillars people cling to. These pillars help them relate to their new reality. This is the most important lesson I have learned.

Creating a Safe Environment

To be able to support families and students, schools have to create a safe environment for every single student staying, leaving or arriving in their communities. How can we do this? By uniting forces. Students, teachers, admin staff and families work together to keep the school running smoothly and our students happy and emotionally stable, so that they are able to learn and achieve their goals. We show them that they matter.

The first step is to find out as a school where you are with your transition programmes, doing a realistic evaluation of your actions and politics in place. There are a few tools off the shelf for schools willing to improve their transition programmes. Books, training programs, consultants in this area, and I can suggest two worldwide not-for profit that connect like-minded people. These are SPAN (Safe Passage Network) and FIGT (Families in Global Transition). If you need motivation to start this kind of programme at your school, remember that finding the right educational options for your child can be a challenge for families living internationally and more of these families are looking further to transition and social-emotional learning to be able to choose the right school for their children. This would also mean more clients choosing your school.


As challenging as it is, it is even more fascinating and there are many professionals who are like me. Passionate about school transitions. If you are going through a transition yourself, or if you work in a school that wants to set up a transition programme, come and talk to me. Let’s create that unified force that will be able to support our community to grow healthy and happy. Collaboration between the different professionals involved in the process and between international schools will help us all to thrive and to better deliver our mission.

My hope is that the obvious benefits of creating a school transition programme motivates all of us to work together and make it happen. The population that constantly relocate needs our help. I am encouraged by people I meet every day in my practice. It’s their messages that I am pushing forward to us, as a group. They deserve to see their values and needs being met. Their voices are getting more significant today and it is time we listen to them.

Let’s make our school transition a rewarding and enriching journey!

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