Focus on Five: How to Tackle Transitions

Transitions are the trickiest time in any classroom. Transitions can be chaotic when many challenging or unsafe behaviors occur. As teachers, we want to have smooth, safe and quick transitions to ensure that our day is moving along and so our students don’t get hurt.  Here is how to tackle transitions and ensure that your day goes off without a hitch…

1. Plan Ahead

Over the last couple of years, I have had more students with physical disabilities. Another challenge I have had this school year is having so many new, younger students. It is vital when you have students with high needs to plan transitions carefully to ensure that students are getting their needs met. I have made transition schedules for staff to ensure that everyone knows who they are responsible for.  I also keep it consistent so that students know what adult they transition with and how they transition. Sometimes, even with the best plan, you may have students who have difficulty handling transitions as a group. Don’t be afraid to stagger transitions, especially in transitions throughout the building. I currently have a student who was displaying aggressive behavior towards other students during transition times. Now this student transitions 5 minutes early. This has decreased his aggression and allowed him to calmly settle into his environment before the rest of the class arrives. 

2. Use a Timer

I have a visual, magnetic timer I put in a central location in my classroom. This ensure that both students and staff see this timer in order to prepare for transitions and to keep the flow of the classroom. It takes some time initially to train staff and students the expectations about using the timer. I started off verbally prompting both staff and students when the timer would have 1-2 minutes left remaining. I would say, “I see that there is one minute left on the timer. This would be a good time to clean up and wait until the timer goes off.” Now most of my students are now able to look at the timer and clean up before the timer goes off.  My colleague uses the same timer in her classroom, but since her students are older, one of their jobs is setting the timer at certain times of the day (pictured left). 

3. Educate and Direct Staff

I have encountered staff members who think of transitions as a “break” time. They might try to talk to you or the students during this time because it’s not a time students are directly involved in instruction. Emphasizing that when transitions get hectic, behaviors occur and students get hurt. I always model for my staff how to monitor and might even say, “Can we talk about this after this transition when students are safely in their seats?”. Also, strategically placing yourself and staff can give them guidance if they are not supervising during transitions. Often, I will say, “Can you please monitor the coat room? I will be outside of the coatroom making sure students get to their seats”.  Another strategy I have employed is explaining transitions to students when the staff is present to ensure everyone is on the same page. I have said, “Transitions are when we go from one place to another. We need to go from one place to another as quickly, calmly and safely as possible. The adults are here to watch us and keep us safe.” 

4. Order Before Movement

Explain the transition to staff and students before it happens. Saying something like, “When I call your name, you will go to the coatroom” indicates to both students and staff where students are going and when they are going to go to that location.  Teaching have students procedures for certain transitions can be time consuming at first, but it pays off in the long run. Using visual procedures also serves as a helpful reminder to staff and students how to complete the transition, ensuring that everyone is on the same page and transitions can go smoothly. 

5. Take Your Time

Allowing time for transitions ensures that they go smoothly. Having a “home base” is helpful because students are contained in one area and have a place to go. For my end of the day transition, I have my students get their coats and backpacks and bring them back to their desks. This cuts down on coatroom traffic and I can more easily supervise the students getting ready. When students are in another classroom, I will often excuse them individually, in order of more independent students waiting longer in line and less independent students staying in their seats longer.  Demonstrating this to your staff is also helpful so they are able to manage smooth transitions during your prep or lunchtime. 

I wish you nothing but smooth transitions! Please share your strategies below for quick, calm and safe transitions.  

Holly Bueb
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