5 Ways to Ease Your Students’ Worries about Middle School

Students may hear all sorts of stories about middle school from older siblings and friends, whether they are well-meaning or intending to scare. Help them to know their own experience will be unique and to keep an open mind about the transition. They may hit it off with that teacher everyone warns them about, or they may find their own niche in a new activity. I’m sharing five ways you can help ease your students’ worries about their transition to middle school.

  1. Visit your local middle school(s). 

Plan a field trip (or walk, if close enough to campus) for your rising middle schoolers to visit the middle school they will attend. Coordinate with the middle school to select a time when your students will be able to visit areas throughout the building and actually see students in class (but not the locker rooms — if your timing is off by just a minute, it could get awkward, trust me!) If your students feed into multiple schools, make separate trips if possible so students can see the actual school they’ll be attending.

If possible, request that older students, especially your own former students and/or older siblings of your current rising middle schoolers be the tour group leaders (e.g., 8th grade ambassadors). Ask that they be available to greet the buses as they arrive.

Make plans to tour the gym, locker room, cafeteria, music room, exploratory/elective classes, and other important areas of the building. It’s always fun to hear a demonstration from the band and to listen to different instruments. Our band director hosts a “band night” in conjunction with Parent Night, where students have a chance to try out all the different instruments.

Pro tip: While you’re there, take a picture of a bank of lockers so that you can show next year’s students what they will look like. My students always want to know how big the lockers are (and whether someone will try to stuff them inside!)

  1. Invite the middle school counselors to visit your school. 

In addition to visiting the middle school, the middle school counselors make a special trip to our school to talk with our students about electives, exploratories, and band options. They also help them register on-the-spot, in the comfort of their own classrooms, after they’ve had a change to talk with their families about their decisions.

  1. Normalize their questions and worries. 

It’s so helpful for students to hear their peers express the same worries and questions they have about middle school. I’ve compiled lists of commonly-asked questions by 5th graders and sorted them into categories in this helpful presentation we explore during my middle school transition unit. Before the presentation, I also gauge their feelings about middle school with these short writing prompts.

  1. Practice opening combination locks. 

My fifth graders’ favorite classroom lesson each year is when I bring a class set of combination locks to practice opening. Pay attention to their efforts, and if you notice students struggling with opening a combination lock, suggest purchasing one to practice over the summer, or offer time during their lunch when they can practice in a small group with you. While middle schools typically provide the combination locks, the basic steps to open them will be the same, so they will build up muscle memory by practicing with you or at home.

Reassure your students that it may take a few days to get it, and that faculty will most likely be available to assist, especially at the beginning of the year and after extended breaks. I bring a class set of locks, purchased on Amazon and from Wal-Mart, and I use this Opening a Combination Lock presentation to facilitate a discussion about lockers, show directions for opening the locks, and even play a game at the end of class! 

  1. Involve the entire family.

Look into whether the middle school will offer a Parent Night or Open House in the spring/summer for your students and their families. It helps for a student to picture themselves in the school and begin to recognize faces of teachers and faculty there.

Don’t forget to collect data from your students before they head off to middle school! I do this by giving exit interviews to them on our final class together. I also ask for their advice for rising 5th graders, and videotape their messages to share to next year’s group the following August, when we return to school. You can find many of the activities I mentioned, as well as a few others, in my Middle School Transition Bundle available in my store, Counselor Station.

Organizing Your School Counseling Program in 2020

Happy 2020!

Last night, on the eve of a new year, I went through my school counselor planner and listed what worked in 2019 and what didn’t work, and I added to my gratitude list. I am so grateful for you and this counseling community!

Whether you are a seasoned counselor or just finding your rhythm, now is a great time to reflect on your program mission and goals. Moving into 20202, what are your school counseling program goals? What worked for you? What didn’t work? Is there a program you’d like to implement? Do you want to work on better communication with teachers and parents? Is there something you need to let go of so that you can take on something else, or just have space to breathe?

Here is a quick roundup of resources to help you kickoff an amazing semester!

GETTING ORGANIZED – The beginning of a new semester is a great time to reset. My planner is editable and undated and comes with soooo many different forms you can use for planning your program, from goal sheets to follow-up logs to small group planning! Print it all, or print what you need for a customized option! Are you in need of newsletter templates to send to parents or to include in your schoolwide newsletter? Fresh new intake notes forms? I have you covered!

 WINTER-THEMED LESSONS: My students love these engaging winter lessons! Divide students into groups for a challenging escape room, where they learn to discern the size of a problem, or split them into teams for a fun snowball toss game, where they learn to identify their preferred coping skills!

MIDDLE SCHOOL TRANSITION RESOURCES: This semester, I’ll take my rising 6th graders to the middle school for a visit, and I do an entire middle school unit leading up to their visit. We talk about our questions and worried, they share what they’re most excited about, we compare and contrast elementary and middle school, and they even practice opening combination locks! Check out my unit here: Middle School Transition Bundle.

I hope you have a fantastic start to 2020! 

Ashley