Fitting In, Figuring It Out- New Families in Transition

It is that time of year when there are new faces at every turn. These faces contain looks, which run the gamut of excitement to trepidation. I’m referring to both the parents and students of new families transitioning to our schools. Some are overseas for the first time and overwhelmed by the differences living in this, a new country. For them oftentimes, school offers a reminder of what they came from. A comforting constant they can be reassured by and feel good about.  For others, the newness is the school. Either the move to a new system of education- ours being an American, college-preparatory system, or a school where their child’s native language isn’t the main language of instruction. For all new families, it is paramount we understand their worries and fears, while assisting them in moving through the inevitable stages of newness.

How best can we help though?

I believe the most effective solution is to make sure we listen to these families and children. Encourage them to tell us how they are doing, listen to their responses, then reassure, reassure, reassure. While this seems simple, it is actually the hardest for me to do at the start of the year, because of the shear pace of the first weeks of school.  We try though. This week alone, we’ve had a new parent coffee, a new family dinner, and the counselor has been visiting with students who are new to check in on how they are feeling.

One idea I’ve been tossing around on reflection of how we receive and support new families, is to have a team of parents, teachers, and students ready to just be listeners. What if a member of this team called every new family on day 2, day 10 and day 30 to check in? What if we had a table set up in outside the office where members of this team were stationed to answer questions? Any question. What if we developed questionnaires to give to new families to help hone the response from this team so we were able to meet their needs directly? I would much rather over respond than under respond.

From there, how might we help families as they move into the stage when the newness wears off and the worry sets in? Predictably this happens around the 3-4 month of school. By then, I find as an administrator I’m off and running and assume everything is fine for these new folks. (No news is good news.) However, I’m wondering if we shouldn’t reschedule our new family events: coffee morning, dinner, etc. to directly coincide with when we know the honeymoon feeling is fading.

Finally, I would like to have a system for reminding our teachers and families who have been here for years just what it is like to be new. Without that empathy, we can’t really provide the support necessary. We’ve all been through it, however, it is easy to forget what it means to uproot your family, bring them to a new country and school, and to settle into the routine of life.

Developing a transition plan is an excellent way to reach out to the new community, while tightening the bonds of the existing families and our teachers. After all, are on this adventure together.

About Jen Munnerlyn

Jen Munnerlyn is the Elementary Principal at the American School of Warsaw. Her international experience began back in 1980 when her parents first started teaching overseas. Jen blogs about her own experiences as a Third Culture Kid, the adventures of being the mother of a TCK, and about elementary education in an international school setting. Her picture book The Adventure Begins, about the first day at an international school, is a favorite among adults and students abroad.
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