COE experts offer back-to-school tips

As school gets underway, College of Education experts offer advice to get through the new academic year -- whether you're a student transitioning to a new school or a teacher turning your classroom into an enriching environment for students.

Dr. Wendy Middlemiss, associate professor of educational psychology at UNT, says children face the four biggest milestones of their school years when they enter kindergarten, first grade, middle school and high school.

"What makes a transition so difficult or challenging are the unknowns, so I think the parent has to convey the sense that this is an exciting change, rather than to be nervous," Middlemiss says. "It's important for the parent to help the child understand."

Middlemiss has the following tips:

  • Explain the changes students may face. Kindergartners should be reminded that there may be new rules. "Rules may be different, so they have to listen and be respectful," she says. First graders frequently spend more time on tasks than kindergartners. "Tell them they may be sitting more -- and show them that they are already doing some of those things, like we sit when we do this or that," Middlemiss says. "In middle school, they're transitioning to new people and a new school, and parents need to prepare them for how they can organize their time."
  • Convey a sense of calm. "The more calm we are as parents and the more we convey that calm and excitement and the more we make that transition defined, the better off we are," she says.
  • Go to the orientation, and if you can't make the scheduled orientation, visit the school. Introduce students to teachers ahead of time. "Just like us as adults, students are most frightened by something they haven't done," she says.
  • Regardless of the children's ages, talk to them to find out how they feel about the transition. "Let them talk about what makes them nervous and help them find a way to address that," Middlemiss says. "If they're really worried about getting to classes in 10 minutes, ask them how that worked out. Follow up."
  • Keep asking questions and listen, Middlemiss says. "Sometimes we worry about things that our children aren't concerned about. Ask open-ended questions, and instead of telling them our version of what they should be worried about, we should listen to them," Middlemiss says.
  • Parents need to remember to take the same advice they give their children, she says. "Although it may be a frightening time for the parents as well, they can follow some of the same suggestions – be aware of what's going on and become part of that transition. The more unknown it is for us, the harder it will be."

Dr. Lisa L. Schulz, clinical assistant professor in the counseling program at UNT, says teachers can use the following tips to create an emotionally safe and culturally responsive classroom environment.

  • Look around your classroom – how inviting is it? Are there pictures of people and places that are familiar to all the students who will be in your class? Would you feel comfortable as a student? As a parent?
  • Communicate high expectations for all students.
  • Maintain positive perspectives of parents and families.
  • Create student-centered curriculum. Allow students to participate in the creation of their own learning objectives and process. Support their desire to learn the material through an exploration of their culture of origin.
  • Teach about and talk openly about similarities and differences.
  • Explore personal experiences concerning power and oppression in education.

Schulz suggests visiting the following websites for more information:

Dr. Micheal Sayler, senior associate dean of the UNT College of Education and associate professor of educational psychology, is available to talk about gifted education and standardized testing.

Sayler has expertise in administrative leadership at many levels from K-12 through the university level and has expertise in academic giftedness, including the theory of giftedness and thriving, the character and moral development of the gifted, grade skipping and more. He can discuss identifying gifted students, designing curriculum, and evaluating programs.

Ellen Rossetti, News Promotions

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