Transcript of Dockett and Perry – Transition and COVID-19

Dockett and Perry – Transition and COVID-19 podcast

Sue Dockett Hi everybody. Welcome to our next podcast about transition to school. I'm Sue Dockett and I’m here today with Bob Perry to talk about transition to school in times of COVID. It's been a really messy year, this year, hasn’t it Bob?

Bob Perry – Yes, Sue, it certainly has been a messy year. School teachers certainly know how difficult it's been for them; preschool teachers; children; families. We’ve had lots of illness, lots of unemployment and difficulties and stress in the house. So, I think it's no wonder that children might be just a little bit uncertain about what's going to happen as they start school next year.

Sue Dockett – Yes, it’s quite likely that children are feeling a little unsettled but it's also quite likely that parents and families and, maybe, teachers themselves are feeling a little bit unsettled as well. In our earlier podcast, we talked about transition and how we define transition, and really emphasized the notion that transition is a time to build relationships. When children start school we’re really looking at how important it is to build relationships among the children among the teachers, among the parents, and children, and teachers, essentially providing a really safe and secure base for children as they start school. And one of the things that clearly been disrupted as we've had starts to school and then time away, and starts to preschool, and time away and all sorts of things is there’s been disruption to building those relationships. So, as a teacher looking at kindergarten next year, it's really important to consider how we might work to build some of those relationships that will support all of us and all involved as children start their school year.

Bob Perry – We often look at transitions to school in terms of four major constructs. We talk about opportunities, aspirations, expectations, and entitlements, and some of these have remained pretty much the same as they would in a normal year and others have been changed quite dramatically via COVID. So, for example, the aspirations that people hold: parents hold for the children, children hold for themselves, and teachers hold for everyone haven't changed very much. We still want the very best for everyone. However, some of the expectations might have changed so, for example, there are some things that we just can't do with social distancing and so on. Then, the entitlements, however, the entitlement to a successful, effective transition to school; that certainly hasn't changed, and we still want our parents and our families to be engaged with their children’s schooling as much as possible. And then, of course, some of the opportunities that are provided by the very difficulties that we're living in, well they're the ones we need to really concentrate on. How can we turn this around to make it an opportunity to do the very best that we can?

Sue Dockett – Yes, Bob, I think you're right. Still looking at those four constructs, they still remain incredibly important as we look at this transition even though it's going to be quite different. You’ve talked about expectations there and a number of those really have changed. In previous years, we would expect that children who were going to start school the following year and probably some members of their family would spend time at the school. We’d be able to get to know them in a face-to-face context and we’d be really on top of that relationship building. But we know that orientation programs this year are different. It's not going to be easy to have a whole lot of children visiting schools often to build up those relationships. We know that the advice is that family members are not necessarily part of those orientation programs and even that family information sessions are probably not going to be held face to face. So, there's a whole range of changes there in terms of the expectations of what transition practices might look like, and what an orientation program might look like. But, those changes aren’t necessarily bad things. Sometimes, we almost need a bit of a shake-up to really examine what we do and why we do it and to think about how we could do things differently. Like Bob said, all children and families still have the entitlement to access an effective and really supportive transition program. So, what does that actually mean in this particular changed circumstance? Well, going back to what I said earlier about the importance of relationships, how can we look to build those relationships that are really important in these changed circumstances. If we can't talk to parents face to face, if we're not going to see children as much as we would like, how are we going to work out what the basis for those relationships might be? there are lots of possibilities and I'm sure many of you have been thinking outside the box, but let's share just a couple of possibilities. The first thing I’d suggest really strongly is that it's important for teachers across preschool and school to really work out how they can communicate. It may not be possible to have face-to-face meetings but that relationship between preschool educators and school teachers is a really important basis for getting to know children and families. That sort of communication can set the scene for being able to build responsive learning environments particularly in the first year of school.

Sue Dockett – It really is important to build those relationships with early childhood educators, but it's also really important to build those relationships with families and with children. And because we're not going to be able to meet with families face-to-face, there are lots of other strategies that are going to be called in to play. It may be that we go back to writing letters, that there are video messages or audio messages that can be shared with family. It may be that particular packs of information can be shared with families. Whatever it is we need to do to look at how we can connect with families. It’s also really, really important to build relationships with children. Many of the strategies that you've used already in previous years might still be effective in this different time. It might be, for example, that social story books, videos that are shared between preschool and school services, or it might be virtual tours of the school, photographs and drawings that are shared. These are some ways that you might connect with children and, at least, share some of the context of the school. Children, when they think about starting school are often really focused on the physical environment: what does it look like; where do I go; what happens when? There are a number of ways that, as educators, you can share images of the school, whether they be photos, drawings, maps and so on. It can be a really intriguing situation to try and think about what children want to know about school and your existing kindergarten children are going to be a really important source of advice in this.

Bob Perry – To finish, I want to say something about Term 1 of next year. This is really going to be a very important time now; even more important than it usually is with new students coming school. ‘Take your time’ is the mantra that I'd like to put forward. Take time to get to know the children; take time to get to know the families; take time to get to know just how things are going to work; and who your children are, after the disruption that they've had this year. And finally, I’d like to say something about the other years. Remember that the other years will also be undergoing a transition after a very disruptive year. Many children, as they move from kindergarten to Year 1, tell us that that's a really big transition for them; sometimes even bigger than starting school. But the older children will also be impacted, so remember that they will need to be thought about as part of your overall school transition program. Thanks for listening. We hope you have found this useful.

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