Integrating New Students: A Guide for Educators
Giving Confidence to Children in Homeschool Co-ops and Traditional Classrooms
Any teacher can tell you how hard it can be to introduce a new kid to the classroom mid-year. And any parents who have been through it will talk at length about the anxieties it stirred up in them. It’s an inherently stressful situation not just because you want your students to make friends, but also because it has real educational consequences: poor first impressions can throw successful students off and send struggling ones into a downward spiral.
This might seem especially difficult if you’re leading a homeschooling co-op, because the usual structures that organize classroom introductions aren’t present. As if that weren’t enough, homeschooling co-ops tend to be smaller, tighter-knit, and more idiosyncratic than conventional classrooms. With all of that in mind, it might seem like an insurmountable problem to introduce new students to the co-op, especially partway through the year.
However, as in so many other cases, the apparent weaknesses of homeschooling will become strengths in the right hands. The adaptability and freedom of the homeschool model will furnish you with a number of options for integrating new students, and we’ll try to explain how in the body of this post.
The Stakes of School Changes
Even if you haven’t been to public school, you probably have an image of the classic first day at a new school. Students stand up in front of the class and introduces themselves shyly. Later, new students eat lunch alone, play by themselves at recess, and talk to their parents in a shellshocked voice when they get picked up. If they’re lucky, they might make a new friend or two, but it’s far from a sure thing.
There’s a lot of truth to this, and those agonizing first days at a new school may have long-term consequences. Students who change schools frequently are 35% more likely to fail a grade and 77% more likely to have behavioral problems. This isn’t strictly because of their school changes (poorer students tend to change schools more often, and poverty likely has more of an effect on behavior than new schools) but it’s hard to imagine that it doesn’t contribute. It should follow that it would have long-term benefits to make first days as easy as possible.
So what are you supposed to do as a homeschooling teacher? First days for new students at your co-op probably don’t look anything like they do for most American kids, and you might feel adrift when you look for resources. This article from Teachthought has a lot of suggestions, but they mostly apply to public school teachers. And Google will turn up a lot of results for parents thinking about joining a homeschooling co-op, but not a lot of classroom advice.
Our advice, as in a lot of other cases, is to take conventional curriculum advice and adapt it to what homeschooling—and, in particular, your style of homeschooling—does well.
The apparent weaknesses of homeschooling will become strengths in the right hands. Click to Tweet
Homeschooling and Flexibility
Let’s return to that article from Teachthought. It offers 5 things teachers in conventional schools can do to make students feel more welcome, from group work to team-building games. There’s nothing that precludes homeschooling teachers from taking advantage of these techniques, and in fact, the freedom that homeschooling offers can let you use them to their full potential.
Group work, for example: a public school teacher might be limited by the need for students to produce material that administrators can assess. Homeschooling, which doesn’t have arbitrary curricular benchmarks, can be a lot freer in its approach to group work. A public school teacher might place a new arrival in a group of welcoming students, but that group will probably not last more than a few days and might not do its job making the student feel at home. In a homeschooling co-op, however, a teacher can group students for long periods of time, keep a closer eye on the new arrival, and make sure they have support from their peers for as long as they need it. That flexibility is unique to homeschooling, and it’s an asset you should take advantage of as an educator.
Take another example, this time from an article on Teachhub: student mentors. Teachhub mentions student mentorship as its first suggestion, and a lot of other classroom blogs agree with them. I had a good experience with student mentors in high school, so I can attest to the effectiveness of the model. But homeschooling offers whole new landscapes of flexibility for an educator. You could buddy an older student up with a new arrival for long periods of time, and even delegate some teaching to the student mentor—after all, making sure students can teach the material is an excellent way of making sure they retain it. In a homeschool setting, student mentorship can be a way to teach leadership and responsibility much more comprehensively than in a public school setting. It can even be a way to hammer home some lessons you might have gleaned if you’ve taken our advice and made philosophy a core part of your curriculum: you might use mentorship as a way of putting philosophical lessons to work in real life.
All of these possibilities are only open to you if you’re a homeschooling teacher. So don’t be discouraged if you don’t find a lot of resources that are specific to your situation in homeschooling: a lot of ink has been spilled about introducing new students to your classroom, and all you have to do is adapt it.