Supporting Student Transition from Elementary to Secondary

If you have ever taught grade eight, you are currently a grade eight teacher or you have a child (or had a child) in grade eight then you might appreciate how exciting and stressful this time of the year can be for so many grade eight students as they prepare to transition from elementary to secondary school. As a former intermediate classroom teacher and a guidance counsellor who has worked with many grade eight students, I can certainly say that the process of choosing a high school, applying for a specialized program of study and/or completing course selections for grade nine can be a bag of mixed emotions for students, depending on the level of knowledge and support students have at school and at home. Regardless of the grade students are in, teachers can create opportunities for students to develop strategies and skills that can support them in their transition process. Even though students might feel overwhelmed and isolated at times, they are never alone in the process. They also need to know that our support is non-judgmental, though intentional at times especially for the most vulnerable students, and that our intention is to empower students to make choices about their own life and their own future pathways. 


Stress and Anxiety

There is no doubt that the transition from elementary to secondary school can be stressful for many students, especially during the current pandemic when more students are isolated and social support for their transition may not be readily available. Adults and students alike are all experiencing an increased level of stress and anxiety in these uncertain times. For the most part, adults have developed strategies to manage their anxiety, however young children are, more so than ever, depending on the adults in their lives to support them throughout this journey. So, how do we as educators monitor their emotional wellbeing and offer sustainable support?

Here are some suggestions that might be of value to you, regardless of your work circumstances or guidance model in your area:

  1. Get to know your students, whether they are in kindergarten or up to grade eight, and understand their emotional strengths and needs. Pinpoint which parts of the situation students are experiencing that you as an educator have the power to change or influence for the better, and then offer your support accordingly.
  2. Communicate regularly with families/caregivers about their role in supporting student achievement and well-being, as they are the ultimate decision maker in this process
  3. Chances are, you cannot do this alone, so get support to support students. Talk to colleagues, your admin and other school-based support personnel. Keep in mind the best interest of the individual student, the nature of the situation for the student and your Board’s policies around confidentiality. 
  4. Be socially and culturally sensitive to each student’s situation and lived experiences. Above all, be intentional in supporting (without dictating or pigeonhole) vulnerable students, marginalized students and racialized students and ensure they have equitable access to programs and services
  5. Support students in a specialized program or with an Individual Education Plan in having a successful transition
  6. Show care and empathy, and offer assistance to students who might need social/emotional support that best meets their needs


Your support to students is crucial now more than ever. Students of all ages and abilities continue to navigate through the pandemic, as well as managing other social and family challenges, and intermediate students also have to adjust to a new destreaming program in grade nine. Some students may find this time of year overwhelming and might need to develop strategies to self-advocate for themselves to ensure all their needs are met. There are many ways to embed self-advocacy in your assessment Of learning and assessment As learning to support student achievement and well-being. With a strong sense of self, students are more likely to see themselves as owners of their own destiny and can independently advocate for themselves. I see this as a gradual release of responsibility and an opportunity to empower students to take charge of their learning and their own future. 


Here is a Self-Advocacy Toolkit that was shared with me that could be of some support to you in your classroom (regardless of the grade you teach). This Self-Advocacy Toolkit is intended to be completed by each student. Teachers may wish to facilitate this as part of their instructional day. 

Self-Advocacy Toolkit:


Ultimately, when it comes to transition and course selections, students and families/caregivers make the final decision about their destination and pathways. We will offer support and guidance to ensure success and a seamless transition from elementary into secondary, and this support can begin as early as kindergarten. When we work together, support each other and respect each other’s choices, even when our perspectives are different, we enable individuals to self-actualize and reach their full potential.

Educational Perfection

As we end another school year and look forward to summer vacation, I think back to my first years in education and what summer “vacation” looked like for me. July was spent taking additional qualification courses and most of August was spent prepping and planning. It wasn’t really much of a vacation.  So why did I do it? Two reasons. I am passionate about learning and I am a (now recovering) perfectionist-especially as an educator.

I must have thought there was some kind of a prize for having the tidiest, prettiest and well organized classroom. I wanted my classroom to look like something out of the Scholar’s Choice catalogue. The custodians would be annoyed at having me in the school and I would wait anxiously for them to be finished waxing our hallway so that I could get in and set up my classroom. I needed everything to match. If I had baskets for items in the classroom they had to all be the same colour. It isn’t always easy to find 24 of the same basket at the Dollar Store.  Before the students started in September I felt the need to have labels on all of their notebooks, duo tangs and I even labelled their pencils. I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to control the environment for my students. My classroom looked like a showroom on the first day of school and I would spend the next 194 days trying to maintain that standard. Our first printing practice lesson (because we still did that back then) was to practice writing “A place for everything and everything in it’s place.” When I think back now to all of the time and energy that I wasted not allowing learning to get messy I shake my head. It was exhausting.

After twenty plus years in education I’ve learned a few things about educational perfectionism and letting go of control in order to empower the learners in the classroom. When I was given a portable for a classroom that I wasn’t able to get into much before school started I panicked at first.  I didn’t have space or time to create a showroom. I decided to give the design over to the grade 4-5 students.  I still had labelled duo tangs and a place for each of them to put their things that was their space ready on the first day but the rest, we did together. It built community, it gave the students ownership and it gave me some of my summer back. If you’ve ever taught in a portable that has the coat racks inside, winter is a bit of a nightmare for an organizational freak but eventually I let it go. We still had a tidy classroom because their wasn’t enough space to be too messy but the organization of things didn’t stifle the learning. We learned how to paint in a portable without water using buckets and trips into the school. We brought lawn chairs to school at sat outside at reading time. I loved our little cabin in the woods.

As educators we have a lot of people that we are accountable to in our jobs. Students, families, administrators, our board and our communities are all stakeholders in what we do. The pressure to be perfect in our roles can be overwhelming and paralyzing. What educators do each day is literally driven by “overall and specific EXPECTATIONS”. It took time for me to realize that the expectations that I was putting on myself were much higher than those of anyone else. It took reflection to realize that perfectionism isn’t the badge of honour that I thought it once was and that it was making my life more difficult. I came to understand that it isn’t the room or the resources that make me a good educator.  It is about the connections and relationships with my students and their families that matter. It is about embracing the Ms. Frizzle moments and rolling with it.  If I’ve learned anything from COVID-19 it is that being flexible and letting go of what I cannot control are the keys to staying out of perfectionism. I plan on guarding my summer vacation as I would a medical specialist’s appointment but I’ll likely take a few professional resource books along to read in the waiting room.


Transition Planning

After three years together, many of my fantastic students are transitioning to high school this year. When I think about them moving on, I am incredibly emotional as they have grown so much over the past three years and I am really going to miss them! But before I can sit down and have a good cry about their departure, I must complete something called a transition plan for all my students.

With the introduction of PPM 156 in 2014, a transition plan is now required for all students who have an IEP, whether or not they have been identified. Transition plans are often embedded within the IEP and are reviewed as part of the IEP review process. Transition plans can be made for in class, grade to grade or school to school transitions. In some circumstances, the board may decide to create a transition plan for a student without an IEP but who is receiving Special Education supports. In addition, PPM 140 outlines the mandatory use of ABA methods to support students with Autism Spectrum Disorder in all aspects of school including transitions.

PPM 156 outlines what must be included in Transition Plans. They must include: goals, support needs, the actions required to achieve the goals, roles and responsibilities, and timelines. The aim is to have students develop independence skills so that they can be successful in moving through their school career in Ontario. Below are some examples of transition goals I have used for students in the past.


Goal: Student will independently transition between activities within the school day.

The actions required to achieve the goals: Student will use anxiety reducing choice board when feeling overwhelmed during transitions.

Roles and Responsibilities: Teacher and Educational Assistants will develop choice board in consultation with the student. Teacher and Educational Assistants will support student in identifying times in the day when the choice board will be beneficial.

Timelines: Choice board created in September. Used as needed throughout the school year.

Goal: Student will transition to a new school

The action required to achieve the goal: Student will receive a social story about their new school.

Roles and Responsibilities: Teacher and Educational Assistants will review the social story in class with the student. Parents will review the social story over the summer prior to the transition to a new school.

Timelines: Prior to the transition.

According to PPM 156, transition meetings are not a mandatory part of the process of transitioning between schools. However, if you are able to arrange to meet with teachers who have taught your students at another school or who will be teaching them in the future, it is very beneficial. In the past two years, I have presented my students to high schools and I have attended many presentations for my incoming students. These presentations are very beneficial because they allow time for questions and discussion about how to best support the student’s needs.  If you have never presented a student at a transition meeting before, here is some information that I highlight:

  • Background information: name, date of birth, IPRC identification, language(s) spoken at home
  • Supports: Information about any support being provided in or out of school such as Speech and Language Support, Occupational Therapy, Behaviour Therapy etc..
  • Student’s Strengths and Needs
  • Medical Information: medication that the student takes, allergies, special equipment that they use.
  • Communication: verbal, assistive device, augmentative communication etc.. Also, what kind of supports they have to support their understanding in the classroom such as visual schedules, social stories, choice boards, independent work system bins.
  • Interests, Motivators, Reinforcements, Dislikes
  • Literacy and Numeracy Skills: letter, word and number recognition, ability to write and recognize personal information such as phone number and address.
  • Assistive Technology: Boardmaker, Clicker 5 or 6, iPad, touch screen, wireless mouse, SMARTBoard.
  • Mobility: outline support needed for student to move around the classroom and school such as adult assistance or a walker.
  • Behaviour: Outline any physical aggression or challenges with self-regulation.
  • Personal Care: level of independence with eating, dressing and toileting.
  • Transportation: requirement of a travel assistant or harness to successfully ride a bus to school.

Additional Resources:

Niagara Catholic District School Board created a great resource to support with transition planning. There are many great examples of transition plans in this resource and is a great tool to use if you have never written a transition plan before.

A group of school boards collaborated on a one page support guide for educators about writing transition plans.

The Ministry of Education has created a resource that is an overview of Special Education in Ontario.