10 ways teachers can support military- connected students
during the forgotten years of grades 6th – 10th
It is that time of year again. Teachers everywhere are reviewing curriculum, decorating classrooms, buying supplies, and reviewing class charts. Many schools and classrooms have already started, waiting to find their grove. We recognize most of the names in our class, but there are the few names we don’t recognize – the new kids.
In elementary school, these are the kids who need a little more attention and a buddy for the first couple of weeks of school. In high school, these are the kids who the office usually assigns a peer to walk them to class on the first day. If you’re a teacher, you might be thinking,
“Oh wait! My school is near a military base! Military kids are resilient and are experts at moving every two to three years – they are used to moving, figuring new schedules, and making friends. They don’t need me to coddle them. They’ll be fine!” Right? Wrong!
Why is it that the “military students in-between grades” are forgotten and written-off as resilient? These are the grades I teach: Grades 6-10. I find they are no more resilient than mil-kids in kindergarten and first grade or even seniors in high school. To keep our hearts soft toward this unique group of military new students is to remember that most military-connected students move six to nine times more than their civilian peers. Some have even enrolled in twelve different schools during their twelve-year K-12 education career! They are the never-ending New Kid year after year. It is stressful and tiring. So, where is the clear and evident support for these military-connected students who are deep in the trenches of the middle of their K-12 experience? Resiliency is built new each year by THE TEACHER starting on the FIRST DAY of school!
Top 10 Best Practices to support every military-connected student on campus or new student regardless of military affiliation.
1. Schedule a Parent/Teacher Conference. Don’t wait several weeks into the school year for Back to School Night or allow even a week to go by without reaching out to the family. Ask specifically about past duty station locations; past school culture and routines; state standards and type of curriculum already covered. Ask about possible upcoming deployments! The meeting does not need to be long, but long enough to engage with the family to learn the immediate needs and background of the student. Suddenly, he won’t be the new student anymore – he’ll know YOU and YOU’LL know him.
2. Offer a welcome pack with information on the school, class, extra-curricular activities, community routine and resources. This is NOT the typical teacher syllabus! There is a welcome pack probably sitting in the front office already. As the teacher, your simple act of offering it to the student shows YOU care. You realize that the student is more than a kid filling a desk in your classroom. The military-connected student is an athlete, artist, performer, leader, and so much more.
3. Encourage class introductions beyond just names. What types of questions will help new students engage in the classroom and establish a friendship base? Get the students talking and interacting. The faster a New Kid connects with a group of friends, the fewer problems you will both encounter. You might even help that military-connected student make a life-long friend even though he had determined that it isn’t worth having friends in this school – he’s just going to move again anyway.
4. Implement a Buddy System for first few weeks of school. A Buddy is responsible for showing the New Kid around campus and even eating lunch together. Your school might not have an official Student2Student program, but that doesn’t mean you can’t help make connections for your new students. Remember that being the New Kid is stressful – a lunch mate can bring a sense of security.
5. Call home with good news and concerns. This should be true for all your students but especially for your New kids. A few weeks into the school year, call about social and academic news, good news, challenges, or just because. I reserve my Wednesday Prep period to call a minimum of 10 parents each week (I have an average of 150 kids). I start my 10 with my New Kids, then ‘no concern, just checking-in’ then add another 5 of ‘concerns’. If you are seeing attitude or behavior that is concerning, don’t automatically assume that this is normal for your new mil-kid. It is very likely that the student is struggling with assimilating and needs support. Parents cannot help if they don’t see what only you can see in your class. (Oh, and on the Wednesday phone-home policy…I am always surprised to hear how many parents have never received a ‘just because’ phone call and are in shock at the added effort of communication!)
6. Bulk up your classroom and school libraries to offer military-related books. Military-connected students have seen and experienced the world. Bring them books that relate to their needs and experiences. If you don’t know where to start, consider publishers like Elva Resa Publishing, who specializes in military families.
7. Encourage involvement in playground activities – Don’t write this suggestion off as an elementary strategy. Remember, I teach middle and high school! We’ll probably change the phrases to quad, lunch room, PE, classroom centers (yup, I have centers in high school!), sports, dances, homecoming. And what is wrong with playing games in the classroom? Nothing! Consider this… At the 2016 Military Child Education Coalition National Training Seminar, Boy Scouts of America emphasized the importance of a military-connected kid’s immediate opportunity to participate in extra-curricular activities. If a student does not make a connection in the first two weeks, it is likely that student will not make any connections…and then they’ll move. By ensuring military-connected students have the opportunity to play, schools ensure these same students connect in meaningful ways. Teachers can be key advocates in this area and even create involvement activities in the classroom.
8. Create a Military or Yellow Ribbon club – invite both military & non-military kids to discuss military-connected challenges, support/welcome all new students, say goodbye to leaving students, & complete community projects like friendship gardens. You may find that even your returning students will benefit from this type of club.
9. Challenge students at deeper levels if they are repeating learning content… but don’t assume the student has prior instruction. I know what my returning students learned the year before because their teacher is my classroom neighbor. I don’t know this about my new kids – especially about my new military-connected students coming from different states! Parents are starting to keep track of student work using portfolios designed through Families On The Home Front’s Operation Dandelion Kids. As teachers, we can use this learning tool to design curriculum to meet ALL our students’ needs.
10. Smile and personally welcome them to your classroom! Be their first friendly face. They’ll be more willing to learn from you if they respect you and know you respect them.
Teachers everywhere are reviewing curriculum, decorating classrooms, buying supplies, and reviewing class charts. We recognize most of the names in our class, but there are the few names we don’t recognize – the new military connected students. Let’s build a few resiliency strategies into our teaching repertoire NOW to support new students on DAY ONE.
We can start together TONIGHT at a FREE LIVE webinar: Back-to-School Strategies: Supporting Military-Connected Students and Families Hosted by National University NBC Teacher Leadership Center.
Amanda Trimillos is an Air Force wife, mother of four, Doctoral student, university adjunct instructor, Key Spouse, and former DODDs teacher. In nineteen years of military life, Amanda has experienced seven moves and five deployments. Amanda’s teaching experience ranges from 6th-12 grade in four different states and with the DoD Schools. She is a National Board Certified Teacher (NBCT), NBCT Program Ambassador and course lead at National University.
She advocates for military-connected students and military spouse educators through the White House’s Joining Forces: Operation Educate the Educator initiative. Amanda is published and speaks nationally about strategies to support military-connected students and how to keep military spouses in the teaching profession. Her national appearances include the inaugural Blue Star Family NetworkLive! panel speaker in Washington DC, four times Department of Education “Teach to Lead” Summit senior teacher mentor, and National Board Certification Leadership Center annual conference presenter in California. Her publications can be found in print and on the web. She wrote “School Choices and Changes” in the book Stories Around the Table: Laughter, Wisdom, and Strength in Military Life.
Facebook: Amanda NB CT