As a school counselor, I am used to transition. In a comprehensive counseling program, transitions are an integral piece of student support. I help students transition from one grade level to the next, one division to the next, or in and out of schools. I am also used to supporting staff in transition as people come and go, move divisions, change positions, retire, or accept another job at another school in another country. Transitions are normal, healthy, and in my wheel-house. I know what to do, how to process, plan, and support .. when it is someone else’s transition.
Personally, I am going through a major transition in about every capacity of my life. In the past 4 months I have said goodbye to friends and students, packed up my life, moved halfway around the world, started a new job, in a new country, with new coworkers, programming, students, staff, and more. About every major transition you can possibly experience, I just did in the span of a few months. And guess what? … I have felt lost and floundering. I have been struggling with my own transition and making sense of who I am in time and place.
So, I did what I do for others — I sat down and drew up a transition plan. Except this time the person who I was supporting and developing a plan for was myself. Here are the elements of my transition success plan and what I did to be kind to myself and make sense of what I was going through.
- I identified my support group. I clearly outlined who could help me in my transition. Who would understand the various pieces of what I was experiencing and be able to support me through those aspects? Who would be gentle enough with my emotions but also provide tough love and alternate perspectives to my thinking? Who was already not overwhelmed with their own life so that they were open and willing to let me lean on them when needed? Who could support me personally? Who professionally? I quickly realized it was not fair to my husband to be my sole support as he was in the same stage of transition. Rather, I reached out to a few family members, some old friends, and some new staff who were in the transition boat right along beside me. Each were able to help me in a specific way that was not overwhelming to them or me.
- I clearly defined what support looked like to me. As I discuss in this post, I clarified specifically what support looks like for me so that my needs were met in a manner that felt meaningful for me. I spoke what I needed and was willing to ask for help. Sometimes my support had everything to do with school. Sometimes it had nothing to do with school. I was just clear in what I needed at my transition at that moment to set myself up for success instead of disappointment.
- I found my slice of “normal.” To ease transitions, I am a firm believer in establishing routines and settling in. This meant I identified what I needed both personally and professionally to feel like I could conquer the day in a manner that felt true to who I am. Coffee maker in the kitchen. Planner filled out and updated daily. A comfortable couch to curl up on at night. A gym membership to maintain my workout (aka sanity) schedule. A really good pencil sharpener and a set of pencils. Knowing where to access the daily schedule. Knowing what standards guide the counseling department at my new school. Once I had those pieces of “normal” figured out, I felt more settled and like life was not so different after all.
- I allowed my emotions to be. I named my feelings. I acknowledged what might have made me feel that way. I sat in the emotion for a while and honored it. Then, I did something to move through it instead of letting it swallow me up. I did not apologize for pure glee. I did not apologize for pure sadness. I recognized there was a reason that emotion surfaced and then I moved through it.
- I created “triage lists.” I created three different sets of lists: What needs to be done/known/understood now? What needs to be done/known/understood soon? What needs to be done/known/understood in the future.” This helped me break life into manageable pieces. It also helped me understand that there were things to focus on now and gave me the grace to push some things to the back burner. Instant grace. Instant clarity. Instant focus.
- I embraced the new and I stopped comparing. I realized I was packing a pretty hefty “back home” or “at my last school” suitcase. That was not fair to my new situation to compare or score one item against another. It also did not allow me to fully embrace the new and engage in the change process. I realized that as long as I was constantly comparing I was not fully embracing. Transition means reflecting on what was while also looking forward to what will be. So, I stored that suitcase away in a closet and opened myself up to being vulnerable, unsure, unsteady, and ready to tackle the new.
As I wrote and worked through my transition plan I realized that just like every other individual in transition, having some tangible actions to focus on helped make the unmanageable seem doable. The scary become less overwhelming. I seemed to move through the chaos quicker and found my semblance of normal. The plan helped me clarify my goals and gave me a sense of purpose while still honoring the change, emotions, and fear that goes hand-in-hand with transitioning. Most importantly, I reflected on how essential a solid, individualized, student-centered transition plan is to support students through change. I more fully see the benefit of a comprehensive plan that meets student needs as they move into the next unknown.
What are some ways you support student transition? How have you supported yourself in a major transition? What would you include in your transition plan?