Guest post by Gordon Klasna

Summer is near and, as principal, I find myself already thinking about student transitions from one year to the next. For kids today, traditional school transitions seem to be growing even more difficult as children are living in an era of constant interruptions and limited attention span.

Since Eileen Johnson Middle School (EJMS) is an independent elementary district, we do not have a high school in our district, so instead we partner with our neighboring high schools to help ensure that our students are prepared academically when they cross their thresholds. While we all follow the same state academic standards, we don’t measure the soft skills that students need which are essential to making smooth transitions from one school to the next.

What are the skills that students need to navigate these transitions? How can educators help develop these skills in students so they make successful transitions throughout their entire school career?

Essential soft skills for successful transitions

While there are many soft skills that students need to develop, my focus is on the particular skills that help students make a successful transition into a new learning environment. In my experience, the students who made successful transitions into a new school possessed the following skills:

  • Organization and time management: Can students organize their learning materials and keep track of their work? Do students know how to use a planner to write down assignments and other responsibilities? Can students establish priorities and use their time productively to complete their work and meet deadlines?
  • Study habits: Do students possess basic study skills like note-taking, active reading, and test preparation? Can students choose the best place to study? Can students eliminate distractions during their study time to focus on learning?
  • Communication: Do students have the ability to speak and listen to others both informally and formally? Can students talk to their teachers about their learning? Can students work with other students effectively in group settings?

Cultivating soft skills in students

So, what can schools and educators do to develop these skills in students? Here are a few ways that we at EJMS cultivate soft skills in students:

Organization and time management

  • Show students how to use a planner and give them time at the end of each class or day to review their planner.
  • Show students different ways to organize their learning materials, like a folder system, an accordion file, or even with online educational apps like Evernote or Google Classroom. Provide students time to organize their learning materials on a regular basis.
  • Model how to make a to-do list and how to select priorities based on deadlines. Give students opportunities to make their own to-do list and review it with them.
  • Allow students free time in class and during the school day so that they can practice using their time effectively for independent learning.

Study habits

  • Teach students how to make a study guide and help them choose the materials they need to study, such as notes, textbooks, and practice tests.
  • Introduce students to a variety of study strategies including flash cards, question & answer, and visualization. Give students opportunities to practice these strategies in class so that they know how to use them at home.
  • Give students time in class to study and allow them to choose the best place to study.
  • Talk openly with students about distractions and their negative impact on learning. Work with students to identify ways to combat distractions.


  • Greet students at the door and be visible in the hallways so that adults talk with students outside of class time. These short exchanges allow students to work on making eye contact and conversing informally.
  • Provide opportunities for students to talk individually with teachers about their learning progress through quick check-ins or more formal conferences.
  • Include a variety of activities in the classroom that require students to use communication skills, such as presentations, discussions, group work, and interviews. In addition, ask open-ended questions that require more than a one-word response.
  • When students work in groups, change the group members to ensure that they interact with different peers. Also, establish different roles in groups (e.g., leader, scribe, questioner, researcher) and rotate the responsibilities so that students develop the communication skills necessary for each role.

Developing these soft skills in students will help ease their transition into high school. Moreover, students who possess these skills will have what it takes to be an independent and effective learner in whatever environment they encounter throughout their entire lives.

What other soft skills do students need to make a successful transition into a new learning environment? How can schools cultivate these skills?

Gordon Klasna is the principal of Eileen Johnson Middle School, an independent elementary district in Lockwood School District. He has served as an administrator for 14 years and as an educator for 24 years. He was the 2017 Montana Principal of the Year.


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