Late in Term 4, most schools have a morning or day where the children visit their new teacher, classroom and and classmates for the following year. Today I wanted to share some tips with you on writing a letter / e mail or planning discussion points to share with your child's new teacher before they meet your child. This is not intended to cover introducing your child to their new teacher for next year if they are starting kindy, reception or changing schools partway through their schooling. Those events require more planning, meetings and lead up to transition visits than I can cover in this blog post, however you may get a few useful hints to use in that process. This is purely for change of classroom teacher from Reception to Year 1 and so on, where the teacher will already be vaguely aware of your child's additional needs and been briefed by their current teacher.
It is best to explain SM and how to approach a child with SM BEFORE the teacher meets your child. The first meeting is really important and can set the tone for all future interactions. Lots of parents and teachers forget to prepare the new teacher before Moving Up Morning / Transition Visits and leave it all until late January, the first day of term or worse still until week 2/3 of term 1 to allow the child to 'settle in to the new class first'. Please don't! Those are 2-3 weeks where the teacher is likely to be unwittingly asking your child questions, pressuring him/her to speak and not doing all the things which could make the transition so much easier. It is not their fault if you don't educate them.
The other mistake that some parents make is coming on too strong too soon. It is Term 4; the children are exhausted, the parents are exhausted, the teachers are exhausted and they are busy with end of year reports and class events. They do not have the time to get deeply involved in the ins and outs of SM right now.
All you should be looking to do is give the teacher the information they need to make your child feel comfortable at Moving Up Morning, introducing yourself and opening up a dialogue with the new teacher. Keep it simple!
After Moving Up Morning, I suggest that you send a second e mail thanking them for taking the time to make your child feel comfortable and asking if would be possible to get in contact when they are back at school setting up the classroom in January. Once they have recharged and they are back at work, then you can arrange to send them more detailed info on SM, meet up in person and also arrange a visit for your child to see their new classroom and have some 1:1 time with the teacher before the start of term. Handling this meeting is a separate blog post / book chapter which I can't cover now.
Here is a copy of one of the many letters I have sent to teachers before Moving Up Morning which you could use as a template and adapt to your own child's stage of recovery. This one was for a child moving up to Year 2 who was already verbal with current teacher but only in certain situations.
Info for Mr. Teacher on Selective Mutism re: Pupil P
Hi Mr Teacher,
Thanks for taking the time to read this info about P and Selective Mutism before Moving Up Morning.
SM is a treatable anxiety-based disorder where children have an extreme fear of speaking in social situations outside the immediate family. For more information on SM see www.selectivemutism.org. The fear of speaking is so real and strong for these children that there have been cases of SM kids with broken limbs unable to ask for help.
P's best friend is child A. She can also talk to child B and C. I have asked Mrs. Teacher to pair her up with child A on the walk over to your classroom next week as this will help to lower her anxiety levels. If the children will be allowed to choose a seat it would be wonderful if you could ensure that she is close to her friends.
At moving up morning, there is no need to try too hard to make a big effort with her, in fact that is counter productive. As long as she is doing fun activities that don’t require speech and is with her good friends, she will be fine. You can say hello and be friendly, make nice comments about her work but avoid asking any questions.
The main thing to remember is that it is an ANXIETY disorder and NOT a speech disorder. Therefore the goal of treatment is to reduce her anxiety by removing ALL PRESSURE on her to talk. This means:
The new children in the class will soon notice that P is shy and quiet. In The Selective Mutism Resource Manual the authors suggest that if children start commenting on a child’s shyness or lack of speech it is best to play this down straight away with a response like: ‘P can speak perfectly well in her old class / at home and lots of children take a while to warm up. P will soon be able to join in when she is used to us all.’
It’s unlikely for P to relax enough in the short time the class is together on Thursday morning to start to make new friends. My main concern is for her to just register the different faces, room and teacher; for her to realise that lots of her classmates will still be with her and that lots of things are still the same. I’m more concerned that there is as little stress and challenge as possible at the Moving Up Morning than that she makes friends, so that her anxiety levels are low when she thinks about her new class during the holidays and develops a positive association with the new situation.
Thanks for taking the time to read this and I look forward to working with you.