Let me run a scenario past you and see what you think. Imagine you have been teaching for six years. For reasons that you can’t control, you have to leave your teaching position and relocate to another city. You’re fortunate enough to find another job, but you’re teaching a different grade-level and you don’t know anyone on staff, nor do you know any of the students you will be teaching.

How do you think you would feel?

Now, how do you think students feel when they transfer schools?


In Spring 2018, I signed up to take part in the first ever Student Motivation Course, designed and delivered by the Dave Stuart Jr. In the course, Stuart goes over the Five Key Beliefs that impact student learning:

  • Teacher Credibility — I believe in my teacher.
  • Belonging — I belong in this academic environment.
  • Effort — I can improve through my effort.
  • Efficacy — I can succeed at this.
  • Value — This work has value for me.

I have been applying some of what I learned in the course, and the results have been very encouraging (read about my first day of school HERE). But there was one element of the course that I have been looking forward to test driving, and I finally had my chance!

StuartSMCThere was one lesson in particular that really got me thinking. It was the lesson on “attributional retraining intervention.” I’m sure that phrase alone sold you on it. Let me walk you through what it means. First, “[W]hen things go poorly, we sometimes attribute it to something that’s uniquely wrong with us, when really the negative situation may just be something that’s normal” (Stuart 2018).

To paraphrase Stuart’s paraphrase, there are times when students face challenging transitions, which become opportune moments for students to take negative feelings about their situations, and attribute it to something wrong in themselves instead of just seeing the situation as normal. Picture a freshmen in college having a difficult time adjusting. This is normal, but when a student is walking through it, he or she may feel she’s the only one, or maybe “I’m in over my head,” or “I don’t belong here.” But there is a wise intervention that can retrain that negative attribution into something positive, and help affirm the belief that the student does belong.

In the course, Stuart challenged participants to select and profile a group that goes through a rough transition, like a student who is new to the school, one who joins in mid-year (a transfer). Talk about feeling on the outside of things and like you don’t belong! Here’s the wise intervention that Stuart suggests:

  • Survey students who went through this same transition and came out the other side adjusted, connected, and a success.
  • Ask these students to retell their story, when they went from feeling like an outsider to feeling like they belonged.
    • This can be done on a short video recorded on a cell phone.
    • Students can write this out in narrative form.
  • After these stories are collected (which can be time consuming), put them together for a transfer student.
  • Next, when the student transfers in, have him or her watch the videos / read the narratives, and have this new student respond to strategic prompts that help facilitate the student to retrain the negative attribute into something affirmative.

Okay. This may all be sounding a little complex. And it kind of is when put in print here on this post. But once one wraps his or her head around it, and sets it up well, the deployment can be quite simple. I would like to show you how.

If you’ll permit me, I would like to walk you through what I did in a 15 minute video (below). Just to set the expectation, it’s a first draft video, and I am not that polished as a screencaster (I say “Uh” and “Umm” a lot). Oh, and I had a mechanics error in the title slide .

Here’s a breakdown of the video content by time, in case you’re only interested in one particular segment:

I used Google Sites to build the web page (it’s very simple and easy to use). Also, here is a PDF of the questions I used in the Google Form at the bottom of the web page. And if you’re looking for the Google Form survey questions I initially used to ferret out the four exemplar transfer stories, here is that PDF.

QUESTION: In what ways do you see students drawing unhelpful conclusions about their circumstances? What about teachers? In what ways do teachers need to retrain their thinking about their circumstances?

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2 thoughts on “Accelerating the Belonging Belief with Transfer Students

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