It’s a New Year – Time to Look at Students Through a New Lens

A new calendar year provides the ideal occasion to reflect on who our students are now compared to who they were at the beginning of the year. Depending on how early the school year begins, some of us have been with our students for almost six months! In that time, students have grown physically, cognitively, linguistically, behaviorally, socially, and emotionally. Some students may also appear to have experienced “setbacks.” As we reflect on our students, we need to consider what changes are developmentally appropriate, using as guides the key maxims of child and adolescent development articulated in Yardsticks:

  • Stages of growth and development follow a reasonably predictable pattern.
  • Children and adolescents do not proceed through each stage at the same pace.
  • Children and adolescents progress through the various aspects of development at their own rate.
  • Growth is uneven.
yardsticks, 3rd edChanges in Our Students Are Cause for Pause

Students’ developmental changes impact both their learning and their relationships. This requires us to evaluate the systems we have in place to support our students.

Where to Begin?
  • Start with the birthday cluster you created at the beginning of the year. How old is the majority of your class? Who are they now developmentally? What are the developmental needs of students who are not part of the cluster?
  • Read through Yardsticks to see what changes correspond to developmental patterns. For example: Are students now pushing back on working together, when they didn’t before? This could be a common developmental change.
  • Check in with students about the rules. Do they still carry the same weight they once did or is it time to revamp the rules so they match students’ current needs?
Consider Changes to Accommodate Students’ Physical Growth
Consider Changes to Accommodate Students’ Social-Emotional Needs
  • What skills have students “mastered” and what skills do they still need to work on? How and when will these skills be taught, modeled, and practiced?
  • If Interactive Modeling feels played out, are there other strategies that can be used — such as role-play, class meetings, Fish Bowl, Expert Demonstration, or simply brainstorming as a class — to help students grow?
  • Consider using read alouds with partner chats to process and discuss storylines that are relevant to the students.
Consider Changes to Accommodate Students’ Individual Needs and Safety

We need to remember that development is influenced by culture, personality, and environment.

Our students are growing in leaps and bounds, which means we need to support them in all aspects of their development. The support we offer may be academic, but it may also be more personalized based on the student. Some students may be grappling with significant topics such as:

  • Cultural identity
  • Learning differences
  • Gender identity
  • Recognizing and utilizing strengths
  • Sexual orientation
  • Peer acceptance
  • Academic interests

As you move through the second half of your school year, remember that development ebbs and flows. Our students are growing and changing in so many ways; we need to help them grow into themselves with kindness, patience, empathy, and a deep understanding of the developmental stages they are going through right before our very eyes.


Written by Nicole Doner, Responsive Classroom Consulting Teacher and Professional Development Designer
Tags: Child Development, Transitions

4 Replies to “It’s a New Year – Time to Look at Students Through a New Lens”

  • In review of the above article, the one area I focused on was a review of the rules, and their ability to meet the needs of the students. We reviewed the rules one by one. As I teach several age levels, I did this with all ages. The students determined that the rules were still applicable, and that no changes needed to be made. With that, I informed them that as the rules were still in effect, we would need to work harder at making sure they were still being met. They were agreeable to this, and we have worked on praise when the rules are followed, and reminding when work needs to be done.

  • Thank you, Nicole, for sharing this insight. It is common after holiday breaks for teachers to revisit classroom routines and rules, but your article brings up a great point – we must also revisit with our students. My first instinct is to pay closer attention to my birthday chart next year. In middle school it can feel like the kids are all over the place, but it is often that we need to meet the kids where they are at developmentally.

  • Hi Nicole,
    You shared some great reminders about how students are continuously changing and teachers need to look at their classroom to better fit their needs. I think it’s important to revisit the routines and rules to see if they still apply. Even first graders gain more responsibility throughout the year and they feel proud of themselves they are able to do certain things now. I think this is also important for parents to remember, too! I often remind parents to give their students independence and allow them to take on small tasks as home (putting their library books in their backpack). This information would be great to share with parents!

  • Hi Nicole,

    Thank you for writing this article! It gave me a lot of new information about how I should be reflecting on my students. I like how you broke it down into sections of physical growth, social-emotional needs, and individual needs. I think it is a necessary reminder that our students change during the second half of the year. It is easy to fall into a routine. I especially think it is important to check-in with students about the rules in the classroom. I think that as the class gets to know each other and the teacher more, those rules become more relaxed and need refreshing. One thing that I will do moving forward is look at the birthday cluster. That is something that I have not done before, but is an important part of where they are developmentally.

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