5 Tips for Starting High School | Are You Ready?

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As our Year 6’s gear up to move into secondary school, it’s crucial that we consider how to support them and ensure that they are prepared for the road ahead. Dr Gigi Sutton from Sort, Organise, Support shares her suggestions.

1. Consider your child in a broad context

Many schools have an increasingly sophisticated orientation program. A large part of this process is aimed at helping students and parents understand “how things are done here”. Expectations are set, policies outlined and resources highlighted. However as parents, we all bring to the table our own set of values. You need to be aware of how these fit with the school. Set your child up for success as defined by your family. This value set will be reflected in your choice of school but there is not always a perfect fit. Remember that the school and family form a partnership, each having their own roles, values, responsibilities and zone of influence.


Be open and respectful in your communication with the school and be prepared to negotiate boundaries to reflect your value system.

2. Identify available resources

Many students find that the challenge of first year high school is not subject content but process: Organising time; managing competing commitments; adopting new technology; and responding to both continuous and summative assessment. Children need help to organise and they need time to establish new habits – 66 days on average* (Lally, van Jaarsveld, Potts and Wardle, 2010).

Students and parents need to get to know and make use of key middle school staff and resources. Students can attend subject tutorials, submit draft copy, request clarification on assessment tasks, get help with timetabling, and meet with pastoral care staff. You may want to consider supplementing school resources with outside help from a professional organiser, tutor, coach and counsellor – as required. Consider how your own skill set can be best utilised to support your child’s learning, given your available time, your relationship with your child and your combined personalities.


Choose who is best positioned to work alongside your child to setup a timetable and diary that includes chores, study times, extracurricular activities, rest and recreation.

3. Foster mental preparedness

The key characteristics of mental preparedness are; self-belief, motivation, focus and composure. In order for your child to thrive at school they need to develop a sense of their own strengths and emerging skills, their unique qualities or personal spark, and self-confidence comprised of both a general sense of their ability to cope with what life throws at them (resilience) and the confidence that comes from a comparison between their competencies and goals. Motivation and focus are in part driven by our underlying personality traits but can be greatly enhanced through setting specific, measurable goals and monitoring progress towards them.


Children are very good at recognising skill and strengths in others. Encourage them to recognise their own by learning how to accept compliments, talking about their school day, sharing their successes and reframing “failure” as practice so that they learn to talk about it, take reasonable risks, be creative and see future possibilities.

4. Set and negotiate realistic goals and expectations

Goals provide short term motivation and long term vision for adult and child alike. They help students to organise their time and keep them focused and committed. Personal goals guide behaviour, actions and choices. Importantly, goal setting helps students to measure their success, take pride in their achievements, build confidence from developing skills and in so doing improve their experience of high school. As parents we need to guide our children through this process and be realistic as we negotiate expectations about participation in household, community, academic, work, recreational and sporting activities.


Encourage your child to verbalise their interests, goals and ambitions. The best way to meet goals is to write them down and keep them in a visible location. Goals should be specific and measureable, both short term (enabling) and long term (vision setting).

5. Understand and work the system

In high school the focus moves from one of participation to one of competition: the activity of striving to win by establishing superiority over others http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/competition.  The awarding of grades is necessary to compare the relative performance of students irrespective of whether or not the student chooses an OP eligible course of study.

High school students must learn how to read marking criteria and develop the skills to be able to respond deliberately to instructions e.g. compare and contrast, summarise, list, discuss, evaluate. They need to respond to the specific guidelines set by the marker. They are not in a position of power to negotiate the rules but they have a right to clarify them and ask for assistance.


Encourage students to timetable all assessments, start early, submit drafts and make detailed corrections to their work in response to feedback.

Entering High School & Success

Dr Gigi Sutton is a former Occupational Therapist, University Lecturer, and Researcher. She now provides organising support, through her company Sort Organise Support, to students; individuals and couples going through marital separation; and people moving into aged care.

You can find out more at her website www.sortorganisesupport.com.au or on 1800 002 062.

*Lally, P., van Jaarsveld, C. H. M., Potts, H. W. W. and Wardle, J. (2010), How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world. Eur. J. Soc. Psychol., 40: 998–1009.

*This editorial was featured in our print issue 5; August/September 2014

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