Thoughts, FeelingsTransition

Transitions, Intersections, and Thresholds: Thriving Through

Read about Deena’s experience with transition at Ryerson University’s Housing & Residence Move-In Day in Transitions, Intersections, and Thresholds.

A few weeks ago, my three-and-a-half year old daughter, Evelyn, started kindergarten. This was monumental: she became one in a room of twenty-five, moved from the homier environments of daycare and preschool into a mainstream industrial TDSB building, started to learn rules like putting up one’s hand to speak, and now fends ever more for herself during the day. That was on the Tuesday. On Wednesday, my fifteen-month-old, Sasha, started daycare. Parallely momentous. She is learning to assemble her own cot for naps, pour water from a small jug into her own drinking glass, use a spoon, and that there are loving guiders outside of her mama, papa, and big sister. That same week, my husband started a new teaching job, brimful of its own adjustments. And, of course, being the first week of classes on the Ryerson campus, I encountered numerous students starting in their own myriad ways.

What does it mean to transition into and within the scholastic context? The OED offers that  “to transition” is derived from the Latin transitio or transire, meaning to “go across”. Passing, moving, or changing from one thing or place or state to another. The opposite of static, of status quo. Encountering and stepping into new contexts. Transition is then necessarily not what has just been or what came before. Given this, unsurprisingly, there can be discomfort and disorientation. So, what are some ways we can (re)orient? Informed in part by the ThriveRU initiative to promote flourishing, grit, optimism, and a growth mindset, I’m ultimately asking—how does one transition well? How can we “cross”, or move, or step into, and not just do it well, but be well?

With Evelyn increasingly prone to teariness and shutting down at the mention of starting school, my husband and I knew that offering her some kind of preparation was imperative. We knew we needed to empower her in response to the growing overwhelm. At the same time, we had to find ways of offering our littlest one, Sasha, a proportionate toolbox for her own big transition; and, too, my husband at the threshold of a new workplace, culture, and rhythm.

How to scaffold liminal, in-between, messy, threshold spaces?

This question is permeating my work with students in these early days and weeks, not to mention family dinnertime conversation. From the tide of first year students I teach in workshops, to the leap Evelyn and her peers made into junior kindergarten, to my husband’s new job, to Sasha’s unfamiliar daycare, and to the very session I had this week with a direct-entry student shifting from college, transitional learning experiences are front and centre in my thinking and reflecting.

At the end of August, Evelyn and I envisioned and played and practised at “kindergarten”. She put on her backpack, having packed her lunch container of collected rocks and wooden vegetables, and waved goodbye, us saying to the other, “have a great day at school!” Then, we visited the school itself several times, getting a lay of the land (including the most important room for little ones—the bathroom). This was very similar to our organic “pre-orientation” with Sasha: exposure, rehearsing, and familiarity. In both contexts, knowing the importance of belonging, we reached out to other parents and transitioning kidlings, aiming to build connection and community. But we were committed to keeping visits and practise sessions with just a few of us in number, not just for manageability but also to preserve the focus and intimacy of smaller groups and the scaffolding that can happen. We also tried to ensure an excitement and optimism in our language and attitudes about the upcoming changes our two girls were facing, and did so in balance with simply sitting with the discomfort, natural if not necessary to transition. Finally, to celebrate the close of summer, and as a simple togetherness treat, we went to Centreville on the Toronto Island for the first time as a family. As Evelyn bravely got on her first ever amusement park rides, unfolding before us was another lynchpin to transition: transfer of learning. For her hesitant first go around, she insisted I join her in the spinning teacups. But the next ride, she wanted to go alone and have me wait fence-side. The next had her going solo, with Andrew, Sasha, and I at a considerable distance, beaming and waving. It was confidence-building in action. And, built upon Evelyn’s self-directed pace of attempting ever-greater independence.

(Of course, Evelyn doesn’t have a choice. Many PSE students do. Might anything shift in how we support students—in our wellness-based wayfinding—if the transition is by choice, or an imposition, or a surprise?)

I am not intending to suggest that my attempts are or should be considered a prescriptive or exhaustive list. Nor am I equating the transition to junior kindergarten with that of the leap into post-secondary, although there are parallels. Rather, I’m curious and keen to plumb these phenomena of in-betweenness and sleuth out what works well—and preserves wellness. Which is fundamentally to ask: how do you in your work as SA professionals support students in thriving through transitions?