Five ways to embed transitions-care within and between schools
Five ways to embed transitions-care within and between schools
Photo of blog author Valerie Besanceney from the SPAN network


By Valérie Besanceney


I was encouraged to see that CIS is putting strong emphasis on positive transitions-care between schools and universities since attending the in-person CIS Global Forum on International Admission & Guidance in Madrid, the virtual CIS Global Forum and the recent CIS Mental Health & Well-being Workshop.

In this article, I’d like to draw some further attention to how this can be done within and between schools. Why? Because even if our students are physically present, whether in-person or virtual, they will not be able to reap all the benefits of an international education—or any education, for that matter—if unaddressed emotions are impeding their ability to learn.

Doug Ota, Keynote Speaker at the CIS Global Forum in Madrid, invited us to join him on a journey by illustrating how 'connections get built on the downward slope' and how 'security comes from being responded to sensitively when something difficult happens.' He added, 'where mobility unravels attachment, belonging rebuilds it.'1

Group of students walking together


As Doug mentioned, 'kids whose brains are on fire cannot learn as well. Brain glucose is being spent on coping, not learning.' His ongoing research, the Safe Passage Attachment Study in International Schools (SPASIS), examines whether attachment security may be getting compromised in international schools because of mobility not being handled sensitively.

However, mobility is not at fault. Research shows that unmanaged transitions across cultures negatively impact a young adult’s learning journey, sense of belonging and identity.2 Well-managed transitions can add significant value to a life and a learning journey.

During the SPAN Symposium in October 2022, Leo Thompson, CIS School Support & Evaluation Officer, addressed the question: What is the CIS Accreditation Standard E5, and how is it being implemented to actively support students and families in transition? Following a random sample of 35 team/accreditation reports, Leo explored patterns and provided an excellent A-Z summary of successful ideas and initiatives. It was an encouraging list, yet it also sparked a conversation on how schools can do this even better.

Standard E5 in the CIS International Accreditation Framework: The school provides active support for students and families in transition in and out of the school, as well as between divisions within the school, through appropriate information, programmes, counselling and advice, drawing upon local agencies and external expertise when needed.


One of my biggest takeaways from Doug’s keynote is the answer to the dilemma, 'So what do we do?' It lies in our intentionality to create time and space for connection and belonging.

The next step is to develop intentional ways to embed transitions-care within and between schools. Below are five:

1. Get informed and acknowledge the need for transitions-care

Back in 1996, Barbara Schaetti emphasized the responsibility that schools and any educational institution have in terms of addressing mobility. She said: 'Addressing student mobility is an essential component of an international school’s mandate. You don’t have the luxury of focusing on academics alone. An international school must take into account the environment in which students are living, one in which students and the school community are in a constant state of transition.'3

In 2009, Professor John Hattie conducted the biggest meta-analysis of educational research with the aim of finding out what actually works to bring about optimal learning. Mobility was the single factor most detrimental to learning. Since then, he has built on his research three more times and found that out of 252 factors contributing to learning, mobility ranks in the top five influences most detrimental to learning. 

Looking at the recent research by Barron & Mahoney in 2020, less than half (48%) of international schools provide transitions-care for graduating students. Transitions-care for parents of students preparing for tertiary transitions was present in only 24% of international schools. Furthermore, an alarming majority (60%) of international schools have no formal way of assessing the success of their transitions-care program. Of those with an alumni program, only 20% of schools use their former students as a resource to gain a greater understanding of their transitions-care program success. 

The need for adequate transitions-care became even more apparent during the pandemic. Bruce Feiler, author of Life is in the Transitions (2020)4 speaks of the difference between individual transitions and collective transitions. 'As long as life is going to be full of plot twists, why not spend more time learning to master them?'5 We should provide our students (and ourselves) with tools to manage this collective transition, as well as all the other individual transitions. 

Not only is it important to educate your school community about the existing research associated with transitions-care, it is also important to do your own research. Collecting data from your school community allows you to intentionally look at where and how you need to improve the transitions experience for your students, families and staff.

2. Team up for positive transitions-care

At many schools, transitions-care is often driven by one or a few members of staff who care deeply, whether they have experienced a lack or an abundance of transitions-care support, or something in between. Either way, school communities often experience that the best efforts of one or few enthusiasts to implement a program wither away after these individuals become the Leavers. 

The work of well-managed transitions cannot be done in isolation and is best done in a team. Rami Madani, Head of School at the International School of Kuala Lumpur, says teams should be built around a purpose, not job titles. In Doug Ota’s book Safe Passage: how mobility affects people and what international schools should do about it, he outlines how an entire team, one that includes all of the stakeholders at a school, is necessary to build a K-12 Transitions Team. It should include and address the Arrivers, Leavers, and Stayers across the entire school community. 

Today, we have the ability to team up not only within but also between schools. Our collective intelligence in this learning community offers a variety of experiences and perspectives that can lead to enhanced understanding and enriched practical strategies. 

Ways to connect as a CIS member—Log into the CIS Community portal to access many ways to connect and collaborate with each other via member contact lists, events, Live Member Connections, workshops and opportunities to present your insights and ideas.

Safe Passage Across Networks (SPAN) also created networks within and between schools. Learn more


3. Educate and share best practices

The research and literature available on transitions-care is growing. As a school, you can increase your intellectual capital through a deeper understanding of why transitions-care matters. Safe Passage Across Networks (SPAN), a CIS Supporting Member, specifically offers online courses using research-based methodology to develop or enhance your school’s transitions-care policies and practices. 

In order to implement and develop robust transitions-care plans and strategies, your staff need to be equipped with knowledge and tools to address the trials and triumphs of transition within and beyond your school community. SPAN also aims to create and sustain a network between schools that encourages collaboration and sharing of global best practices in transitions-care.

4. Develop a common transitions-care language and culture

As more schools are looking at improving their transitions-care programs, this is a unique opportunity to develop a common language to address the challenges and benefits of building a solid transitions-care program within and between schools. Once students, staff, and families are well versed in the language of transitions-care, understand the transition cycle, and build the traditions and rituals around those different stages, the culture of transitions-care will start to become part of the school culture.

Ideally, when looking for a school, students, staff and families should be able to recognize when a school will support them in their transitions, because they have already been acquainted with the language around it. 

5. Implement a sustainable transitions-care plan for your school

While offering any transitions-care support to your students, staff, and families, always recognize that your community needs comfort before encouragement. By simply acknowledging the challenges (and benefits) to a globally mobile lifestyle, you will provide them with the time and space needed to develop connection and belonging. 

What this looks like in terms of offering resources on how to manage positive transitions-care, will undoubtedly be unique to your school community and school culture. Setting up your students, staff and families for success in their transitions is key to a successful learning journey and will put them at an advantage wherever they will go in life. 

Given that the importance of transitions-care is emerging to the forefront through all the above-mentioned research, presentations and ensuing conversations on well-being in international schools, l would like to end this post with a gentle provocation: What can your school do to direct resources, human and monetary, to set up sustainable transitions-care within and between schools so that well-managed mobility positively impacts learning?

Valérie Besanceney (MEd) is originally Dutch, Swiss by nationality, and holds the numerous cultures she has lived in close to her heart. Valérie has been an international educator for the past 17 years. Founder of Roots with Boots, she consults for families, schools, and organizations. Author of two children’s books, B at Home: Emma Moves Again and My Moving Booklet, she is passionate about helping children and their families thrive through their transitions. She currently serves as the Executive Director for Safe Passage Across Networks (SPAN).


Related content: 


Further reading:


Keynote by Doug Ota, CIS Global Forum on International Admission & Guidance in Madrid 2022.

Hattie, J. (2009). Visible Learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta analysis relating to achievement. New York, NY: Routledge/

Schaetti, B. (1996) Transition Programming in International Schools: An Emergent Mandate [Electronic edition] Inter-Ed;  AAIE—Association for the Advancement of International Education.

Barron & Mahoney (2020): Surveying the Landscape: Common Practices, Challenges and Opportunities in International School Transitions-Care.

Feiler, B. (2020). Life is in the Transitions: Mastering Change at Any Age. Penguin Press. New York, USA.



Five ways to embed transitions-care within and between schools