Breakthrough Greater Boston runs academic programming for middle and high school students year-round. Their summer program involves students taking several classes, run by college-aged Teaching Fellows.

Key Takeaways

  • Set clear expectations with youth and program staff about the transition process.

  • Keep the transition process consistent – use the same protocols and the same duration of time.

  • Multiple avenues of communication with students and staff can help facilitate setting these expectations.

  • Leverage strong child-adult relationships to help mitigate barriers to a smooth transition.

Q: What does a typical transition between activities look like at your program?

A: We set our schedules so that there is a three-minute transition in between classes, and we message that to students. Ideally what that looks like is all of our teachers as well as program staff and counselors are in the hallway talking to kids and encouraging them to head towards their next class. We also have one teacher who is in charge of music, so that individual would pick a three-minute song, and go up and down the hallway and play the music. Kids know when the music is done they need to be in class. This also creates a positive culture in the hallway of kids hearing the music and dancing along, as teachers are talking with them and guiding them where they need to go. That three-minute time span is a time when kids could talk to each other, talk to their teachers, use the bathroom, and then get to class.


The ideal is that all teachers are supervising and supporting students going to class during transition time. Teachers who have a planning period are expected to support in the hallway as well. Teachers who are teaching are at their doors greeting students as they enter. Ideally all team members are actively involved during this time.

Q: How do you ensure that transitions are smooth and quick?

A: We prioritize holding students accountable to that time frame, which is why I think the music is helpful. If you say it’s three minutes but then it’s four minutes, or five minutes, and classroom doors are still open and teachers are still in the hallway, then students will probably feel like there’s a level of flexibility for when they can get to class. If everyone is on board with that timeframe and knows to close their doors and start class when the music is over, then kids who are still in the hallway will know, “I need to get into class, class is starting and I’m missing something exciting.”  We train our teachers to begin each class with an engaging opening activity, so that students don’t wait to miss out on the learning and feel a sense of urgency to be on time.  

Q: How do you communicate expectations about transitions to youth and staff in your program?

A: We have a daily faculty meeting where we debrief the day, and go over announcements and issues that we need to address, so we would use that time to discuss transitions. When transitions weren’t as smooth in the beginning, we used that time to problem solve that with teachers, and talk about what we wanted that time to look like. This would also be the space where we could say, “Transitions were not that tight today.” What is ideal is for us to leverage some of our Teaching Fellows who are in leadership positions to do that, as opposed to having those messages always come from our program leadership. For example, there have been situations in the summer where Teaching Fellows would send out a group text that would say, “We didn’t have enough people at the side door during that transition, we need to be better,” or where they could make that announcement in a staff meeting and say, “Transitions were not smooth today – remember why it is important that we’re at doors greeting kids and building relationships” or “Some of the kids were late coming from their previous class, let’s do this better tomorrow.” That’s what the messaging looks like.


In addition to daily staff meetings and weekly professional development sessions, our teaching fellows also take part in two weeks of pre-service training. These two weeks are critical to introducing not only key instructional strategies, but also program wide procedures and routines – such as transitions.  We work hard to ensure that teaching fellows and all summer staff understand the why behind each procedure at Breakthrough.


We also have a daily community meeting, where all of our Teaching Fellows and students come together. Teaching Fellows and students are up on stage, and we can do announcements about the day and share about successes as well as areas to grow as a community.

Q: What would your program staff do if a child was acting out in a way that prevented a smooth transition, such as by refusing to move on to the next activity?

A: First thing program staff would do is try to leverage one of our Teaching Fellows that they had a good relationship with. For instance, they may say, “Hey, so-and-so is not moving to the next activity, can you go walk with them to the next activity?” We have each Teaching Fellow paired with 3-5 students who are their advisees, who they meet with every day during our homework time and who they mentor, so if there were any issues we would find the advisor for that student because that’s someone who has consistent contact with that student and their family. The advisor would go over and they would already have a preexisting relationship with that student, so they would be able to say, “What’s going on? Gotta move to the next spot…Why are you not transitioning?” They would then walk with the student and check in with them about their day while also ensuring they got to class on time.


If there was some follow-up necessary, the advisor would be able to report back to our program leadership – if it was a bigger situation that they couldn’t navigate – and then we could follow up. We have a Manager of Student Services who works on student support, who would then be able to talk to that student and see why they weren’t transitioning to the next space, and figure out what was happening. She would have that conversation with the student and follow up with them, or follow up with families or counseling staff, as appropriate.


In every public school in Cambridge and four schools in Boston, Breakthrough Greater Boston runs a year-round academic program for middle and high school students and a teacher training program for high school and college students. During the summer, young, smart, energetic teachers introduce middle school students to new and exciting topics in literature, math, social studies, science, and writing. All classes culminate in a hands-on project.