Psychological Principles to Start the School Year off Strong

A new school year is quickly approaching, and as it does, many students may be facing a new learning environment with a series of new challenges.

From a psychological perspective, there remains many different psychological schools and approaches that either explain how we process, absorb and retain information (i.e., learning), and how we navigate through new environment (social psychology).

This article will touch on some general theory and theorists relating to learning, and hopefully some of that information may be useful for students (and parents and teachers:) in the upcoming school year.

Learning Theories

“What does it mean to learn?”

On the surface, this may appear to be a nonsensical question. Of course, on some level, most people have a “gut” feeling of what it’s like to learn something new—a new skill, a new behavior, a new fact, etc.

Yet even a casual glance through the history of psychology reveals something else. It reveals a long, sometimes confusing, history of names and theories that attempt to explain what learning is, how it works, and how one can better improve their memory.

According to authors Christopher Sterling and Daniel Frings, they are several different types of learning. They are:

• Problem Solving

• Instrumental Learning

• Observational Learning

• Cognitive Learning

• Implicit Learning

• Classical Conditioning

• Practice and Transfer

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it may give the reader a sense of the different types of learning—and these types of learning occur in different ways. For instance, “Instrumental learning,” write Sterling and Frings, “occurs when we learn—through trial and error—that some responses to a problematic situation are effective, while others are not.”

Social Psychology

Over 2,000 years ago, Aristotle famously observed that humans are “by nature a social animal.”

When students begin and new school year, they are not just there to learn, but they are also there to make friends, socialize, and navigate through a new environment. As noted above, just as there remain different theories of learning, there also remain different aspects of socialization. These include “forming attitudes,” “forming impressions,” “forming stereotypes,” “making attributions,” and the like.

Although it may be politically correct not to ‘judge’ others, authors Sterling and Frings note that, “we constantly make judgments about objects, ideas, and entities in our social world.”

So, when a new student enters into a new social environment (such as when they enter into a new classroom, meet new classmates or a new teacher), they immediately begin making judgments about those people in that situation. Social psychology helps to explain how these impressions form.

To conclude, although it may not appear so on the surface, psychology—with particular emphasis on learning theory and social psychology—has a lot to say about students, whether they are new to the classroom or returning students.

As students get ready to start a new school year, it may remain helpful to look deeper into some of the ideas, theorists, and theories that psychology has to offer about learning and the social environment in the classroom. If knowledge is power, then even a cursory knowledge of these topics may prove helpful in reducing new school year anxiety in students, parents, and teachers alike.


Sterling, C., and Frings, D. (2016) Psychology Squared. Metro Books, New York.

Brooke Lamberti

Brooke Lamberti is a content writer based out of Scranton, Pennsylvania. She received a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Marywood University, and has prior career experience working in social work and domestic violence advocacy. She has a passion for writing and helping others.

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