Monday, June 16, 2014

Why Do I Create More Work for Myself and My Teachers?

My assistant principal shared our system of interventions for students who don’t do their school work with a colleague from another building. “We’re not doing all that. They’re just out of here,” he responded.

Occasionally, I address a common thought among some teachers, that as long as they deliver their lessons, it is the kids’ responsibility to learn and do. They don't see why they should have to chase kids for homework or assignments.

My approach and expectation is that our students have to work harder to fail than they would have just to engage in their schoolwork and succeed. Yes, I know that learners aren't truly motivated unless their desire to learn is intrinsic, but many youngsters will never develop an intrinsic motivation until they first taste success. 

I see it as our job to make kids successful, sometimes in spite of themselves. When they succeed, we help them recognize that feeling of pride and confidence that accompanies achievement, and we work to build on that feeling. You can’t just wait and hope for intrinsic motivation to magically coalesce in a youngster’s soul.

Here is all the “extra work” we execute at our middle school, work that is not required by anyone outside the building: 
  • Two to three team meetings a week to plan interventions for students struggling with academics, behavior, or both.
  • Several portions of individual plan times for teachers to work one-on-one with students on plans.
  •  Required parent-team meetings as an early intervention for non-working students.
  •  “Do-Not-Admit” conferences (emergency face-to-face meetings) with parents of students who are not working.
  • Monthly meetings with our paid behavior model consultant.
  • Paid off-site training for all staff in our behavior intervention model (for many, more than once).
  • Maintenance of our school-site vision team for our behavior interventions.
  • Development of support systems and programs for kids with chronic behavior problems – E.D. (emotional disability) classroom for students with IEPs, and SWAS (School Within a School), our on-site alternative program for general education students with severe behavioral issues.
  • Staffing for alternative education programs.
  •  On-going building level in-service for all teachers and staff.
  • Assistant principal’s coaching and monitoring of teachers who struggle with student discipline.
  • Rewards system for “college-strong” habits: organization, completed homework, agenda-keeping, bringing supplies and textbook, etc., including small prizes every other week and quarterly parties.
  • Quarterly rallies to recognize and celebrate student achievement – attended by students with “C” or higher in all classes.
  •  Houses structure to provide a sense of belonging and orchestrated fun for all students. 
  • Starting in January, grade checks every Monday. Students passing all classes with Cs or better get recreation. Students not passing get assisted study hall.

Why do I, as leader, make more work for myself and my staff when we can get by without it? 

First, addressing chronic behaviors is something a school team never finishes. Suspended, even expelled students, are coming back eventually, only angrier and more disconnected from school. No one can feel good about putting adolescents out of school. 

Since chronic behaviors and lethargic attitudes are going to be issues we deal with endlessly, a systematic response for nearly every profile of student actually makes the work easier and more efficient. We are more effective every year with harder and harder kids.

Secondly, we are learning that we absolutely can impact our most chronic kids, as we get better and better each year with our interventions. The first school I lead, we reduced our suspension days from 4,000 to 400 a year in three years’ time. 

This school year, my eighth year at my second school, we “lost” only three students to long-term suspensions, and two of those were enrolled in other programs. One returned after his five-week suspension.

Our passing rate for eighth-graders, defined as students passing all classes with a “C” or better, was 93% this year. This number includes nine students who completed the bulk of their middle school career in School Within a School, but earned back some or all of their regular classes by the second semester of their eighth-grade year.

Our students’ passing rates increase each year as they move from sixth- to seventh- to eighth-grade. Every team of teachers contributes to our students’ maturation and progress. By the time they get to eighth grade, our students know they will not get away with hurtful or disruptive behavior, and they know they must get their work done before they can play or enjoy privileges.

They know their teachers and administrators will help them with whatever they need – academic tutoring, special seating, extra time, discipline, attention, and praise. And we will provide those things whether they welcome our intervention at the time or not!

When we celebrate the culmination of all of our efforts at our eighth grade promotion celebration, the eighth-grade teachers in charge of the program are careful to acknowledge every stakeholder in our kids’ success, knowing it took the village to get them where they are on that glad day. 

Our shared sense of accomplishment is fuel for our adult engines. We know we are making a significant difference in kids’ and families’ lives. What a great reason to love getting up and going to work every day!

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