Monday, August 31, 2015

The Success in School Playbook

Summer School 2015. Four weeks of half-days. 85 middle-schoolers from two middle schools. Too many students to retain (or keep back) in their current grade level for another year. 

85 youngsters who have never been successful in school. Chronic behavior problems. Distrustful of adults. Disconnected from schooling. Angry. Defeated. Non-workers. If these failing students make it through these four weeks in June, they can pass to the next grade level with their peers.

I am eager to apply the components of our successful, on-site alternative program, School Within a School, on a larger scale. I am eager to see if the components of implementation that we have honed for several years will work with kids we don't know, and with whom we will have little time to build relationships.

[Click here to get The Success in School Playbook]

Provide Sufficient, Prepared, and Inspired Staff
Because of the various courses that must be available to three different grade levels of students, we are able to staff the program with nine teachers. I have a plan, so I insist on hiring my in-school suspension monitor who has provided effective behavior intervention in our middle school for more than 10 years.

Staffing also includes an assistant administrator and a director. I am thankful that our district leaders realize the importance of sufficient staffing for a program designed for failing, struggling, chronic students.

Specialists insist that schools give their hardest kids their most effective teachers, but that rarely works out in our real-world experience. We have a hard time filling our summer school teaching positions. Hassling with the hardest kids for an extra month of school is not appealing to exhausted teachers. They already hassled with them all school year, and they could be starting their much-deserved summer break.

Although I have four teachers from my own school, who are already skilled in our effective behavior model - Behavior Intervention Support Team (BIST), I also have three teachers from our partner school and two substitutes who do not know BIST. I will have to train them in some basic components of the model as we begin our program.

Communicate A Simple System for Behavior Management
First staff meeting. Schedules. Every teacher will deliver three sessions daily. 45 minutes each. Kids take three of four core classes: Math, Science, Social Studies, Language Arts. Class size: nine or fewer. Curriculum is simple:  How to Succeed in School. A little reading, writing, and math each day so kids can practice their new skills, but emphasis is on motivation, student-teacher relationships, managing emotions, and follow through.

I summarize the student profile I expect in summer school: kids who are disconnected from school, who are disruptive and miss out due to suspensions or alternative settings, kids who cannot manage their emotions, who cannot allow adults to tell them what to do, kids who do not work or have never been successful with academics. I give my teachers a copy of our hand-made Success in School Playbook.

[Get your copy of The Success in School Playbook]

I review the first ten days of curriculum, which is four large-group procedures, three classroom procedures, five rules and (for summer school) our three-step consequences. I assure teachers that all they have to do for misbehavior or refusal to work is 1. make the request for the appropriate behavior, 2. ask the student to move to a safe seat in the room, 3. ask the student to go to Recovery. If a student does not have to move past the safe seat, and processes about the incident successfully with the teacher, he or she is allowed to go to Rec. Otherwise, he stays in, or returns to Recovery. Anyone who will not cooperate in Recovery will see the assistant administrator for an office consequences.

Book pages designed to help kids learn these lists of rules and procedures and to think about themselves as scholars are included in the Success in School Playbook. The last page is a stamping chart. Kids will earn a stamp from their teacher for their behavior and participation in Morning Meeting, Hour 1, Hour 2, and Hour 3.

Students who earn all four stamps each day get 30 minutes of recreation (organized play in the gym or on the field, computer time, or arts and crafts). Students who do not earn all four stamps spend that time in Recovery with the behavior interventionist teacher. They learn about how to be successful in class and prepare to process with the teacher they disobeyed or disrespected

Speak Honestly to Chronic Kids, Without Sarcasm or Rancor
Every day begins with breakfast in the cafeteria and Morning Meeting. Kids sit with their first-hour teacher in a small group.

My opening speech for our first morning meeting:  "Good morning. My name is Mrs. Boyd. I am the principal here at Arrowhead. Welcome to everyone, and especially to all of our students and teachers from Eisenhower. We have a really good program developed for your summer school experience. We like to keep it one hundred here at Arrowhead. We like to keep it real, so let's talk about why you are here."

"There are only two reasons you would have to be enrolled in summer school. One, you missed a lot of learning due to disruptive behavior. Or, two, you refused to do your work. I can see that some of you want to say, 'I didn't refuse.' But you didn't work, so even if you never said it, you were refusing. It was your choice."

"Raise your hand if you want to repeat the same grade next school year." (No raised hands.)

"Okay. We're going to tell you exactly what you need to do to complete summer school and pass to the next grade with your peers."

"We developed this summer program with you in mind. Every single day, we are going to have Rec. After your last class and right before lunch, we will all go, either to RECreation, where you will get to play basketball or dodgeball in the gym, or minecraft in the computer lab, or you will go to RECovery, where you will complete any incomplete work or write a think sheet about a behavior incident. One or the other - Recreation or Recovery."

"All you have to do to earn Rec. is to do what your teacher tells you to do and to not go past step two of the discipline system in any class period. That means you may get a warning or a request about your behavior, and you may get a second redirect, which would put you in a safe seat in the classroom. If you fill out the Think Sheet honestly and process with that teacher before Rec. time, you may still go to Recreation. If you don't, you will go to Recovery instead, where Coach Mo will help you complete that same task."

"If your behavior takes you to step three, you will go to Recovery immediately and for the remainder of that class period, where Coach Mo will problem-solve with you so you can get back into class and make it through summer school and progress to your next grade level."

Provide Motivational Speeches for Kids to Soak in Daily
"During this Morning Meeting time, we are going to watch a motivational video by Eric Thomas, the hiphop preacher. Eric Thomas makes lots of money giving motivational speeches to professional athletes. We will share briefly what we heard E.T. say, and then we will begin classes. Don't forget that you must participate and behave appropriately to get your first stamp for Morning Meeting."

We enjoy Eric Thomas's classic video, What's Your 'Why'?  All of the students have already admitted to one "why" for succeeding in summer school: They want to pass to the next grade level.

Teachers lead students to their first class, monitoring their performance of our hallway procedure.

Build a Sense of Community Quickly
We make decisions about our program for the good of students, not for the convenience of the adults. We want everyone to be together during Morning Meeting so we can be a unit. Kids need a sense of belonging before they will cooperate freely. 

Teachers eat breakfast with their small groups. Coach Mo, our behavior teacher, leads the discussion time about the motivational video. At first, he has to slip a small candy to kids who will stand and share, but by the end of the second week, nearly everyone wants to participate. The adults make a point of interacting with one another in a happy, positive way. We laugh and joke with one another, then begin to add personal interaction with kids.

One young girl, who obviously has to test every adult who has contact with her, has several screaming, cussing melt downs. Two female teachers and our Recovery Room teacher work to build relationship with her. She finishes the summer with a smile on her face, an attendance certificate, and an achievement certificate.

Several sullen boys loosened up when my assistant administrator and our director formed three-on-three basketball tournaments for Rec. and hyped up the competition. We always have an adult team compete against or play with the kids. Dozens of boys quickly began to live for Rec. Their attitudes became cooperative and their sweet, boyish personalities showed through their masks as they relaxed among grown-ups who obviously enjoyed them and demonstrated that they were for them.

Although two children received one or two days of suspension from the program for severe misbehavior, we did not have to terminate anyone's summer school. One parent opted to take her two kids on vacation instead of finishing the program, even though it meant the kids would have to repeat their grade level.  Everyone else finished the program.

Formally Recognize Students for Any Small Improvement
We even had all the students take a Reading MAP test and a Math MAP test. They had to do their best and show at least one point growth from the last time they took it in order to attend the last day's field trip to a nearby park. Most of the students actually put forth effort on the test, many for the first time, and all but a handful showed significant growth. We know that the gains were due to their desire to see growth, not to any exceptional content learning during the few weeks of summer school, but we wanted them to see that they could do better if they decided to do better.

On the day before our field trip, we held an awards assembly after breakfast in the cafeteria. We prepared award certificates for attendance (no absences), for conduct (no Recovery), and for achievement (MAP test growth). We called each student's name, read off their awards, and issued their certificates. I added to each announcement, ". . . a-a-a-n-n-d-d, Joseph will be passing to the next grade level!"

I knew that if I didn't see those certificates flying out the windows of the buses, or left behind on a desk, that they meant something to the kids. It appeared that every student valued their awards enough to take them home. These are kids who do not get behavior and achievement awards in school. It was a joy to stand out front of our school with my staff and wave to the happy young faces on the buses as they pulled off for the last time.

The Success in School Playbook in the Regular School Program
The teachers from our school who worked the summer program asked if we could all do a version of the program for our first two weeks of the regular school year.

We just finished implementing the key components of the program with all 450 students, beginning on the first day of school, using the following components:
  • The Success in School Playbook (used to teach the building discipline system and enforce it with diligent consistency in every classroom).
  • Daily motivational videos from Eric Thomas (most of them available on youtube) during hour 5/6. The teachers got a list of links to ten or twelve videos. Every classroom teacher played one 7- to 10-minute video each day. Kids wrote the following in their Playbooks: The title of the video, the main idea of the video, three memorable remarks presented in the video. After the exercises, a couple student volunteers shared their take-aways from that day's video. It's that simple!
  • Daily Rec - Recreation or Recovery. The first day of Recreation is "free." Everyone gets to taste how fun it is. After that, Recreation has to be earned by doing what the teacher says and behaving in each class.
  • In addition to supervising, adults play and interact with kids during Recreation. 
  • Kids in Recovery are held accountable for not working or being disrespectful or disruptive. 
  • From daily Rec., we move to weekly Rec. Students who need help to stay caught up in classes or who do not meet the standard for work completion may not earn Rec. often. The extra time to keep caught up is a gift and a support they have not had before. Students tend to appreciate the help, and most can accept missing play time since they are benefiting from the extra time with their teachers. 
[Grab your copy of The Success in School Playbook now]

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Three Keys to a Great School: People, Programs, and Routines

A friend and colleague recently asked me, "You've been at this for awhile. What would you say is the key to school leadership?" 

I wrestled with how to summarize or encapsulate all of the areas a school leader has to address, change, or maintain over the course of a year (or a decade), and was finally able to identify three keys to a great school: People, Programs, and Routines.

One Key to School Leadership is People

My teachers and staff accomplished quite a lot last school year:
  • The majority of our students showed significant progress on our district's standardized assessment, the NWEA's Measures of Academic Progress. 
  • One hundred of our 460 middle schoolers tested at the "college readiness" level in Math.
  • Dozens of kids participated in rigorous regional math competitions, and all of our students participated in our district's math relays.
  • 87% of our students passed all of their classes with Cs or better.
  • Our multi-leveled building-wide discipline system enabled us to keep every child in school, losing only two to expulsion for bad behavior.
  • In our efforts to select a viable writing strategy, our staff identified the writing program that has since been mandated for all of our district's secondary schools.
  • Under the leadership of our new teacher leader, our math department got such extraordinary results from students that three district schools asked to work with us throughout this school year so that their teachers could do the same.
  • My teachers insist on, and get, over 95% parent participation at our parent conferences every school year. 
  • All of our athletic teams are competitive. Our track team has been undefeated for nearly 10 years. Our football teams was the undefeated league champions last school year.
  • A solid team of debaters competes and places in district and regional tournaments.
  • Our instrumental music teacher produces exceptional bands and orchestras.

Most of these successes took years to build, and all of them take constant monitoring and tending.

Every teacher in every one of our current classrooms is effective. Strong teachers contribute to strong teams. Our grade level teaching teams, our SPED department, our Building Literacy Team, and all of our content teams, including our Elective teachers, are strong. My teachers regularly impress me and one another, with various initiatives and opportunities for kids.

The only way I, as one individual, with all of the responsibilities my job dictates, can develop teachers, is to describe excellence in the many facets of our job (classroom management, student discipline, lesson planning, instructional delivery, assessments, grading, relationships, teaming), to ask for it or demand it, and to recognize it and celebrate it. Often, our description of excellence comes from the shared study of a book or article.

At the end of each year, I curate a Faculty Expo. I ask teachers to prepare short presentations to their peers of some successful practice or project they attempt to achieve over the school year. Last year, every last one of my teachers contributed a valuable presentation to the Expo. My teachers appreciate one another's expertise and performance.

When teachers see themselves as part of a successful, professional super-group, they are motivated to achieve even more!

Another Key to School Leadership is Programs

A school leader can never be satisfied with the status quo. We have to believe that we can impact any school situation, and we must work every year toward improvement - improvement in instruction, in the building climate, in hanging onto difficult kids, in teaming, in leadership - in every facet of schooling.

The most effective way to address various needs in a school is by developing systems that allow people to work smarter, not harder, and by optimizing the school day. Over the years, my teachers and I have instituted the following programs, or systems, for responding to students' needs:
  • A system of teacher teams who "own" the grade level they teach almost to the point of running their own grade-level school within a school.
  • A multi-leveled building-wide system of discipline, including the implementation of a behavior support model and an on-site alternative school.
  • A system of content-based instructional planning, including bi-monthly meetings with teacher leaders (coaches), weekly content meetings, and related observations.
  • A system for student recognition and school "family" fun. 
  • A system of committees to lead the various other systems and operations:  1. Team Leaders, 2. Student Leadership (National Junior Honor Society / Student Council), 3. Equity (celebrations of cultures and heritages), 4. Renaissance (our student recognition program), 5. Climate, and 6. BIST (our behavior model).

A Third Key to School Leadership is Routines

If I cannot get all the work it takes to ensure the efficient operations of all of our programs into the teachers' regular work day, the implementation will never be consistent enough to make a difference. Over time, I have had to tell teachers exactly what they must do during their planning times in school.

I showed my core teachers that their schedule provided almost twice the planning time that the negotiated agreement required. I pointed out that their class schedules also required only one preparation. Although they teach multiple classes per day, nearly every teacher in my building teaches only one content area and grade level. I protect this arrangement because it is the best way to get as much done for and with kids as we do.

Every grade level team starts their week with an agenda. They spend most of their time discussing or meeting with students who require teacher-facilitated plans in order to be successful - BIST behavior plans, SIT plans (instructional modifications), and/or our latest intervention, Non-working Student plans.

Every teacher meets every other week, for 90 minutes, with one of our two teacher leaders, to block out the semester's instructional calendar (then, the quarterly, monthly, and weekly calendars) to create effective lessons that include the components of our building literacy plan. They also write common assessments, analyze student data, and plan their response to their students' performances on assessments.

Our school calendar includes regular times for professional development, committee meetings, student recognition, the building literacy team meetings, and ongoing training in our behavior model. 

People bring energy, ideas, and personality to our shared work. The most important position in the school is the teachers'. The rest of us are employed to support their efforts with our students. Programs enable us to more effectively and efficiently meet the needs of our students. Routines provide systems for implementing and monitoring or measuring our work.

What would you say are the keys to school leadership?

Monday, August 10, 2015

Announcing: This Year's School-Wide Theme

One of the ways we communicate our belief in our students, our joy in our profession, and our desire to create and maintain the most positive and productive school environment possible is through the use of a yearly school-wide theme.

As early in the summer as I can, I send an email attachment announcing the theme for the coming school year. I include my reasons for my selection, some ideas about the imagery we can all use on our bulletin boards, what our staff shirts might look like - anything I can think of to communicate the gist of the theme. Here is my (the principal's) announcement of this year's theme:

Wait. There's more.

We design our required student planner (agenda) to depict our theme each year: 

I love to watch my teachers large, hallway bulletin boards bloom - all depicting messages that support our theme and identify the House that each teacher sponsors. (Click here to read about the Esteemed Houses of Arrowhead Middle School.)

Finally, please enjoy a mini-tour of several theme-based bulletin boards from our hallways:

If you have prepared a classroom or a school-wide theme for your students, please share your ideas in the comments below. Take a picture of your themed board and share it on our public pinterest board:"High School Themes," for secondary teachers: 

Finally, for lots of shared ideas and a free Classroom Management download, sign up below. Get free resources and creative ideas delivered to your email inbox.