Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Ideas for Secondary Classroom Themes: from the KCK Teaching Fellows Summer Institute

With nearly 45 teacher vacancies throughout the past school year, Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools reignited the effective KCK Teaching Fellows program for this coming Fall. My colleague, Lindsey Cegelis and I, are the only ones still around who were involved with the program from its origin. 

We led Fellows Cohorts I through X from 2000 to 2010. Lindsey was a hiring official for the district during several of those years. She was a critical proponent in bringing this program to KCK. After her retirement, Lindsey continued to serve as liaison between the district and our partner university, Pittsburg State University. 

Lindsey hired me to direct the Summer Institute and to teach some of the summer courses to Fellows cohorts. 

Last Fall, district leaders commissioned Lindsey and me to help recruit and select candidates for a new cohort of teaching fellows. Our goal was to identify a minimum of 10 candidates for Cohort XI. We were able to select 19 candidates, and we quickly resurrected our boot camp plans. 

We always select a theme for Summer Institute. In the past, we have used the following:

      • Survivor Summer Institute
      • BAM! Kick it Up a Notch!
      • Super-heroes Summer Institute
      • Mission Possible: Teach in KCK
      • CSI:  Classroom Scene Investigators
      • Through the Looking Glass, and others.

This year, we selected the theme Shark Tank Summer Institute, based on the successful television show of the same name.


Ready for our last-day celebration.


Lindsey tries out the shark's teeth.

Here's the connection. On the t.v. show, Shark Tank, beginning or already-successful entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to established business moguls (the sharks), hoping to convince one to invest in their business. The fellows want us (summer institute staff) to make their new business a success. As representatives of KCK schools, summer institute staff (the "sharks") are already invested in our newly selected teaching fellows. We are committed to making them successful as early in their new careers as possible. We want them to be able to swim with the sharks, the already certified and high-performing teachers in our schools.

By the way, Fellows attend six weeks of intensive training. They have to quit jobs and go without income during this time period as their schedule is from 8:00 to 4:30 daily, and longer when they assist in summer school classrooms during the middle four weeks of the program. They take three graduate-level courses during these six weeks:  Positive Classroom Management, Instructional Design and Planning, and Multicultural Approaches to Diverse Populations



Fellows in class.

Fellows Cohort XI, 2016

In future blog posts, I will be sharing some of the intensive activities and experiences our Fellows undergo as they prepare to take on high-needs classrooms. 

Since I often recommend that teachers start their school year with a classroom theme, I decided to share the assignment we give to fellows to help them develop such a theme. Then,  I really want my readers to see a few cool examples our Fellows came up with for secondary classroom themes.

To develop a classroom theme, the teacher thinks of an inspirational message he wants to share with his students. Typically these messages are broader than one's individual content area. They address character, motivation, or relationships. I require fellows to identify one major slogan to communicate their essential message and two or three related sub-slogans. They brainstorm images, song lyrics, fictional characters, or t.v. shows - or they find appropriate videos or movie clips - as vehicles for their message. They have to design at least one bulletin board that communicates the central message of their theme. Finally, they develop some kind of ice-breaker or relationship-building activity that they will facilitate with their students in an effort to communicate the essential message of their theme. 

Some teachers can carry their theme throughout the entire school year because their message is central to their own beliefs and values about working with young people. Sometimes, the theme lasts only for the start of the school year. Either way, a teacher who takes the time and thought to present a theme to his or her classroom is sending important positive messages:  that he has thought about them, prepared for them, cares that they know he cares about them, is willing to extend himself for them. These messages are not lost on young people.

KCK Fellow Jim Todd will be teaching high school math classes. His theme, "Rising Up", will surely capture the attention of his high school students. 


Jim plans to use the inspirational messages in the Rocky theme music
 (which he revised for his students) as his classroom theme.

Check out the fabulous inspirational video Jim plans on using to motivate his students to break through limitations and to resist quitting or giving up:



Fellow Carlai Moore will be teaching computer applications at a district middle school. Her "iElevate" theme, based on apple's i-products, embodies her can-do philosophy about life and school. Her students will love it.




Many of you know that we select and implement a school-wide theme at our award-winning middle school, Arrowhead Middle School. This year, we opted for a travel theme. Because it is normal and cool for our students to learn quickly and perform well, we know their successes will provide opportunities for them in their not-so-distant futures . . . so our theme slogan this year is:  


Arrowhead - We're goin' places!

I can't wait to see what our teachers come up with for their related classroom themes and slogans!

Click the link to read about our various school-wide themes throughout the years.

By the way, we have a pinterest board where we collect ideas for secondary classroom themes. There are tons for elementary classrooms on internet sites. Not so many for middle and high school classrooms. Please add your own!

And if you are not yet an e-mail subscriber, be sure to sign up with the form in the top sidebar or at the bottom of this page. You will get a free comprehensive classroom management planner so you can be ready for your best school year ever. 

You will also get encouraging messages in your e-mail inbox related to effective strategies and tips for managing your classroom and your students' behavior. I look forward to meeting you through e-mail and sharing our ideas.