Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Time of Change: Transition to a Middle School

Two years ago, Arlington Jr/Sr High School embraced the "middle school" philosophy.   We are still a 7-12 building but grades 7-8 are treated in what we feel is a more developmentally responsive way.  We wanted to makes some changes that would benefit our students.  We have now completed 3 semesters in this new system.  During this time, we have only had one student fail one course.  Prior to this system, we would regularly have students fail courses. The data is beginning to prove that this system has increased academic achievement.

Challenges of a small 7-12 school
1. Shared staff-We share music, art, PE, K-12.  Of all of the teachers who teach 7th and 8th grade, one teaches only Middle School.  The rest teach at least one high school section.
2. Scheduling-Our staff was completely shared prior to the change to a middle school.  Many classes are offered only once.  This makes a schedule difficult to create.  All of the juniors and seniors that want to take sociology, as an example, have to take it 5th period during the first semester.  This really limits what classes can be taken and offered for all students in grades 7-12.  As we changed to a middle school, our concern was that by blocking off the morning for middle school core classes, this might negatively impact our high school students abilities to get into their chosen classes.
3. Difference in needs of 7th graders and 12th graders-12 year olds are nervous about using lockers for the first time.  The 18 year olds are worried about their cars, varsity sports, and graduation.
4. High School mentality-We hired most of our teachers to teach "high school."  The administration were also called High School Principal and High School Assistant Principal.  The focus can easily be on the upper grades.  Sometimes teachers can get "stuck" teaching middle schoolers and once they get seniority in their department they move "up" to teach high school classes.  For us, the problem was more structural than attitude.  In our structure,we had few opportunities to discuss 7th and 8th grade student needs.

1. Creation of an Interdisciplinary Team-Our Middle School team meets every day.  Our Middle School core teachers teach both 7th and 8th grade.  We only have 40 students per grade.  Team allows teachers to discuss middle school specific issues.  Here is our schedule of topics: M-Lesson Plans-find out what days others are giving tests/quizzes homework, T-Student issues, W-Interdisciplinary Unit discussion, Th-Professional Development, F-Homeroom Activities and Misc.
2. Creation of the Eagle Success Program-Whenever I present at a conference, this is what always gets the most interest.  I will do a separate blog about this on a different day.  ESP is a system that doesn't allow student to not do their homework.
3. Creation of Academic Labs-Students either go to a guided study hall, Math Lab, or English Lab for 30 minutes.  This is based on academic need assigned by the teachers.  However, we have several students who go to labs on their own.
4. Flexible Scheduling-we block out periods 2-6 for core academic time.  If we need to make a change an have a long period for science to meet, we can simply shorten other classes.  Math-Science meet at the same time and Eng-Soc St meet at the same time so we can make simple changes.  We also can drop homeroom or lab.  We can lengthen either homeroom for a day.
5. Interdisciplinary Units-We have amazing, creative teachers who have done some really neat things.  They create an interest in school by having fun with these units.  We begin these units with videos that the teachers make.  I will write an entire blog on these at a later date.
6. No Zero Policy-zeroes kill a students grade.  The hardest part for some teachers was how will we motivate students to complete work?  After doing this now for 5 years, I can tell you we have less missing work now than before.  Students who struggle in school are not motivated by zeroes.  They tend to be more motivated by social time.  Therefore we created the Eagle Success Program to help students complete their homework.
7. Structure of Administration/Focus on Middle School students-We created a Middle School Coordinator that acts as the administrator in charge of the Middle School.
8. Middle School Lunch-Grades K-4 eat first, then 9-12, then 5-8.  In the old system, we simply had Lower Elementary Lunch and then 2 high school lunches.  We would have 5th graders and Seniors in the same lunch and this was less than ideal.
9. Development of Living Above the Line-this is our discipline system designed for middle school students.

These are some of the changes we have made that have shifted focus to the 7th and 8th graders.  The structure of the buildings don't matter.  With some creativity, positive changes can be made and a middle school philosophy can be implemented anywhere that you have students grades 4-9.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


Ten percent of life is outside of your control and 90% is in your control.  This is what Stephen Covey calls the 90/10 rule.  At some point, we flipped the numbers around and it stuck.  What this means for our students at Arlington Middle School is that you need to take accountability for yourself and spend less time worrying about what you can't control.  In the Principal's office, the terminology is used often and the meaning behind it is always used when discussing issues with students.  Although this seems like common sense, putting words to it made it so we didn't have to spend time explaining the same concept over and over.  Students know that we believe in the 10/90 rule within the first week of school and taking accountability for your own actions is an expectation.

Here's how using this simple terminology works.

A student, Johnny, comes into the office after getting into a verbal argument in the lunchroom with another student, Billy. It starts with Billy calling Johnny fat (and anyone who has worked in a school knows, it probably didn't start there-each student will have their own starting point-Billy might say it started 3 years ago when Johnny pushed Billy's sister) and then Johnny used some inappropriate language back to Billy. Johnny comes to the office and tells me "It's not my fault, he called me fat."  A simple way for me, the principal, to deal with this is to say "thanks for letting me know that, when I am talking Billy I'll be sure to ask him about that.  Now, that's your 10, tell me about your 90."  Johnny might say something like "well what was I supposed to do, just let him call me fat."  The simple response becomes to redirect him to his 90 or his part in the conflict (usually students go right to their 90 but occasionally you'll have a more stubborn student).  Johnny will know that he can come up with any and every excuse in the book but until we get to his 90 in the conflict, we won't be moving on.  The more excuses, the more time we will spend or shall I say, he will spend.  In that case, the process will become very formal and he will have to write all of his 10 in one column then after getting all of the excuses written down, he will then have to fill in the 90 column.  If it takes too much time, that's OK, we have systems in place for him to have him make up time.  In Jim Fay (Love and Logic) talk, you can say "Oh, I'm sorry, I only listen to excuses at 12:30 pm and 3:30 pm.  Which would you like to choose."  Almost every time students move on very rapidly and we move on with our day.  Johnny might get some input on the consequence when appropriate.  If this conflict happened in the lunchroom, then maybe Johnny would eat in the office for a couple of days, a natural consequence.

Excuses are taken away.  I will listen to the legitimate concern and empathize with a student.  In the above example, I might say "I can see where that would hurt your feelings, how did you respond to that (see it, own it)?"  "What might have been a better way to respond (solve it)?"  "Besides simply an apology, what do you suppose should happen to make this right?"  "I'm sorry he said that to you.  Now let's put this behind us and make this right (do it)."  "Let me know if you need any help with this issue in the future." "Let's meet again on Thursday at 8:00 am and go through how everything is going with you and Billy (do it-follow up)."

It's simple but powerful.  It simplifies what we all want students to do which is take responsibility for their actions.  We allow them to explain why they did what they did (explain, not come up with excuses). Then we refocus the student on their own behaviors and owning those behaviors (own it portion of the "see it, own it, solve it, do it" process).

Monday, December 26, 2011

See it, Own it, Solve it, Do it

Roger Connors, Tom Smith, and Craig Hickman talk about See it, Own it, Solve it, and Do it in what they call the "Oz Principle."  When they discuss these items, they are referring to business and creating a culture of accountability.  We have taken that "culture of accountability" in our middle school.  Often times, when we talk about a culture of accountability in schools, we are simply talking about taking a test and holding the adults accountable for the result of these tests.  When we discuss accountability, we discuss true accountability for your own actions.  This accountability applies to all aspects of a students life.  Often times, when I talk to a student in the office about a student discipline issue, I use the see it, own it, solve it, and do it approach for students.

1. See It-Students are asked to see what the problem is.  Students are asked to list what areas they need to improve.
2. Own it-A key component of our lessons for our students is the 10/90 principle (Stephen Covey discusses the 90/10 principle-this is the same thing-at some point, we just turned it around and it stuck).  Ten percent of life is outside of your control.  Students are asked to identify that 10%.  As an example, a student might be in my office because he called another student a name.  The first thing that student is going to want to tell me is what the other student did first.  I will tell them that yes, that did happen and that is your 10 percent.  We usually beat them to the punch and ask them to identify the "10" before they have the opportunity to blame the other student for his/her own misbehavior. Then we move to what's the student's "90?" This is where we identify what the student did and what some better options might have been.  In some cases this is a short process and in other cases, the student may take some coaching to understand this concept.
3. Solve It-Now the student is asked to come up with a solution to the problem.  How is this going to be fixed or made better?
4.  Do It-After the solution has been put into place, we get back together (maybe a day later or maybe a week or even a month later) and discuss how the solution worked, what problems may have come up, and do we need to make changes to the original solution.  This really makes student discipline a process rather than simply a punishment that is seen as unrelated to the student behavior.

Of course consequences still exist.  Natural consequences are ideal and sometimes a logical consequence occurs when a good natural consequence can't be found.  Sometimes this See It, Own It, Solve It, Do It process is formal (written) and other times it is very informal (the words may not even be used but the idea is the same).