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February 2017 | Volume 59 | Number 2
Five Signs Your Staff Has Tuned Out
At Huron Middle School, our strategy for cultivating caring relationships has each staff member—from custodians to nurses to administrators—serve as an "academic lifeguard" for a struggling student.
We first learned about this concept from author Danny Hill. In his book Brick House, Hill explains how lifeguards prevent struggling students from drowning academically. Taking his idea a step further, we established a Lifeguard League, drafted teams, and had staff members compete to get their draftees off the missing-assignments list before the last day of school. During our first annual lifeguard draft in April, 53 students gained new adult advocates.
Though the participating students had already been receiving extra academic support, the draft paired each of them with one specific adult for assistance in the final stretch. To avoid negative perceptions, we shared the selection process with our draftees ("… and out of all the kids on the list, I chose you because …!"). We knew students viewed the draft favorably because they openly shared with their teachers and peers who had drafted them and why.
Our guidelines were simple: A staff member cannot draft a student who owes work in his or her class, staff must contact their draft picks within the first week to explain the program and develop an action plan, and staff must work consistently to build relationships with their draftees.
During weekly team meetings, league members adjusted their game plans, shared strategies for getting to know their draft picks, celebrated student successes, and brainstormed solutions for colleagues who were experiencing challenges.
1. The first draft pick went to our head custodian, who selected an 8th grade boy who historically "lived" on our missing-assignments list. This appeared to be a bold move, as his draftee's number of missing assignments increased even after draft day. Not willing to accept defeat, our custodian devised a plan. In South Dakota, children can obtain their driver's permit when they are 14 years old. Our custodian knew his draft pick was anxious to get behind the wheel so he informed the student that if he completed all his assignments within five days, he would teach him how to drive "the scrubber" (the machine used to polish the cafeteria floors). Five days later, they celebrated success; the student completed his last missing assignment and got his first "driving" lesson!
2. Our assistant principal selected a 7th grade student who was often sent to the front office for behavior issues. To stop the student from disrupting his classmates during study hall, she offered her own office as a quiet place where he could catch up on homework. Her efforts to build trust paid off as he worked diligently and even began attaching his assignments to her bulletin board so he wouldn't lose them.
3. One of our secretaries selected an 8th grade English language learner. When the girl stopped by the main office each day, our secretary would pull up the list, offer praise for any recently completed assignments, and help the student determine which one to tackle next.
4. A 6th grade teacher drafted one of her former students. Through consistent e-mails, phone calls, and text messages with the boy's father, the teacher successfully rekindled home-to-school communications and helped the student complete his missing work.
5. Our 8th grade reading teacher drafted a 6th grade student—the younger sibling of an 8th grader. The older brother offered insight into his younger brother's lack of interest in school, explaining that he was a struggling reader. The teacher responded by introducing the boy to audiobooks and meeting with him regularly to discuss them. While building a relationship with the younger brother, the teacher also strengthened her relationship with his older brother.
Throughout the six-week initiative, we recognized the leading teams with incentives like snacks and boxed lunches—and the draftees got to participate in celebrations like "Blitz Day."
By the end of the school year, 52 of 53 students completed all of their assignments (we are still working on number 53)! Through individual commitments to a team effort, we enhanced collegial relationships, strengthened relationships with our struggling students and their parents, and continued to build a schoolwide culture of learning and accountability.
Would you like to write for the next "Road Tested" column? Visit www.ascd.org/educationupdate for submission details.
Sherri Nelson is the director of curriculum, instruction, and assessment for the Huron School District 2-2 in South Dakota.
Copyright © 2017 by ASCD
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