When I first arrived as an assistant principal at Beacon Academy in March of
2008, the charter school was three-fourths of the way into the first year of
expansion into grades six, seven, and eight. Unlike the elementary teachers, who
had benefitted from Responsive Classroom (RC) training, the middle-grades
teachers wanted and needed a clear behavior management structure that educators,
administrators, and students would support.

The first thing I did was
take a look at the systems in place for grades K-5. The elementary grades were
using RC practices with great success. Seeking an equivalent and consistent
school-wide behavior management approach for young adolescents, my teachers and
I settled on implementing Developmental Designs (DD)
approaches in all of our middle school classes in the fall.

Logistical
and schedule changes

After making our preliminary decision to adopt Developmental Designs
practices, we overhauled the master schedule to include a 25-minute advisory
period at the beginning of the day. We formed advisory groups, each of which was
led by one of our five core-subject teachers, along with our school’s PE, art,
and music teachers. This was tricky, because we had outgrown our space, which
meant that two of our groups were forced to meet in opposite ends of the gym
every morning. Although not ideal, this format worked during our time in that
building.

Once I created a master schedule that had K-5 Morning Meetings
and 6-8 Circles of Power and Respect (CPR) running at the same time school-wide,
I went to work on revamping the school’s fix-it plan. I discovered that the
fix-it plan was the only piece of paper used for any behavior incident, from
minor issues like disruptive talking, to serious problems, like fighting.
Educators wrote fix-it plans for all indiscretions, and the forms didn’t
challenge the students to confront and process their lack of self-control as
much as they should have. To correct this and allow for an easier melding of
DD and RC practices, I rewrote the fix-it plan, created a behavior contract
and an office referral form (for major situations), and went to work with the
governance committee to revamp the discipline policy. We finalized this policy
in July of 2008 and it was approved by the school board that August. The forms
and policy were in place.

Planning the work and working the
plan

During our workshop week in August, the Dean of Students and I ran
all of our meetings in CPR format-with daily news, greeting, sharing, and
activity. The process went over well with the teachers, and we continued to use
the format at least once a month during faculty meetings.

For the first
two days of school in September, we ran an alternative schedule and spent the
first half of those days in CPR and Morning Meetings, where we modeled behaviors
and procedures, began crafting our Social Contract, (group rules defined through
consensus). Students moved through the hallways looking at the pathways to their
buddy rooms and the lunch room, and they practiced taking breaks to regain
self-control after rules are broken. Even some of our teachers gave themselves
turns at taking breaks.

Each CPR and Morning Meeting group came up with
three to five rules, from which we eventually fashioned our Social Contract. On
the first day, grades 1-4 came to my office and we narrowed down their lists
through the affinity process to three rules. On the second day, grades five,
six, seven and eight came together and did the same thing. Finally, on the third
day, during advisory and Morning Meeting, two representatives from each of the
previous days came back to my office and we narrowed the list down to:

  • Respect yourself and others.
  • Be responsible for your actions.

After agreeing to the list above,
we created and hung Social Contract signs in every room in the
building.

Tracking our growth
To monitor our progress, I kept a
tally of the total number of fix-it plans by grade, conducted one-on-one
inter-views with paraprofessionals, administered a short survey with middle
school teachers at the end of the first trimester, and gathered personal
observations at least once a week.

I wanted to tabulate the number of
fix-it plans because, last year, nobody knew how many had been written.
Sometimes teachers wrote them, sometimes administrators wrote them, and
sometimes they were sent home for parents to sign and never made it back in.
There was a lack of lateral communication between the administrators about how
many times and for what offense a student had been written up.

In the
end, the 6th, 7th, and 8th grade teachers registered 10, 26, and 25 fix-it plans
over the course of the first trimester, respectively. The discrepancy in the
amount of fix-it plans written up in sixth grade as compared to grades seven and
eight could stem from the sixth graders’ familiarity with our system; this class
has been with us since their second grade, hence they have more knowledge of
what is expected at Beacon Academy. Moreover, the teachers of the 7th and 8th
graders have had little experience with the DD practices. It will be
interesting to observe how much self-control the 7th and 8th graders gain as
they spend more time in CPR and become more familiar with modeling, practicing,
Take a Break , and the buddy room.

In addition to the tabulations, my
meetings with paraprofessionals were enlightening. They proved to me that the
kids were establishing friendships and accumulating knowledge. Three of the five
paraprofessionals stated that the students and adults laughed and had fun daily,
while the other two said that in their groups it wasn’t the teachers’ style to
play games, so the transition to a strong community feeling was taking
longer.

Although the paraprofessionals confirmed that the modeling of
behaviors needed more work, five of the six reported that students were engaged
with the activities and projects that were incorporated from our
character-education program, an additional point of connection for all classes
and students.

The one area still of concern is the continued bullying and
harassment in the middle school, so we want to incorporate bullying-prevention
material during CPR.

Moving forward
In its dawning stages, our
adoption of Developmental Designs practices has brought consistency to the middle school. The
teachers now work with a consistent set of behavior consequences and feel
supported. And the school-wide Social Contract has helped bind the traditionally
separate spaces of the elementary and middle schools.

Last summer we
moved into a new location with more space, and I am excited about our future at
Beacon, our collegiality, and the impact this is having on our students. We have
a long educational journey ahead of us, but we are facing the challenges
together and enjoying our growth.

Sean Koster is an assistant
principal at Beacon Academy in Maple Grove MN.

This article first appeared in Developmental
Designs: A Middle Level Newsletter
, Fall 2009

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