About the Approach

How It Works

Because student success relies on a blend of good relationships, social skills, and engagement with learning, Developmental Designs comprehensive practices integrate social and academic learning. Teaching and learning are weakened by misbehavior, lack of a safe, inclusive community, and student apathy. The practices in the Developmental Designs approach are designed to meet adolescent needs by addressing these key elements of effective teaching.

The Developmental Designs for Middle School helps teachers:

Meet middle level students' needs
Developmental Designs
structures are designed to meet adolescents' needs for autonomy, competence, relationship, and fun. Students genuinely enjoy school. They feel connected, heard, empowered, and safe, and academic engagement increases.

Use developmentally appropriate practices and content
Intellectual, physical, social-emotional, and identity elements of adolescent development frame the Developmental Designs approach and bolster the effectiveness of its implementation.

Build social-emotional skills
Students practice seven key social-emotional skills every day: Cooperation, Communication, Assertion, Responsibility, Empathy, Engagement, and Self-control.

Rigorously respond to rule-breaking
Structures are introduced to students early in the year and carefully maintained, reducing misbehavior. When students break rules, Developmental Designs helps teachers notice and understand what's happening and use appropriate language and Developmental Designs structures to address the situation.

Motivate students to achieve academically
Students are motivated to learn when they have choices, when their learning is scaffolded and varied, and when they see the point. Developmental Designs uses reflection to involve students in assessment for learning.

Intervene with struggling students
When a student begins to falter, teachers look for solutions across each of the three big focus areas: community-building, social and emotional skills-building, and motivating instructional practices, improving the chances of successful intervention.

Create inclusive learning communities
In a Developmental Designs classroom, all voices are heard. Balanced participation by all students is encouraged at all social and academic learning times. Daily practices help break down cliques and eliminate bullying through emphasis on knowing and valuing all students in all classes, and through problem-solving structures.

Build a strong, healthy adult community
Staffs that know and trust each other are critical to academic success for students. DD practices extend beyond the classroom to staff meetings, team meetings, and peer coaching.

Find many pathways to Developmental Designs implementation
Several entrance points and pathways to successful implementation exist within the Developmental Designs approach. Educators can use scheduled workshops, books, customized on-site workshops, consultation, newsletter articles, a Facebook community, and abundant free online community-building and instructional resources.

Structures are created by and for educators to meet the challenges of teaching, and they can be utilized in a variety of ways.


Visit the Origins Developmental Designs booth at a conference near you. Upcoming conferences

Developmental Designs Fact Sheet

Learn about Developmental Designs guiding principles, classroom practices, research, and avenues for professional development.

Core Practices

Students learn best when school meets them where they are developmentally, and when they have regular opportunities to know each other, practice important social skills, and stay engaged in their learning. Developmental Designs teaching practices are designed with exactly these factors in mind.

Developmental Designs practices build skills and engagement in three key areas of school life:

1)    social-emotional
2)    relationship and community
3)    academic

Self-management and Other Social-emotional Skill Building

Students thrive in an environment that embeds knowledge of self, self-control, self-assessment, and appreciation for others within their daily school responsibilities. Here are sample Developmental Designs structures that give teachers the tools they need to steadily build student self-management and peer and teacher relationship skills. 

Goal Setting

Goal setting takes several forms in the Developmental Designs approach, like having students set long-term and daily academic and social goals for themselves, and periodically assessing how well they have met those goals, as well as goals set by the teacher.

Social Contract

The Social Contract process brings staff and students together to create a set of behavioral guidelines that they use to tend to the health of the community throughout the year.

Modeling and Practicing

Modeling and practicing allows teachers and students to work together to create and become adept at specific protocols for classroom and school-wide routines.

Pathways to Self-control

Pathways to Self-control give teachers and students clear responsibilities for responding to and changing misbehavior, and help students get back on track as quickly as possible.

Relationship and Community Building

Students respect others and learn better in community when they get to know each other and practice, practice, practice listening and contributing to each other. Here are some Developmental Designs practices that create and maintain healthy relationships in the context of advisory and class hours.

Circle of Power and Respect

Circle of Power and Respect advisory meetings bring students together in a fun, lively, safe, respectful meeting format that includes a greeting, sharing, activity, and daily news message.

Activity Plus

Activity Plus advisory meetings allow for more activity time and flexibility while preserving a sense of community during advisory.

Power of Play

Power of Play emphasizes group games that provide inclusive fun. Teachers build a repertoire of activities that can be used during advisory and all day long to bring movement, teamwork, friendly competition, and enjoyment into students' scholarly lives.

Academic Skill Building

Teachers learn practical approaches to help students be more motivated, focused, and hard-working. They pay particular attention to five research-based assets that can be built into daily academic lessons to increase student motivation: STARS.

STARS Assests for Optimal Instruction
Task orientation
Active construction
Social Interaction
Learn more about STARS Assets for Optimal Instruction

In both the social and academic realms, Developmental Designs practices utilize these assets. (Consider the self-determination involved in playing a role in setting the rules and defining them in the specific daily routines.) Here are two practices that when applied to the academic realm specifically, bring the assets to daily lessons.

Student Choice

Student motivation increases when students determine some aspects of their learning: assessing their own growth, choosing a topic to research, how to study for a test, how to present their work to the class, what game the group will play in advisory. A structure to support effective self-determination pays off in student empowerment and school connectedness.


Teachers can take advantage of the two prime learning times -- the beginning and the end of the class hour. Using them for content introduction and reflection, respectively, leverages learning. The time in between is energized for learning when it is designed to be active and interactive, sometimes even lightened with playful moments.

STARS Assets for Optimal Instruction

Five research-based assests that increase student motivation in daily academic learning

Developmental Designs Classroom Practices

Fifteen Developmental Designs practices with descriptions

Developmental Designs School-wide Practices

Seven practices that create community, consistency, and rigor school-wide


Articles by teachers and administrators, workshop evaluations, and classroom stories tell us about the experiences of educators receiving Developmental Designs training and implementing the practices.

Developmental Designs in the Media

Recent news about how Developmental Designs practices meet the social and emotional needs of middle level students.

Developmental Designs Workshop Endorsements

"To be honest, I have never been a fan of prepackaged programs, but I decided to attend this workshop with an attitude of complete closed-mindedness. I said that the facilitators were going to have to impress me, to really 'knock my socks off,' to make me want to go back and find ways to implement portions of DD. Well, I am not wearing any socks right now, and I can tell you that there are definitely components of the program that I will be putting in place in our school for the coming year."
Middle-level educator

Developmental Designs Implementation Endorsements

"Developmental Designs practices help me work at my relationships with students. They say I respect them, and that's one of the reasons they respect me. I'm consistent. They know I'm going to pick up on everything. I can sweat the small stuff because I have good relationships with them. Rigor and consistency are part of the mutual respect we have created."
—8th grade language arts teacher, Greenfield, MA

The Real Stuff of School Reform

Nell Sears, Principal, Paul Cuffee School, Providence, Rhode Island
To what should we attribute our success? Did we lengthen our school day? Adopt a new math program? Cut out recess to increase instructional time? ...The structure that undergirds our academic process has been our steady commitment to strengthening the social and academic community of our school through the use of the Developmental Designs approach.

Developmental Designs Coaching Endorsements

The workshops are a good start, but the follow-up coaching is what ensures fidelity of practice.

Sean Storch, Black Hawks Middle School Principal