Creating Consistency

School-wide implementation of Developmental Designs practices

For Middle Level

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