A Principal Considers Developmental Designs Principles

For Middle Level

Principal Tobias Harkleroad participated in a Developmental Designs (DD) level one week-long workshop in the summer of 2011. Several of his school's middle-level teachers participated, as did teachers from several other Washington D.C.-area schools. Administrative support is critical for proficient implementation of Developmental Designs practices and attending training is just as important for administrators as it is for teachers. Here are excerpts from Tobias's journal reflections during the workshop.

After Day One: CPR
The Developmental Designs approach is built upon the fundamental belief that relationships are the best starting point for creating student growth in self-control and intellectual learning. I believe we adults are called to interact as friendly companions with our students, rather than as sages.

Developmental Designs principles acknowledge that students are more than just minds. Our school's promotional materials frequently refer to our school as providing a "whole person formation" that takes into account mind, body, and spirit. The approach understands these beliefs and provides a very thorough framework for acting on them.

The Circle of Power and Respect (CPR, a daily community-building meeting) should allow us to create a safe space for working on social-emotional learning and addressing issues around our school culture. I am excited by the possibilities it will open up, but I am also worried that if we don't get off to a strong start it will hit roadblocks and possibly fail.

I want CPR meetings to become a cornerstone of our continued evolution as a school community. Through CPR and other DD practices, I believe our middle school teachers will come to a higher level of understanding of their students. I am thinking that I could evaluate this by listening for depth and descriptiveness as teachers discuss individual students at team meetings. I might select this as my personal professional DD project this fall.

After Day Two
Ever since I was in college, I have heard that students should be involved in creating the rules. I have tried it on various occasions but always felt it never really worked. We tried to get students to stick to a short list, but they were never quick and unanimous in their buy-in, nor were the rules specific enough. Today in the workshop, we built a short set of somewhat universal rules that will guide us through the rest of the week. This was a great exercise for me, because in it I saw a better way of letting students be involved while simultaneously holding them accountable to compromise. It was the "art of compromise" part that allowed us to go from our individual ideas to an agreed-upon list, and I had missed that part in my previous attempts to involve students in the rule-making process. I am excited to put this process into action this fall.

Higher-level thinking 
I've also noticed-and very much like-how the Loop (a cycle of planning and reflection) can be used in conjunction with many other DD practices to gain student involvement in the daily decisions made in classrooms. Today, for example, all of the community-building we did was stimulating, yet the debriefing and reflection we did afterward was perhaps even more valuable because it was where we did the highest-level thinking and created true knowledge and true learning.

I want to emphasize with my teachers the value of modeling. Last year, they did this successfully during the first week of school, but it fell by the wayside after that. Modeling, thinking aloud, and handling "what ifs" proactively need to occur regularly in all of our classrooms throughout the year. Kids don't "get it" just from instructions or lectures; we need to explicitly show them how we want everything done, from sitting up straight to putting their names on their papers. Modeling helps kids learn to do the internal processing needed for self-control.

I'm now thinking that my administrative DD goal will be to sit in regularly on team meetings and listen to detailed conversations that show a deep understanding of the students at our school, including their academic, social, physical, cultural, and, because we are a Catholic school, spiritual needs. As a second goal, I would like to sit in on CPR meetings and see teachers interacting comfortably with students and using reflection questions with them.

After Day Three: Discipline 
I am glad to see so much coming together in the DD framework. I "buy" everything that comes with the relationship-building piece and the modeling/setting clear expectations piece, and today it was great to begin to explore what to do when students miss the mark. The most important thing I took away from today's session is the value of noticing all behavior and acting quickly, directly, and non-punitively on any negative behavior. 

It will be valuable to have well-established teacher and student routines for what to do when a student misses the mark, and for times when students fail to get things under control on their own. Making explicit the idea that reflecting/returning/repairing are the students' responsibilities and giving them some tools to do these tasks internally are also essential.

The teacher in me wishes I had had the chance to try these practices in my classroom. I can see times when I tried to do some of this and got it a little wrong!

After Day Four
The idea that the initial low-level interventions-the ones used for small things-are to be given equal value was hard for me. I so desperately wanted to give "loss of privilege" and "take a break" a greater weight than "non-verbals" and "redirecting language." I realize that in doing this I was trying to make these tools fit into a warning-punishment escalation schema that doesn't work. The DD interventions are much more streamlined than any warning-punishment approach I have seen: only one tool in the toolbox, chosen for use with the specific student in question, should need to be used to get him or her on track if—and this is a big if—the whole process is taught, modeled, and reinforced correctly.

Tobias Harkleroad is Principal at St. Francis International School in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Published May, 2012

Related Topics: 
Building Relationship