In the second half of the 2016-17 school year, I began having conversations with community members, parents, and teacher leaders about the direction for Henley Middle School. We were already in the ideating phase for 2017-18. A theme of kindness and community emerged.
Middle school is as tough as we all remember. I believe these three developmental years in a child’s life are the most critical. I am not a doctor, but from all that I see and hear on a daily basis, at no other period in our life do we experience such dramatic changes to our body and minds.
So, we did a “360” analysis of our school community and hypothesized that we could make significant gains as a learning community if we instituted a very purposeful social and emotional curriculum. In order to increase students’ academic achievement, we need to attend to their social and emotional development.
All of our elementary schools have a social and emotional curriculum in place-Responsive Classroom. They come to us having rich experiences in building community and having strong adult and peer relationships. It is our responsibility to build upon their elementary school foundation, consider their pre-adolescent and adolescent development, and establish the same safe and effective learning environment at Henley.
Henley Middle School committed to implementing a social and emotional curriculum for all students. Our school improvement goal #2 drives the work we will do throughout the entire school year: ALL students will be visible and report that they have an adult connection at Henley.
Over the summer over twenty teachers attended the week long professional development institute. They learned more about the philosophy and principles of Developmental Designs. Our “pioneer” teacher leadership group “tested” the principles of Developmental Designs against the Guiding Principles at Henley and found that we were a good match for each other.
Henley Middle School’s Guiding Principles:
- We are a community of educators, learners, and families who work together to ensure all members are visible, safe, and achieve to their fullest potential.
- We are welcoming inclusive, and student-centered.
- We are a community that takes risks, pursues passions, and fosters a growth mindset.
On August 14, the first day of Teacher Pre-Service Week, all of our teachers learned about implementing an Advisory, a period in the day when a smaller group of students meet to build community and have fun. Developmental Designs recognizes that middle school students have a need for autonomy and responsibility. We use the structure to support students’ development of these critical skills. The premise, “assume nothing, teach everything” will be an important reminder that it is our responsibility to not only teach the content of our classes, but also to teach students the “hidden curriculum” of self-management, empathy toward others, collaboration, problem solving, and many other skills.
For the first three days of school, we modified our bell schedule to make a lot of time for Advisory. We were intentional in our focus: welcome students, build community, develop relationships. It was a lot of time, but we believe the return on our investment of time will pay dividends throughout the year when students say they have an adult they trust, they are excited to come to school, and they are in a welcoming school community where students are kind to each other. When they say those things, they will learn more and they will learn better. We will be a stronger and better Henley.