Written by: Enterprise Middle School
What are your test scores? How do your students compare to the state average? How do you compare to other schools in your district? How many practice/Interim tests have you given? Did you reteach all the concepts they missed? These are the type of questions teachers receive on an annual basis. In fact, it’s just a reality of teaching in America today. Society wants to have high test scores, because it’s a way of keeping score. Test scores are published every where, including real estate websites, so every district is pushing on test scores and getting as close to 100% as possible. And don’t get me wrong there’s real value in looking at hard data to determine if an educator, school or even district are on the right path.
As a Language Arts teacher my job is to teach two different test subjects, reading and writing, all in one hour a day. Obviously, I don’t need to tell you that it is really difficult to get all of the content I need to teach done in one hour a day. So when someone brings a new idea to you….well...you just look at them like they are crazy. When am I going to have time to do that?
After implementing CharterStrong, I believe all educators NEED to make time for this level of Social Emotional Learning. Let me tell you how this story all began. Last year, our enthusiastic counselors came to us and said they had this great program that we could implement in our school. We have all heard that before right? If you’ve been in education for a while, you’re used to one more thing being put on your plate. But with a healthy dose of skepticism, I decided “okay” let’s give this a try. Now, this wasn’t a program, this really was a culture/climate change for our school, so of course we were really interested at this point. The more we dug into the program the more we realized that this wasn’t one more thing on the plate, THIS WAS THE PLATE.
We decided that we would implement an advisory model at our school and that meant that every Friday we would be teaching a CharacterStrong lesson for 30 minutes. Thus, we would lose 5 minutes from each class on Fridays (which to be honest, middle schoolers have a very hard time holding their attention on Friday’s so the thought of losing 5 minutes of class sounded reasonable). This reduced Friday class time led to them actually being engaged for more amount of time. We started this program and I noticed a difference immediately.
My students were actually paying attention in class, not just during the advisory time, but in my regular classes. I felt like I was actually getting the “WHOLE” child for an hour instead of maybe half them. I was getting them to be more engaged in what we were talking about, the students are really buying into success and what it means to be a student. I began noticing that my students grades were higher. I had never had this many A’s in my 18 years of teaching. I had students that were helping each other in big and little ways. I was noticing that lessons that usually took 2 days were only taking one, and not because my students who came to me were at a higher academic level than normal. If anything the opposite is actually true. However, it felt like they were higher because they were being more present in the moment and really listening to the content of the lesson because of their increased EQ (Emotional Intelligence). I haven't had any student referrals to the office this year, not one! Considering all the complexity surrounding behavior in middle school it’s truly remarkable that a intentional focus on Service, Empathy, and Leadership can have such a sharp, immediate impact to my student’s success.
So now comes the testing, I was wondering if this new “Whole Child” approach to education would positively affect my students when it came to standardized testing. The simple answer is YES! The students that have me for advisory and have a relationship with me, really wanted to do well on the test. I could tell in their attitude on test day, it wasn’t dread, it was something new...excitement! I knew they were ready and they knew they were ready. Success seemed inevitable. I tallied all my results on the standardized MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) test and the kids in my advisory class averaged a growth of 5 points (FYI: 3 points is a year’s growth), so they grew almost 2 years on average on the test! Keep in mind, I am not teaching any new content that I didn’t already teach last year. My Language Arts curriculum is exactly the same, but my kids are improving at a much greater rate!
What has changed in my classroom to make such an impact? One word: CharacterStrong! My kids are forming relationships with me that they didn’t have before and it is increasing my ability to teach the content that is required and honestly, it is giving me more time rather than less to do my job. Isn’t that what we are always fighting for? By focusing on brief character-driven, social emotional lessons while forming real connections with others, my students’ futures are BRIGHTER THAN EVER!
About the Author: Enterprise Middle School is located in the Richland School District in West Richland, WA that has 700 students in a growing district. They started using the CharacterStrong advisory and leadership curriculums this year and have become one of our flagship schools, showing what can happen to a building if they put their focus on relationships.
Before bringing the curriculum in, they assembled a rockstar team who did a lot of work to plan out implementation of the advisory and leadership curriculum. Their principal and guidance counselors wanted to train their staff on the curriculum so they hosted a CharacterStrong training at their school also bringing in teachers, administrators and counselors from surrounding schools.