Working together to transition freshmen & transform schools from the bottom up!
So you want to create a Freshman Transition Program (FTP) at your school and you don’t know where to start. You keep hearing about other schools creating Freshman Academies – is that what your school should do? How do you go about researching and exploring the topic?
Well, you’ve come to the right place.
Disclaimer: Parts of this post are definitely self-serving since much of the consulting work I do involves helping schools create FTPs that meet their school’s needs. However,
despite the fact that some of my recommendations might appear to benefit me, I’m
confident you will find this a helpful starting point.
Here are some key points/ideas to consider as you start developing an FTP for your school:
1. Beware of the Bandwagon Approach
Too often in education schools will jump on a bandwagon and pick up the latest fad without properly examining whether or not the idea truly works for their school, let alone works at all. In terms of Freshman Transition, the bandwagon that I am witnessing is the Academy approach. The Academy approach involves separating freshmen into a separate wing/hall/floor/or building. As I have written before, the Academy approach has its pros and cons. In many schools this may well be the best approach; however, a school should not choose this approach out of a lack of knowledge of other approaches. For example, many schools have used what I would call the Departmentalized approach. I have written in the past, it too has its own pros and cons; however, because of this current Academy trend many people don’t even consider it. Freshman Transition has become equated with the Academy model. I have worked with quite a few schools in which the Academy model has failed. (Here is why this tends to happen.) I have also worked with schools in which the Academy model has been very successful. Just don’t jump on a bandwagon; do your homework.
2. Take Your Time
I remember a school that asked me to visit them in July so that they could open school in August with an FTP. What were they thinking!!! How can a long-term big picture reform be created in a month? Get a group of teachers involved in the process. Meet regularly to discuss the freshman situation in your school. Brainstorm ideas. Travel to other schools. Attend conferences. This is a big deal. Your FTP is being designed to transform your school. The process of creating it very important. Here is a timeline that you might consider following or using as a template for your efforts.
This really ties in with the first 2 suggestions, but while your avoiding the bandwagon and taking your time, be sure to research all aspects of the freshmen experience. I am a co-author of what as far as I know is the only book dealing solely with the topic of Freshman Transition. Our book is entitled The Ninth Grade Opportunity: Transforming Schools from the Bottom Up. Start there, but don’t stop there. Identify the needs of your freshmen and then seek out books and conferences that will provide you tools to meet those specific needs. The educators in my consulting group, Solutions, etc., have worked with dozens of schools from 20 states for almost 2 decades. Give us a call (540-389-2610) and perhaps we can point you to some resources based on your needs.
4. Empower Teachers
THE SOLUTION to any educational problem is the teacher in the classroom. That is why I am such a strong advocate of the teaming approach. Teaming empowers teachers. An empowered team of teachers that SHARES a group of students and that SHARES a common planning time is better able to meet the needs of freshmen than a group of individuals. Furthermore, the Teaming Model can fit into any setting – rural/urban, poor/wealthy, Academy/Departmentalized, large/small. In working with schools for many years now, I can honestly say that the quality of the team of teachers is the most important factor in the quality of the FTP. An effective team has a larger impact than any academy or curriculum could ever hope to have on its own.
So these are the four starting points – Beware of the Bandwagon, Take Your Time, Research, and Empower Teachers. Let those 4 ideas guide you in your efforts to create a successful Freshman Transition Program.
I’d love to hear from you with any ideas, thoughts, or experiences you many have that relate to this topic.