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Essential Components of a Freshman Transition Program - Part 3 - Standardizing Expectations

This series of posts on the essential components of a Freshman Transition Program is based on ideas found in The Ninth Grade Opportunity: Transforming Schools from the Bottom Up by Scott Habeeb, Ray Moore, and Alan Seibert.

There are many different approaches that one can take to properly transition freshmen into the high school setting. Some school are trying the academy approach. Because freshman academies have some inherent weaknesses many schools are going with the departmentalized approach. Schools transition freshmen on 4x4 block schedules, A/B days, 7 period days, 6 period days, and hybrid schedules. Transitioning freshmen occurs in small schools and large schools, urban schools and rural schools, schools that are struggling and schools that find benchmarks like AYP easy to reach.

The key to successfully transitioning freshmen lies in several essential components. While these components might look different in different schools/communities/classrooms, they all should be present in order to meet the needs of 9th graders.

Each blog post in this series of will focus on a specific example of those essential components.

Post 1 and Post 2 in this series both dealt with the topic of teaming teachers. This post will focus on one way that the team of teachers can harness "The Power of Four".

The Power of Four refers to the fact that if a team of teachers is truly functioning as a team, then they collectively can have a greater impact on students than those same four teachers could acting individually. A team of teachers can reinforce each other's strengths, compensate for each other's weaknesses, and work together to meet student needs more effectively. One of the best ways to maximize The Power of Four is for a team of teachers to standardize its expectations.

You might be surprised at how difficult it can be to get a group of teachers to standardize their expectations. One of the things that makes teaching attractive to teachers is that within the four walls of their classrooms they can be the kings or queens of their own kingdoms (or queendoms). There's nothing wrong with that - it allows for the creativity that makes each classroom a special place.

So let's make one thing clear right away - being a part of a team does NOT mean that you have to give up all autonomy. There is still room on a team for individual creativity and styles. That having been said, if a teacher can have a bigger impact on kids by standardizing some of his or her classroom expectations, then that teacher would be foolish not to do so.

It's pretty easy for the typical freshman to get lost inside the typical high school. One of the main reasons that teaming works is that the team becomes a smaller learning community within the high school. It shrinks the high school down to a more manageable size for both the students and the teachers. This is where standardized expectations come into play.

With all that high school freshmen are dealing with in life - hormones, peer pressure, a new school, etc. - why do we add to it by making them learn different procedures and expectations for each of their classes? By standardizing certain things, we can make it easier for freshmen to transition into high school and make it more likely that they will not get into trouble for not following procedures. Here are some examples of things that a team of teachers can standardize:
  • Homework and grading practices
  • Do Now/Bell Ringer procedure
  • Hall pass process
  • Late work policy
  • Test-taking procedures
It's pretty easy to see how standardizing expectations like these could make life easier on a high school freshman; however, there's an even more powerful reality of standardizing expectations. What is often not expected at first, but usually realized when a team works the way a team should is the fact that standardized expectations can be higher expectations! That's right, if a team of teachers works together to standardize their expectations and then holds each other accountable to consistently apply those expectations then the team of teachers is able to hold students to higher expectations than an individual teacher usually can.

Have you ever felt like you're the only teacher who:
  • Assigns HW every night?
  • Expects students in their seat when the bell rings?
  • Requires students to start each class with a Do Now/Bell Ringer?
  • Makes students write down their homework in an Agenda Book/Student Planner?
These are examples of the types of high expectations that a team can expect to be able to "get away with" when they are working as a team. When one teacher requires these sorts of practices then students will often think that teacher is a jerk. However, when all the teachers have these expectations then they're all jerks together! Essentially - as far as the freshman knows - that's just the way things are done in your school. The Power of Four makes each teacher more effective.

So if you're looking to transition freshmen into your high school it is essential that your team teachers get together and standardize as many expectations as they can. It will make life easier for your students AND it will make you a more effective teacher.

For more information on teaming teachers to transition freshmen check out The Ninth Grade Opportunity: Transforming Schools from the Bottom Up.

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