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Part 7B – Creating a Freshman Transition Program – The Role of the Administrator During the School Year

Part 7A of this series on Creating a Freshman Transition Program dealt with the role that an administrator plays getting a Freshman Transition Program started. This post – Part 7B – focuses again on the role of the administrator. Specifically, it focuses on how the administrator interacts with the Freshman Transition Program during the school year. It assumes that the Transition Program is already up and running.

An administrator’s role could look very different depending on the school and the type of Freshman Transition Program. The ideas shared in this post could probably apply to most situations, but they are most closely aligned with the model that has been described in this series of posts. Specifically, they are designed for a Transition Program that utilizes a team approach (for information on teaming see Part 5, or this post on teaming, or check out The Ninth Grade Opportunity: Transforming Schools from the Bottom Up).

Ideally, an administrator won’t have to do a lot during the school year to make a Freshman Transition Program work smoothly. If the team of teachers has ownership of what they are doing and if the team of teachers is functioning well, then the administrator’s job should be one of support and assistance more than hands-on running the program. Here are some ideas and thoughts about how an administrator could support the teams during the school year (and also what an administrator should avoid doing):

1. Visit each of the school’s freshman teams at least once a week. These visits do not have to be long. Schedule it on your calendar so that you don’t forget – make it a priority. Stop by, say “hi”, and ask what you can do to help. You’ll find that the team teachers often have questions and will greatly appreciate your ability to answer them. If they’re in the middle of doing something, try not to take too much of their time. Occasionally, though, it’s a good practice to pull up a chair and have an extended visit. A team meeting is great opportunity to build relationships with your teachers.

2. Regarding team meetings – avoid trying to run them. Your goal should be for your team teachers to run their own meetings. If you create a scenario in which you set all the agendas and run all the meetings, then you are creating a program destined to sputter and possibly fail once you are gone.

3. Go to the teams for advice. Ask them about students. Get their input on how things are working. Your teachers will appreciate this, and you will benefit. If you have the right people on your teams – student-centered teachers of excellence – then their combined ideas and opinions will become very valuable.

4. Periodically ask for progress updates on team initiatives and objectives. I would avoid making your teachers do too much reporting to you; however, occasionally asking for a report can be helpful for moving things forward.

5. Help to make sure that the core principles and components of the Freshman Transition Program remain intact and moving forward. While your goal is to have a program run by the teachers involved, you also can’t avoid the fact that if you are the administrator overseeing the program then the “buck stops” with you. Hopefully, you won’t need to be heavy-handed, but you might occasionally have to remind your teams of certain practices or expectations. If you’ve done things right prior to the start of the school year, you’ll be reminding them of ideas that they have already agreed to and determined to be important.

6. Share data with your team teachers as it becomes available. This would include grade data, attendance data, discipline data, demographic data and anything else that might help them better judge their progress, identify areas of need, and understand their students.

7. Provide the necessary disciplinary consequences for students and disciplinary support that your teachers need so that they can do their jobs. There is no way to underestimate the importance of this. Perhaps this one should be listed first. Your support in this area gives your teachers great latitude to do what they do best – love kids, teach them, and prepare them for the rest of high school.

8. Visit all 9th graders early in the school year. You might try doing this by visiting all 9th grade English classes. During these visits, introduce yourself, but also introduce the students to the high expectations of the school. Reinforce team policies, expectations, and procedures so that the students understand that their teachers are doing what the school expects them to do.

9. Learn what your teachers are doing in their classrooms and what lessons about life they are teaching students. Then reinforce them whenever you can. For example, if your teachers are teaching about John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success, and a student ends up in your office due to a lack of self-control (a block in the Pyramid), you might ask the student to tell you what Mr. Moore has taught him or her about what John Wooden has to say about self-control.

10. Let the team teachers help out with scheduling new students who enter during the year. Rather than simply place a new student in the smallest class sections, place the student first on a team. Then ask the team teachers to tell you which sections would be best for the student.

The support you give during the school year is crucial. Finding just the right balance between hands-on and laissez-faire can be tricky. Your ability to be supportive rather than controlling will definitely depend greatly on what you have done leading up to the start of school, how strong your teachers are, and whether or not you have given them the chance to have buy-in and ownership of their Freshman Transition Program. Play your cards wrong, and you can become smothering and make the Transition Program something teachers want to avoid. Play your cards correctly, and your Transition Program will become a nurturing, supportive, and professionally exciting environment for teachers and one that they will ask to be a part of.

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