Caring for the Whole Student

By: Bruce MacBain, Jeff Green, and Rebecca Burtram


At Moravia Middle School, each aspect of our program is designed to meet not only our students’ unique academic needs, but their social and emotional issues as well.

Our goals could only be achieved by teaming, and we are a testament to the positive difference teams make. This is how we do it.

Daily Conversations

Grade-level teams meet daily for one period during the school day to plan interdisciplinary units, analyze data, discuss student concerns, meet with students and parents, plan extracurricular trips, discuss opportunities for student recognition, and work on a host of other tasks that benefit our students academically and socially.

These meetings ensure we are not teaching on an island. The daily communication provides us with support and ensures we maintain a shared vision. Daily discussion among colleagues promotes creative thinking and planning that would not happen otherwise.

Meet You at the Forum

We begin our day at Forum. Students meet in the auditorium before their first period classes. Teachers make important announcements and recognize students in a large group setting. The students also are encouraged to make announcements about recent sporting events and other activities.

When teachers and students recognize accomplishments, everyone cheers. Forum creates a sense of community and establishes a positive tone for the school day.

One of our goals is to make sure each student has at least one positive interaction with an adult every day. Forum is a great place to start.

Keeping House

We use a house system to group our students. This system is based loosely on the Harry Potter novels. Each of the students is assigned to a teacher’s “house.” They begin the day sitting with that house at Forum and end the day in the house leader’s classroom. Teachers try to establish camaraderie within the groups so the students have social and academic support.

The house program provides each student with a “home” at the end of the day. Students work with their peers on the day’s assignments, and the teacher helps when they run into problems. House leaders are advocates for their students and are the first contact for parents.

Teaming adds to the effectiveness of the house system. Because team members meet immediately before students come to their houses, they are able to mentor students based on the perspectives of multiple team members. Team members often bring up student concerns that can be addressed with the student during house. House leaders know their students well enough to know how to work effectively with their students when they are together.

At the beginning of the year, all houses work on team-building activities via a ropes course. The groups also compete against each other in a house competition throughout the year. Teams accumulate points for positive behavior and successes, and at the end of the year one team wins the house cup.

This time is especially important to establish a climate of open communication and trust. If students don’t feel comfortable talking with adults, no anti-bullying program in the world will be effective.

Across the Curriculum

Students at Moravia are involved in many interdisciplinary activities based on books. These activities establish themes across the grade level. For example, the students in seventh grade read the novel My Brother Sam Is Dead in their English classes. At the same time they are reading the novel in English, the students are learning about its Revolutionary War setting in social studies. Each teacher on the team develops a content-specific topic for a “mini-class,” and the students choose the class in which they are most interested.

The home and careers teacher, for example, instructs the students about the preparation and preservation of food from the time period. The science teacher leads a mini-class on sound waves, linking that instruction to Ben Franklin’s invention of the armonica.

Students study in depth a specific part of the interdisciplinary unit’s theme. They work together in groups to develop a diverse understanding of the American Revolution and make connections from the different disciplines and presentations, fostering a deeper understanding of the content.

Not only are high-achieving students enriched by these units, struggling students often engage for the first time when they get to choose their interests, make connections, and see the purpose for their learning.

Some of our interdisciplinary units involve all grade levels in the middle school. For example, to teach the culture of Mexico, we open a Mexican restaurant for the community in our cafeteria.

Sixth grade students learn Mexican dances in PE classes and make Mexican decorations in art classes. In seventh grade, students prepare the food in home and careers classes. Eighth grade students create murals based on their study of Mexican muralists in art classes. Some students perform songs at the restaurant and others are trained as servers. These types of units bring the whole school together, and students excitedly anticipate what the next year will bring.

Flexible Scheduling

Teachers on the teams control the scheduling of six periods of each day. No classes are taught in those six periods other than classes taught by teachers on the team. This allows teachers to adjust the schedule daily based on student needs, mini-classes, blocking, and content needs. Teachers group, regroup, and regroup students again to differentiate instruction and gain perspective.

Unifying Themes

Each seventh and eighth grade-level team established unifying themes to which all the teachers make interdisciplinary connections throughout the year.

The seventh grade team created a unifying theme of Awareness. Because seventh graders are often influenced by peers, media, and parents, the Awareness theme is structured to motivate students to do original thinking about self, community, and world.

Eighth grade students begin the year by reading the book Seedfolks in English class. The story teaches the lesson that individuals can make a difference in the world, so throughout the year, all eighth grade teachers make connections to the theme The Power of One.

Work on unifying themes reaches a crescendo in June. We change the daily schedule to include time to work on mini-classes.

Each mini-class in seventh grade is a variation on the theme of Awareness. For example, one mini-class designed to create global awareness investigated world hunger. Students inevitably learned that awareness sparks action. In this mini-class, students planned a 30-hour famine fundraiser. In another mini-class, students explored self-awareness. Through activities such as scrapbooking, journaling, and yoga, students became more aware of who they are as individuals.

Each mini-class helps students discover things about themselves and prepares them to act on their new awareness when they get to eighth grade and the theme of The Power of One. Eighth graders learn about the power that an individual can have to make the world better. They form the Moravia Kid Corps, where they work on projects to improve the community.

Four years ago, students built a Memory Park, and subsequent classes became the caretakers of the park. A ceremony is held on the last day of school to honor community members who have displayed The Power of One by having a positive influence in the community.

Interested?

If you’d like to implement these programs, we suggest that you establish your core values, start small, and build layers to the program every year. Our goal was to establish an invigorating curriculum through interdisciplinary connections and establish relationships that ensured students had a positive interaction with an adult every day. From there, we created a flexible schedule that supported those values, which included teaming every day. After that basic structure was set, we added more and more to the program as the years went by.

The outstanding result of this program is the well-rounded, thoughtful, intelligent, curious, and passionate leaders of tomorrow who graduate from the middle school.


Bruce MacBain is principal (bmacbain@moraviaschool.org), Jeff Green is a seventh grade ELA teacher (jgreen@moraviaschool.org), and Rebecca Burtram is an eighth grade Spanish teacher (rburtram@moraviaschool.org) at Moravia Middle School in Moravia, New York.

Moravia Middle School was recognized as a School-to-Watch in 2006 and re-designated in 2009. The seventh grade team was honored as a 2010 Pearson/AMLE Teams That Make a Difference.

 
3 Comments
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3 comments on article "Caring for the Whole Student"

Using the teams to create a good community rapport, this is a great idea. I also love the harry Potter House Idea where they sit with their house and then meet with their house leader at “home” at the end of the day. I wonder how the students are sorted into their houses. How do the teacher’s know which house will fit best? The way the schedule is set up is amazing. The day can be divided among all the teacher on a team depending on what is being taught. If science needs extra time on Wednesday it’s alright because English doesn't need as much time on Wednesday. Using the same book in multiple classes will ensure communication and make the work load less on the student. Talking, discussing, and communicating are the most important parts of having a good community in the school. Having a school meeting to start the day for announcements where they start the day sitting with their house. To start the year the house does team building activities, such as the ropes course.

Overall working in teams, communication, and letting students get to know each other to build a good community. This will build a better atmosphere in the school. Leading to less bullying and more engaged learning all around. Students to will ask questions and present projects with confidence. If I work in a middle school I hope programs similar to this are in place.

—Allison
4/16/2015 11:58 PM

Mr. MacBain, Mr. Green, and Ms. Burtram-

I thoroughly enjoyed reading about how your school handles teaming of students. All the categories you discussed in your article were very pertinent and important to fully explaining the culture established at your school. While I had previously heard of some of the ideas you presented about teaming, like having daily conversations as a team, working on one topic across contents, and the ability for more flexible scheduling, there were some others that I hadn't previously heard about. The idea of having a "Forum" everyday is something that seems so novel, but at the same time seems to be super effective; it allows for students to take ownership of their achievements, it may drive other students to be able to experience that recognition, and it allows a continuity in directions, instructions, and information for the students. I also really enjoy the "House" system! I experienced something similar in my Middle School, but it was more across grades, rather than across teams. To be able to experience this and to allow for teachers to become more connected with a small group of students, while also allowing for students to build a Learning Community.

As a pre-service secondary teacher, many of these ideas are so fascinating to me! I can see their implementation and success not just in the Middle Level, but also at high schools. I think the most interesting facet of your school's teaming system is that it isn't just about creating a community among teachers, it is mostly focused (at least according to what the article describes) on creating a culture of community among the students and between students and teachers. That is so inspiring to me, and I'm sure the students appreciate this individualized community and relationships.

—Katelyn
4/19/2015 3:38 PM

There is no doubt that committed teachers will do their best to fulfill students’ needs. As you stated at the beginning, the factor that enables you to apply this set of strategies is team work.

Students rely on us, and by having them trust in an adult by creating an atmosphere that allows communication, we are telling them not to be afraid. I really liked the use of Forums, because I believe that giving students the opportunity to talk and communicate makes them feel valued. I am sure your model has created a safe school environment, where kids feel they are at home.

—Ana
6/16/2015 9:39 PM

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