Guest post by Jeff Simon

Last week, I discussed the importance of building a positive school culture by utilizing a one-hour lunch period for clubs and activities that foster school pride and for innovative labs that encourage enthusiasm for learning. This week, I will share how we’ve built a culture of personal responsibility at Payson High School by providing a positive support system for student learning through embedded intervention.

When our student data showed an increase in failure rates, our administrative team realized our previous interventions were not enough to address these dropping scores. Students struggled to take personal responsibility for their learning and often complained about the lack of time to complete their work and get help from their teachers. Teachers also struggled with finding time to work with students during an already packed class period. It wasn’t that teachers didn’t want to help students or that students didn’t want to learn and succeed. It was the challenge of time that so often complicates the classroom environment and causes breakdowns in the learning process.

It was clear that we needed to provide more opportunities for teachers to work directly with struggling students. When we changed the schedule and combined two 45-minute class periods to create a one-hour lunch, the remaining 30 minutes offered the opportunity we were seeking to address this challenge. Our administrative team used these extra 30 minutes to create embedded intervention that is an extension of our third-period class, giving the teaching staff time for targeted academic interventions and giving students time to take personal responsibility for their learning.

Pretty mid adult African American teacher or tutor helps teenage girl with blond hair in the library. They are reading from a large text book. Rows of bookshelves are behind them.

So how does this embedded intervention work? On a weekly basis, teachers identify students who need additional help or are failing a class. These students are required to either stay with their third-period teacher to work on assignments or report to another class that they’re failing if they’re in need of specific help from that teacher. While the students stay and work, the rest of the students have free time for an extended lunch period or other school activities. Students who receive help and raise their score to passing at any time during the week are excused from the intervention and earn the extra free time.

At first glance, this undertaking looks to be a logistical nightmare in terms of keeping track of students on a daily and weekly basis. It involves tracking students who are passing, failing, and raising their grades midweek. To solve this problem, we created a shared Google Doc that allows teachers to communicate quickly and easily about students’ eligibility, learning struggles, and grades. Students must take personal responsibility by knowing their scores and bringing the necessary work to the intervention. As a backup, the collaborative document gives the intervention teacher the necessary specifics to get students working even if they “mysteriously” forget.

The results of this approach have been promising. The embedded intervention allows our staff an extra 2.5 hours each week to work directly with our struggling population. Failure rates have decreased significantly. Students are motivated to complete their work, study more, and raise their grades in order to get the extra free time. Embedded intervention provides a positive support system to hold students accountable for their work and take personal responsibility for their learning.

How do you hold students accountable for their work? How do you build a culture of personal responsibility in your school?

Jeff Simon is the assistant principal of Payson High School in Payson, AZ, which serves 784 students in grades 9–12. He is the 2016 Arizona Assistant Principal of the Year.

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