Teams are defined as groups of people working interdependently to achieve a common goal. With schools, this goal is commonly communicated in the form of a dedicated mission and vision focused on student success. Teams at Yukon High School (YHS) in Yukon, OK, consist of administrators, faculty, and staff who have committed to sustaining high academic and behavioral standards for all students by removing barriers and recognizing the value in every individual. They have committed to embracing and honoring the diversity of ideas, people, and beliefs. Not only has YHS stayed true to this focus during the difficult days of last year’s hybrid school offerings, but its efforts have molded one of Oklahoma’s largest high schools into smaller, supportive, and genuine teams.
As the population of YHS continues to grow, the school’s focus on building relationships has adjusted to include a team focus on individual student success. This team focus includes valuable input from teachers, administrators, and counselors, guiding students to their goal of graduation. Input on student success and understanding, as well as behavior and social-emotional well-being, plays an important role in ensuring the success of all students at YHS.
From the moment they begin their education at YHS, students are assigned to teams of administrators and counselors to create a community, providing students and families with a connection to their school. Counselors and assistant principals are responsible for a specific portion of students (alphabetized by last name), allowing them to develop deeper relationships with students and families during their educational experience. Administrative and counselor teams meet weekly to discuss individual students who are at risk academically, emotionally, and in other areas. Together, they determine resources that best match the needs of students.
Interventions range from student check-in meetings to assigning students to “Reboot”: a bi-weekly, four-hour, school-day intervention program to help students who are behind in multiple classes. For students who need assistance outside the academic setting, we provide mental health resources and group counseling sessions held on campus during the school day. For behavior support, we offer restorative practices recently developed and implemented with the help of the school’s newly formed discipline committee, plus a behavioral intervention class for students in special education.
If the student requires resources beyond what the school can provide, we collaborate with the district’s alternative school administration and counseling staff. The high school and alternative school teams hold weekly meetings to share information about struggling students, making collaborative recommendations for alternative learning experiences. YHS is committed to analyzing the needs of every student, exploring all avenues to ensure student success and graduation. Teams of educational professionals focused on the same goal have led to the innovative assignment of a variety of interventions, meeting the needs of the whole child.
Student-Focused Data Dives
Data can be daunting, messy, and seemingly irrelevant to members of a large organization, which is why YHS has fostered a culture of data-seeking and analysis through team collaboration. Faculty members have committed to sustaining a culture of collaboration focused on individual student achievement. Teachers meet weekly in professional learning communities (PLCs) to develop curriculum, create assessments, and analyze important, formative data. Data is discussed in a way that allows teachers to connect to the results in their own way, creating direct links to the courses they teach and their individual students.
Student understanding and classroom success, in the form of qualitative and quantitative data, drive team conversations regarding possible interventions for struggling students.
Collaboration leads to focused data analysis, which in turn leads to the development of interventions geared toward individual students. Twice a week, YHS offers “Rethink”: 30 minutes of intervention built into the school day. The analysis of formative data within the PLC has led to the development of these intervention sessions, offered in certain subjects each week. This intervention is often differentiated, and we share instructional responsibility among all members of the teaching team on a rotating basis. With all teachers having the same commitment to the goal of student success, all students have an advocate to ensure they have the best opportunity to learn.
Faculty members are also committed to removing barriers so that students gain the critical-thinking and problem-solving skills they need to succeed. The collaboration cycle of the PLC team has been key to recognizing students struggling academically—it drives the process of identifying students in need of additional assistance from members of the school community.
Building relationships is a crucial component in reaching all students, increasing their engagement in school and the learning process. In addition to teachers providing critical insight into student understanding of the content, they also play a key role in identifying the needs of individual students.
After the first 30 days of school (and throughout the year), teachers are asked to categorize their relationships with their students. We have named this process the “SOS list.” The list is a simple, collaborative document that lists every student’s name with three corresponding, color-coded columns next to the names. The list has three tiered categories to help educators categorize the relationship level by placing their name in the appropriate column.
- Know the student’s first and last name.
- Know at least one fact about them outside of your classroom.
- Have a personal conversation with this student at least twice a week.
- Know basic facts about this student’s life outside of YHS.
- Be able to describe this student’s academic performance outside of your class.
- Be sure your student knows that your classroom is a safe space.
- Describe this student’s behavior motivators and triggers.
- Communicate with this student regarding these behaviors, when necessary.
- Know extensive and important information about this student’s life outside of YHS.
In addition to the SOS list, YHS offers student intervention offerings—a list used by administrator-counselor teams in collaborating with those closest to the struggling student to assist in determining the best intervention strategies. The goal is for 100% of our students to have at least one teacher, at any tier level, connect with them by the end of the school year. By having all students connected to at least one adult in our school, it gives them additional support on their path to success. Teachers have incredible insight into the lives of their students, and this connection plays a critical role in ensuring success for all students. The following are our student intervention offerings:
- School-day intervention (Rethink)
- School-day focused intervention (Reboot)
- Group therapy by specific needs
- School counselor available to all
- Mental health resources
- Career counseling
- College facilitator
- Vocational education
- Alternative education support
- Hybrid learning opportunities
In the words of Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of committed, thoughtful citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” It is this focus on taking a large school and establishing small teams of extremely dedicated educators that has led YHS to an annually increasing attendance rate above 94% and an improvement in the graduation rate to 96%. With a focus on team support, identifying academic challenges through data analysis, and building focused relationships with every student, YHS has removed many barriers that typically impede teaching and learning. Every student deserves to be successful, and YHS is committed to ensuring success for all.
Melissa Barlow is the principal of Yukon High School in Yukon, OK, and NASSP’s 2021 Oklahoma Principal of the Year.