In late October, the middle school 7th and 8th grade team at Flood Brook School realized that the 2021 school year was off to a rocky start. Students and teachers alike were pretty miserable. So, they bravely brought their entire team community together – that’s teachers, students and support staff – for a three day off-campus retreat. They needed to figure out how to to be more joyful together. Maybe you, too, need a radical reset…
The middle school teachers at Flood Brook had been experiencing the fall of 2021 as a “tough year.” In their eyes, students were really struggling with the transition back to five days a week in school. They had kids coming back to the school after more than a year out of the physical building. They had staffing changes both planned and unexpected. And they felt like uncertainty was the only thing they could count on. Additionally, students expected to return to a physical school experience that might be a relative “return to normal”, but their hopes were crushed by the delta variant.
The climate in the middle school had been steadily declining, behavior problems were increasing, and student engagement was in danger. Moreover, the adults and students were growing disillusioned. It was clear that something needed to be done. Finally, Taconic & Green District’s Success Program Director Sarena Barausky pitched a golden idea that immediately found traction.
A “Radical Reset.”
What is a radical reset?
After days of discussing ideas, brainstorming opportunities, and debating an approach, the team made a plan. The radical reset became a fall retreat – a three day off-campus outdoor educational opportunity. The goal was for students and staff work on team building, enjoy each other’s company, and brainstorm community expectations for building a safe, fun, and engaging school year. Instructional coach Tracy Zaino reframed the work at hand for the group by connecting in-school learning with real-world implications.
That’s what this middle school does well — connect learning to real life.
When students began the year with an integrated studies unit that focused on human needs, the driving question was, “How can we build a sustainable, equitable community?” Inspired by the work of Andrea Gratton and Kyle Chadburn of Orleans Elementary School, the Flood Brook team asked students to use Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in order to design model communities. Naturally, Zaino suggested that they return to the same inquiry for students. What if the radical reset asked students to design a sustainable and equitable middle school using the same framework of human needs?
Community Building, Reflection and Lots of Student Voice
Student voice, reflection, and community building were the essential ingredients of this Radical Reset. Sunshine, fresh air and nature helped! The primary goal of this retreat was to build community – again. While this team did their share of team building to start the year, they needed more. They needed to have fun together and laugh, play and work cooperatively. So the Flood Brook students played games, made meals, had an evening campfire, and went for hikes.
Another vital component of this retreat was reflection. It was important for everyone to reflect on this year so far and discover what’s working and what needs improvement. Students made journals and had lots of time to write in these beautiful outside spaces. The teachers refreshed students about Maslow’s five levels of human need. Then students journaled and discussed the degree to which their school day was meeting each need — regarding physiological needs, for example. These middle schoolers considered how the school day did and didn’t support their need for food, water, shelter, sleep, and going to the bathroom. Yes, going to the bathroom was discussed.
Certainly, this outdoor retreat would only be successful with abundant student voices. The teachers gave students this platform and opportunity to negotiate what they needed from school. So, they stepped up and gave them their voices. They discussed basic needs, social needs, behaviors and consequences, and teaching and learning. And all from their own uncensored perspectives. For example, students asked for more choice and flexibility in their WIN or FLEX block. They asked for more variety of offerings and choices. They wanted to be able to see different teachers and to have the opportunity to be with different mixes of kids. In addition, they asked to bring back a former team structure – Passion Projects. Passion Projects allowed students to explore topics of their own meaning and interest. All this time, their teachers listened, took notes, and asked questions.
Will this radical reset work?
It’s too soon to tell. We write this piece exactly as this retreat is wrapping up. But I think it’s safe to say that the adults feel things are shifting already. Over the course of the days, they saw students looking more invested. They saw students treating one another with more appreciation, and they felt like this outing forced them all to slow down and get back down to what really matters.
The Flood Brook 7th and 8th grade team went into these three days knowing that a one-off event would not “fix”, “solve” or “cure” anything. Essentially if this radical reset is going to work, the real work is yet to begin. This team is committed to working towards implementing student voice more authentically. They’re hoping to continue to engage the students as they work to implement the suggestions they made. By periodically planning novel events throughout the year, they’d like to pause and celebrate successes this year as they continually revisit the work of building student centered humanizing education at Flood Brook.
Please connect with us about this radical reset.
What do you need to reset? What radical things will you try?
How can you reboot your learning community?