No one falls through the cracks: Setting up 9th graders for success

Author: Glynnis Childress

 

Introduction

The transition from eighth-to-ninth grade can be a difficult academic and social journey for students. This transitional time period encompasses a multitude of internal and external changes. For example, incoming ninth-grade students experience external challenges such as facing a more competitive academic environment with an increase in anonymity (Roeser et al., 2002). Internally, this transitional time period often causes socioemotional problems such as anxiety and stress for incoming ninth-grade students (Hertzog et al., 1997; Kennelly & Monrad, 2007). Coupled with the increased importance placed on peer acceptance and relationships, ninth-grade students often experience an increase in social and emotional changes (Cauley & Jovanovich, 2006). The incoming high school experience is remarkably different compared to the smaller and more nurturing middle school environment. As such, it is clear that the transition from eighth-to-ninth grade is a difficult transition, but the implementation of an interdisciplinary teaming structure in the ninth grade might alleviate some of the external and internal challenges.

Throughout my 20 years of teaching and leading experiences at both the middle and high school levels, teacher collaboration has been both evident and absent, depending upon my placement. During my tenure at the middle school level, I actively collaborated in an interdisciplinary team. I benefited both professionally and personally by being part of a collaborative unit. In 2015, I was reassigned to teach at the high school level. Being a fairly new teacher to the school, I found that the professional opportunities to collaborate with colleagues offered an interesting and sometimes frustrating experience. Reflecting upon my experiences at the middle and high school levels, I viewed the opportunities for collaboration in middle school as rewarding but discouraging at the high school level. Despite—or perhaps because of—the lack of collaboration and difficulties during my first year teaching high school, I began to wonder how a middle level interdisciplinary team structure might translate to the high school level.

My own personal experiences have yielded some important insights and opportunities for practitioners who want to create interdisciplinary teams at the high school level. First, it is clear that creating and sustaining an innovative practice like interdisciplinary teaming at the high school level can be difficult, but it is possible! Based on the challenges and successes of my own personal experiences, I would like to share the following recommendations to practitioners who are interested in creating interdisciplinary teaming.


Get Administrative Support

In order to effectively make changes in school settings, one must have the support and backing of administration. It is important that administration understands the purpose and benefits of interdisciplinary teaming at the ninth-grade level. Teachers who want to form interdisciplinary teams need to be well versed in the literature on teaming. Administration will more than likely support your initiatives if they understand the benefits of teaming, especially for students.

Work Closely with the School Counseling Department

The school counseling department should work closely alongside your interdisciplinary team and quite possibly become members. School counselors add another layer to understanding the needs of students. Additionally, school counselors can help with schedule changes and course recommendations. Thus, having a positive working relationship with your school counselors helps tremendously when discussing and helping students on your team.

Be a Part of the Master Scheduling Process

The master schedule process for most high schools is an arduous task and a time-consuming process. It is essential for teachers who want to create interdisciplinary teaming in the ninth grade to be a part of the master schedule team. Most importantly, being a member of the master scheduling team might also allow you to advocate for common planning time for your team. Having a common planning preparation time enables your team to meet during the school day and function as a “typical” interdisciplinary team. When you are a member of the master scheduling team, you can advocate for courses and teachers that might benefit the students on the team.

Find Teachers Who Teach Ninth Graders Exclusively

If your goal is to implement interdisciplinary teaming in the ninth grade, then you need to have teachers on the team who teach ninth graders exclusively. Teachers are often spread so thin among their various disciplines that it can be difficult to collaborate as a team. Creating a team with exclusively ninth-grade teachers offers the teachers opportunities to learn from other ninth grade teachers and know their students better.


Conclusion

These recommendations highlight specific areas that can be addressed at the high school level. For practitioners such as teachers, freshman academy coordinators, and instructional coaches, there are several areas to consider when developing interdisciplinary teaming at the ninth-grade level. As mentioned, when planning to create interdisciplinary teaming in the ninth-grade, a variety of stakeholders and programs need to be in place. The stakeholders play essential roles in the development and sustainment of a successful freshman academy with interdisciplinary teaming.

In 2019, I accepted a new position in a new state as a Freshman Academy Coordinator. In this new position, I am responsible for close to 600 students and 21 faculty members. My main focus throughout the day is to ensure that our ninth graders are successful both in and out of the classroom. As such, my first priority is to meet with ninth grade students to help in their transition to high school by addressing their needs and creating programs for academic success. Additionally, I work alongside the teachers in the Freshman Academy in planning curriculum and reflecting on pedagogical practices. My role also affords me the opportunity to promote the use of data analysis to inform teaching practice. By collaboratively sharing and reflecting on data with teachers, we are able to create a meaningful and purposeful curriculum to meet the needs of all ninth-grade learners. It is my hope that in the next few years that our freshman academy can implement interdisciplinary teaming to help with the eighth-to-ninth grade transition. Essentially, it is our goal to make sure no ninth grader falls through the cracks!



REFERENCES


Cauley, K., & Jovanovich, D. (2006). Developing an effective transition program for students

entering middle school or high school. Clearing House, 80(1), 15–27. http://doi.org/10.3200/TCHS.80.1.15-25


Hertzog, C. J., & Morgan, P. L., (1997). From middle to high school: Ease the transition.

Education Digest, 62(7), 29–31.


Roeser, R. W., Strobel, K. R., & Quihuis, G. (2002). Studying early academic motivation,

socialemotional functioning, and engagement in learning: Variable- and person-centered

approaches. Anxiety, Stress, and Coping, 1–24. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1061580021000056519


About the Author:

Glynnis Childress serves as Freshman Academy Coordinator at Woodmont High School in Greenville County School District.

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