Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Establishing a House System in Your Classroom


First, to the hundreds of people who have asked me for this blog post: I'm sorry. I said that I would write a blog post "within the week," and here we are a year later. 😂 I hope that you can forgive me, and I truly hope that this post helps you establish a house system in your classroom community.

The house system idea first appealed to me when I discovered the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta. It touched on my love for Harry Potter and teaching all in one, and I KNEW that I wanted to have a house system in my classroom. I talked with my administrators, and we decided to pilot it in what we call the Freshman Academy. We have 4 core teachers: Algebra, Environmental Science, Government, and English. Luckily, I have a rock star team, and they were 100% on board with the idea.

Where to Start:

First, decide your angle. Is this going to be just in your classroom, do you have a team that you'd like to try it with, or are you going all out and trying to establish it school-wide? I firmly believe that team works makes the dream work, but if you're on your own at your school, then you just rock it out by yourself!

As a team, we met over the summer to casually talk about our approach. We decided to go with four houses just like Harry Potter and RCA: Symbiosis, Exuberance (the best house to ever exist), Integrity, and Perseverance. We each picked our house names and symbols, and we decided that not only did these four complement each other, they were what we wanted from our students. From there, we set expectations for each of the houses.

Leading up to the Sorting:

We talked and talked about the house system and "something exciting" coming their way for about a month. Because of unforeseen circumstances, we had to wait a bit before launching. This year, we're launching during the first week! We started by creating the behavior matrix and what we expected of our students. These behaviors would earn them points. We would award 1 point for displaying a house characteristic and 5 or more for exceptional behaviors. As the year went on, we naturally awarded points for all kinds of positive behaviors. Before the sorting, we gave each student a blank version of the below handout, and then in each of our four classes, we would fill out our house characteristics and behavior expectations as well as do something related to our houses. For example, because my house is Exuberance, we did a bunch of chants to hype everyone up. I also bought pom poms and played a lot of music.

Some of the behaviors such as tracking the speakers (always keeping eyes on the speaker) and standing when speaking are directly from RCA. These two behaviors alone TRANSFORMED our students. Will every student want to stand? No. Will every student want to track a speaker? Nope. The goal is that through constant positive reinforcement from both teachers and their peers as well as the motivation to earn house points, they will try. At the same time, it's equally important to award points to students who are quiet during transitions, remain focused on tasks, and ask for help.

The Sorting:

We knew that our sorting ceremony had to be memorable and tangible. We talked about doing an online sorting, drawing names out of hats, and more. BUT then, our wonderful science teacher's husband (shout out to all the teacher spouses out there!) built this magnificent wheel.

What a difference it made! The four teachers and all of our students met outside, and each student spun the wheel and then went to a face painting station afterwards. We also immediately created house chants and handshakes. It was truly incredible to see teenagers doing crazy chants and handshakes in the hallway even after the ceremony.

Lesson learned with the sorting: Because the wheel spinning was random, we ended up with 28 kids in one house and then 12 in another, so we're going to cap each house this year so that it's fair. We ended up having a point conversion for the smaller house. Also, we're buying wristbands for the kids too so that when they spin, they instantly get a little souvenir.

The First Day with Points:

As a team, we decided that during the first two days after the launch, we would not take away any points from the houses. In each of our rooms, we had a station somewhere so that students could add points to their house. If a student stood to speak, we made it quick and easy: "Nice job, Tyler! House point to Integrity." Tyler would add his point, and we'd keep class moving.

I laminated these boards so that we could write on them with dry-erase markers. It worked well for the entire year! After the "honeymoon" period ended, we started to take away points. As a team, we decided that the most prominent issues were tardiness, cell phones, and language. We would take off 5 points for each of these. We did not make students erase points from the board. We, the teachers, had a separate tracking sheet on our clipboards for this; however, we did make a note that "Exuberance is losing 5 points for a cell phone." The problems started to fix themselves very quickly because the students were working as a team to keep each other on track. We did not tolerate any rude behavior towards the students who had lost the points. Losing the points was enough.

Keeping it Going:

In each house, we picked two house leaders for the first "round" (roughly one month), and thereafter, students would vote on new leaders. The leaders were invited to special lunches with the teachers, and we asked them to monitor and motivate their house members.

In our rooms, we had face paint stations for students to use every day. They did this for a few weeks after. When we noticed that it was dying down, we decided it was time for a house pride day.

Throughout the year, we held various pride days, competitions, house meetings, and more to keep the momentum going. We had monthly prizes for the house with the most points, and they were almost all food-related. I know some people don't like to give food as rewards, but teenagers are hungry, and they simply like food.

Lessons Learned and The Truth:

I won't lie to you: sometimes, we did burn out a bit. We would try to rev it up again with some kind of event, but sometimes, we fell off the wagon. To fix this for the upcoming school year, we are going to create a calendar in advance for specific events and hold each other accountable. We're going to make t-shirts and institute a star system for students to "earn their stars" as a way to make it more competitive.

Despite our efforts, not every student bought into it. Maybe it was because they were teenagers, or maybe they did not find it valuable enough; however, we had plenty of students buy into it, and it was an incredible experience. If you find this in your houses, just keep trying to motivate them.

If you have ANY questions, please leave them in the comments below so that when I answer them, everyone can see them.

If you'd like to download the FREE resources mentioned in this blog post, click here. Thank you for reading and best of luck to you all with your house systems!

Check me out on Instagram to follow along throughout the 2017-2018 school year. :)