Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Lessons Learned in 1:1: Supporting Freshmen Transitions

In conversation with public and private school educators, after questions of how did you build your network (see @jdferries' series HERE)  and professional development for teachers... the next question inevitably is "What would you do differently?"  There are a couple of answers... which I'll cover in the next series of posts.  First and foremost, I have to say, we've learned a lot about freshman study skills and transitions.

No matter what variety of 1:1 (or other educational initiative for that matter) that will change the learning environment of your school, focusing all energies on the existing community (teachers, parents, upper classmen) fails to recognize the incoming members of the community.  For us, ground level conversations in the TRC about October began to illustrate our freshmen were struggling more than usual.  Concerns of low organizational skills and poor time management, a perennial issue, seemed more consistent and cause for concern.  Enough so that for our November Delayed Opening PD session, our principal had the faculty read the University of Chicago's report "Teaching Adolescents to Become Learners: The Role of Noncognitive Factors in Shaping School Performance" prior to meeting.  It's a long report - I'm not going to lie - but critical in analyzing those "soft skills" beyond intelligence that successful students use to navigate school and life.  The five categories include:
  • Academic Behaviors
  • Academic Perseverance
  • Academic Mindsets
  • Learning Strategies
  • Social Skills

Brebeuf's 5 Day Rotation Schedule
Consider what an average transitioning freshman experiences...a new bell schedule; renegotiation and development of social groups and adult support networks; increased rigor in academic expectations and requirements.  And don't forget the basics... location of the bathroom, cafeteria and bus stop!   For our learning environment add in a Jesuit charism dramatically different from many of our sending schools.

And then we gave them the ultimate distraction... A personal computing device.

Our continuing students had already experienced a year or two of life at Brebeuf and had established themselves in the social and academic learning environment.  Their transaction to 1:1 was less of an upheaval as they only had to contend with one element.

So what will we do differently for the Class of 2017?
  • Our Academic Counselors are creating an intentional Study Skills curriculum for our existing freshmen seminar program. Topics include relationship building with teachers, calendaring/note taking/organizational tools and tricks (virtual and physical), time management and stress.
  • Revamp of our Freshmen and Parent Orientations to include more concrete elements of expectations and tools for success.
  • Freshmen teachers are creating standards of expectations to hit especially hard the first 4 weeks of school to help students establish a routine 
  • A summer skills Boot Camp for students interested in getting a jump start on their Brebeuf transition
  • A possible peer mentoring program teaming freshmen with an upper class buddy
Notice technology is just a piece of this conversation.  Like many transitions, individuals face different challenges at different stages.  And dealing with adolescents... the range of challenges is tremendous.  By intentionally building in opportunities for relationship and support, we hope to make the experience a little smoother for the Class of 2017. 


  1. Concerns of low organizational skills and poor time management, a perennial issue, seemed more consistent and cause for concern. By intentionally building in opportunities for relationship and support

    1. We are seeing positive results already (in summer school) because of, as you say, the opportunities we are intentionally creating. Awareness that transitioning freshmen need clear expectations and procedures has been a part of the success - some simple changes in procedures mentioned above just sealed the deal.

      And yes - it's all about right relationship!