RISE’s Foundational Conditions for Grade 9 Success: Defined Leadership

Conditions for Grade 9 SuccessGrade 9 SuccessRISE by 5 Strategies

From “Rise of the Guardians”

Grade 9 work is led by leaders who come in all forms. Whether you are an Assistant Principal, Counselor, Team Leader, or Teacher, your place on the Grade 9 team is paramount to its greatness. Every member is an expert in their role and pivotal to the team’s success. The contributions members make have deep layers and cast light on the expertise they bring to the mission of Grade 9 work. The Assistant Principal is the keeper of the vision, managing and leading the comprehensive team. But leadership of Grade 9 goes far beyond this single role. Counselors lead students, guiding them towards their best path, and faithfully finding solutions to complex issues. Team Leaders lead both their team of teachers and students towards realizing their greatness. This work transcends beyond structures, protocols, and systems. At their best, these leaders have an almost magical guardianship over realizing the Grade 9 conditions for success, which is why I choose to think of Defined Leadership, the condition at the heart of this post, using a metaphor from the movies.

Many of us have taken on the responsibility of bringing fantastical characters to life for children. We fondly remember these characters as the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, the Sandman, and more. If you are anything like me, you’ve indulged in wondering whether these characters ever cross paths with each other. It wasn’t until the 2012 animated movie Rise of the Guardians that I got my answer. In this story, Nicholas St. North (Santa Claus) assembles the Guardians to bring their unique skills to the task of defeating Pitch Black (the Bogeyman). 

In three of the key characters, we see three key roles of Grade 9 leadership, each crucial to the work of a strong team. Toothiana (the Tooth Fairy) is the Guardian of Memories who oversees her fleet of mini fairies and their large-scale tooth-collecting operation across the globe. In all her essence, she embodies everything we need and want in a Grade 9 administrator. Then there is E. Aster Bunnymund (The Easter Bunny), the Guardian of Hope, an avid believer in new beginnings, an expert at solving complex problems with ease, and a skilled nightmare slayer – or, someone reminiscent of an excellent Grade 9 Counselor! The final piece of this trifecta is Sandy (The Sandman), the Guardian of Dreams, a strong communicator and dedicated leader who works hard to manage and train his magical Dreamsand. He cares deeply for children and works tirelessly to protect them, and the other Guardians respect and learn from him, making him akin to Grade 9 team leads. 

Toothiana: The Grade 9 Assistant Principal

Just like Toothiana leads her large fleet of mini fairies, the Grade 9 assistant principal leads her large pack of teachers, counselors, and students. In the film, Toothiana’s gaggle of fairies does their best work because she transmits an unrelenting belief that the work is important, they are important, and that it is a collective effort. These are the same beliefs that manifest in the most successful Grade 9 leaders. On any given day, they can be found championing Grade 9 strategies by coaching team leads, attending on-track data team meetings, collaboratively setting goals and expectations, and removing barriers for teams to meet and collaborate. The Grade 9 administrator celebrates student and team accomplishments and scales best practices into wider school structures. Celebrations range everywhere from special invite-only breakfasts to movie events to Taco Tuesday lunches to bracelets and lanyard swag. In many ways, the Grade 9 administrator makes celebrating even the small wins a priority. 

Much like Toothiana, the Grade 9 assistant principal is also the “keeper of memories,” which is why establishing this as a defined role, held by the same leader year after year, is recommended. This model allows all of their energy to be focused on implementing data teams, developing team leads, and tailoring support for subgroup populations. Staying with Grade 9 year after year allows the leader to develop intimate knowledge of the team’s data as well as pressure-tested practices and strategies. This document seeks to inform school and district leaders’ in setting a vision for Grade 9 leadership, identifying the right person for the role, and updating the school’s administrator model.

But just as Toothiana needs her fleet of fairies, the Grade 9 administrator needs their team. They understand that this work is not done by just one person, and that leadership must be distributed. After all, nobody wants the Sandman in charge of collecting teeth, right? Cue the Counselors. 

E. Aster Bunnymund: The Grade 9 Counselor

E. Aster Bunnymund was definitely a high school counselor in his previous life. Just like Bunnymund, Grade 9 counselors are the Guardians of Hope for their Grade 9 teams. In concert with the assistant principal, counselors play an integral role in the success of the team. They routinely participate in or even help to run on-track data team meetings, meet with students to discuss their progress, grades, credits and interventions, guide students to choose classes, and engage students in credit recovery opportunities. Grade 9 counselors, much like Bunnymund, believe in new beginnings. They work closely with administrators, team leads, and teachers to adapt supports for individual and small groups of students grounded in data. The inclusion of Grade 9 counselors in frequent team data conversations allows them to make knowledgeable decisions in a timely manner, which creates conditions for optimal student success. Their specialized and data-informed supports for students who have attendance, credit, or behavior concerns help to solve complex problems with ease. While Grade 9 counselors may not possess enchanted boomerangs or exploding Easter eggs, they most certainly wield their very own magical tools which they use to create and restore hope for students during this critical first year of high school. 

Sandy: Team Leads

In addition to an administrator and a dedicated Grade 9 counselor, teacher leaders focused on the functioning of the Grade 9 team are crucial elements, almost exactly how Sandy and his dreamsand are essential to the Guardian crew. Sandy believes that every wish first grows from a dream, so providing a positive dream experience for kids helps their wishes come true. Similarly, team leads manifest dreams and a positive school experience for their Grade 9 students, primarily through thoughtful planning and facilitation of team meetings, modeling asset-based mindsets during student-centered conversations, and embodying a “by any means necessary” approach to complex issues. Much like Sandy to his dreamers, team leads are first responders to Grade 9 students. They not only hold the sacred position of teacher, but also leader, thought partner, liaison, and innovator. Their efforts to coordinate the work of the team creates an ever-adapting web of support, improving the functioning of the team and expanding educational outcomes for their students. 

There are many ways to show up for Grade 9 students and many leadership roles to play. Whether you are the Guardian of Memories, The Guardian of Hope, or The Guardian of Dreams for your school, your work is essential to the success of Grade 9 students. The folks at RISE are here for all of the magic you create each day with your Grade 9 teams and are happy to be The Guardians of Possibility, supporting your development and continued improvement. 

Our Grade 9 Summer Symposium explains why we care so much about Grade 9 and underscores why it is the “make-or-break year” for students. We will be hosting our third annual Symposium at The Delamar Hotel in West Hartford, Connecticut on June 24-25, 2024. We would love for you or members of your team to attend! Visit our website to learn more and to register. Also, we invite you to connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to stay up-to-date on RISE news and events.