RISE’s Foundational Conditions for Grade 9 Success: Teaming Structures

Conditions for Grade 9 SuccessGrade 9 SuccessRISE by 5 Strategies

In the world of education, there are lots of teams: department teams, attendance teams, instructional teams, counseling teams, leadership teams… the list goes on! There are also lots of ways teams can meet: vertical meetings (ex. all English teachers), horizontal meetings (ex. all Grade 9 teachers), bi-weekly meetings, quarterly reflection meetings, etc.

So it should come as no surprise that one of RISE’s Grade 9 Conditions for Success is teaming structures for Grade 9 data teams. It also happens to be one of the conditions that the schools with which we partner ask us for support with most often. With the plethora of structures, approaches and meeting cadences, setting up Grade 9 Data Team structures that meet the unique needs of your school is no small feat. That’s why this blog will work to boil down the essentials of team structures into three key components that can guide your thinking and approach to setting up your school’s teams for success.

People First : “By your powers combined…”

Captain Planet and the Planeteers
Image courtesy of the Captain Planet Foundation

If you lived a nerdy childhood/adolescence like me, you may remember the 90’s cartoon, Captain Planet & The Planeteers. The main premise was that five kids across the globe are gifted magic rings that bear significant power in defending the earth from environmental disaster. However, their greatest power – the ability to summon Captain Planet – is only possible when they come together to tackle a common threat to our very existence. 

While a bit dramatic, this concept is very similar to what we recommend when setting up your Grade 9 team structures. In successful Grade 9 data teams, educators are able to share their unique experiences and perspectives on working with a common set of students in an effort to advance shared student outcome goals. Distinct from content area meetings (which focus on unit plans, curricula, and assessments), Grade 9 data meetings place students at the center of adult collaboration. For these teams to be successful, they must include individuals from different subject areas and with specialized expertise (SpEd, ELL) and experience (newer to the profession as well as experienced teachers). This way, when those educators are meeting, they’re able to craft a truly comprehensive picture of their students and respond to trends in the data with a holistic approach. 

In centering your teaming structures on the diverse educators you have in your building, you’re creating a powerful space where teachers can connect, problem solve and create a sense of community… which may not summon Captain Planet, but will certainly help you make enormous strides in supporting students!

Protocols & Planning

Now, the kids in Captain Planet fall short in our next category: protocols and planning. They generally wait for some evil-doer to threaten the planet and then react in some heroic way at the very last minute. While that strategy made for entertaining TV, it’s certainly not the best approach to supporting students in Grade 9 data team meetings. 

Instead, RISE recommends centering Grade 9 data meetings around protocols and planning structures that make the work sustainable and proactive. These structures also help make the best use of educators’ time, a valuable and limited resource during the school day. One of the first recommendations we make is to set up a meeting cadence like this one, and outlining how often you are able to meet, on which days, and at what times. Next, looking at that list of meetings, the team can name some specific data sets or student-centered conversations that would make sense at given points of the year. For example, at the beginning of the year, most Grade 9 data teams center their conversations around relationships and attendance because those are fundamental components of helping students feel a sense of belonging during this transition to high school. This work can also proceed without robust grades data that doesn’t become available until a few weeks into the school year.

Once you have a general sense of when you’re meeting and what the theme of that meeting should be, we recommend setting an agenda that utilizes a RISE protocol to help center your team’s discussion. For example, when discussing attendance in September, your team may use the Student-Centered Data Protocol to deeply understand a group of 10-15 freshmen who have two or more absences at the end of the first month. You may later “rinse and repeat” this protocol in October to revisit attendance or to look at a different subgroup of students, such as Special Education students currently failing one course. 

Setting up a simple cadence with an attached protocol can help your team keep time-sensitive data sets top of mind, feel invested in the purpose of each meeting, and decrease the time it takes to answer the question of what you should talk about each week. It also helps teams remember to come back to the students they’ve discussed and the interventions they’ve committed to so that they can highlight promising practices or revisit a student who still needs support. Relatedly, RISE strongly recommends building in time for celebrations – both of student growth and of what the team of educators has learned or accomplished. While you may not have saved the planet from utter destruction, your team has done powerful work in supporting students, and that’s worth pausing to celebrate!

Purpose: Make Your Meetings Work for You (and Your School)

Last in our quest to highlight the key components of teaming structures is to focus on purpose, or the reason your school team came together to do this work in the first place. It feels important to note that at all of the schools RISE has supported, each school has had its own unique spin on how they integrated Grade 9 data teams into their school’s culture. This not only makes our jobs as coaches and partners exciting, but also highlights an incredibly important point – Grade 9 data teams are not a “plug-and-play” policy or program. Just as the individuals on your teams are unique and your students’ needs differ each year, your Grade 9 data team will need to be flexible and responsive to your school. In order to do this, we recommend spending time throughout the year re-grounding your educators in the purpose of the Grade 9 data team – to create a solutions-oriented space where you can discuss your shared students and the support they need in real time. To aid in this work, we have developed a start-of-year team planning guide to help map out meeting topics and agendas. 

In naming that purpose, it is also important to note that Grade 9 data teams can’t be a “one and done” solution. Just as your graduating students are not the same as they were on that first day of freshman year, the same is true of your Grade 9 data teams. We know schools may face challenges in implementing Grade 9 teaming structures, but from the privileged position of seeing our schools’ teams grow and flourish over time, we also know the effort these teams require is worth it. We are deeply invested in the power of educators coming together to support their students, and we’re here to support you. So whether you are in your first minute of considering Grade 9 data teams or feeling stuck in year three, we encourage you to ground yourselves in the amazing people you’ve got on your team, to consult the protocols and structures that keep you organized, and to remain grounded in our common purpose of caring for students. “By your powers combined,” you really are setting your students up to take on the world, and RISE feels privileged to support you on this adventure!

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 second annual Symposium in June 2023, and would love for you or members of your team to attend! Complete this form to make sure you are notified when registration opens. In the meantime, we invite you to connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to stay up-to-date on RISE news and events.