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Day 103: Protecting the Bottom Dogs


What is Sacred:
This is a review and commentary on a much larger study published in the American Educational Research journal by Schwartz, A., Steifel, L., and Rothbart, M. The study uses a very large data set (n=9,000 students in 500 schools) to study the effects of top dog/bottom dog status on bullying, safety in school, belonging and academic achievement. What they are looking at is the effect on 6th graders of being a top dog in a K-8 school versus a bottom dog in a 6-12 school.

The results are that 6th graders report less bullying, feel safer in school and achieve better in K-8 schools.

I had an issue with the Kamenetz article, feeling that there was not enough said about what the teachers were doing and the decisions that 6th grade teachers make when in a 6-8 school. From my experience at middle schools both as a parent and as a teacher, 6th grade teachers usually come in as elementary trained teachers or middle school focused teachers and they definitely create their teaching teams differently from the 8th grade teachers. 

However, when I went to the longer study, in the discussion portion this is what it said:
Moreover, in places that do not reorganize elementary and middle school grade spans, this article provides strong evidence that resources should be committed to fostering safe learning environments for students who are not top dogs.
I am all for fostering safe learning environments and focusing more on professional development for teachers and pre-service teachers while allowing others to work on policy and organizational change.

Connection to Current/Future Work:
I think as teachers and teachers of teachers, we have influence over our own practices. When nurturing teacher leaders, I like to say influence where you can. I think this is always a good discussion point, but only to leads us to conscientization (raising consciousness and then taking action).

My first high school that I worked at was a perfect example of the pendulum shifts of education that proved to me that no matter what the structure of the school, make it work and continue to do right by students. For example, the history of the high school I was in was that it once was a 10-12 high school and the intermediate across the street was a 7-9th. We don't hear that combination anymore. The feeder schools for the high school were either a K-6 then onto the intermediate, or if they were in the more rural areas, a K-8 school.

My first classroom was in one of the newer buildings (built in the 70s). I was on the bottom floor and we had moveable walls so that it could be 4 classrooms, 2 classrooms or one large classroom. Of course my new colleagues used every old textbook and heavy bookshelf to basically keep the walls closed, but I know some schools are still practicing the open wall concept in the same way that some teachers are still "creating walls" in an open wall concept using white boards or book shelves.

I think the key is in professional development. Any idea, be it innovative, or traditional works best with professional development around collaboration, good teaching and a culture of feedback. Pau.


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