by Harry & Rosemary Wong
Special to the Gazette
Surviving Without a Principal
Imagine . . .
being given a chance to live your dream—
but you can’t tell anyone except your immediate family.
How do you leave your job as a middle school principal . . . for eight weeks?
How can they “survive” without you? Ask Debra Beebe.
She’ll tell you how.
“Procedures, procedures, procedures,” she says, “werethe key to keeping things running smoothly without me!”
“One day I was in the school with 980 6th and 7th grade kids and staff. The next day I was gone for eight weeks.”
Debra Beebe is the Principal at J. F. Drake Middle School in Auburn, Alabama. When she got the call to participate in the CBS reality show, Survivor, she had only one week to prepare everything before she left. “Not to mention,” she adds, “according to the show’s contracts, I could not tell anyone, but family, where I was going.”
Debra credits her two Assistant Principals, Duriel Barlow (7th grade) and Sandy Resa (6th grade), as the reason Drake Middle School ran so well in her absence.
The administrative team at J. F. Drake Middle School:
Sandy Resa, Debra Beebe, and Duriel Barlow.
“We have established administrative procedures, responsibilities, and routines that assisted in a smooth transition in my absence,” Debra says.
Debra, Duriel, and Sandy work as a team and emphasize communication as the key to success. Having similar personalities, Debra says, they all work together very well. They are united by their love of kids, outgoing natures, and the belief in success through a positive attitude.
“Each assistant principal is assigned specific responsibilities. Tasks are divided among the leadership in my team,” says Debra. “If one administrator is absent, the others naturally cover any responsibility of the missing person.”
Debra says, “While I was away filming Survivor, a student passed away, they had to hire a new office secretary, continue team academic meetings, attend principal and administrative council meetings, and deal with multiple parent, student, and building issues. I returned to a building still standing and still functioning as if I never left.”
In Her Absence
Ask Debra who ran the school in her absence and she will tell you, “The same people who do when I am there."
The school never missed a beat while she was away. Every decision made at J. F. Drake Middle School is based on a team method. Besides the administrative team, there are teacher teams that focus on various aspects of professional development, educational techniques, and school organization. There are five teams of three 7th grade teachers, and five teams of four 6th grade teachers.
J. F. Drake Middle School is located in a college town, and so they are constantly bringing in fresh, new teachers to their staff. Debra gives each new teacher a copy of The First Days of School and goes over the book in detail with the help of a PowerPoint presentation. They then meet with the new staff each month and a chapter is discussed in a book group setting. She says, “I have a veteran teacher that told me he still pulls your book the beginning of each year to get him ‘fired up!’”Click here to see Debra’s new teacher PowerPoint presentation.
With a school set up in teams, it takes no time at all for new teachers to get acclimated. Debra says new teachers are welcomed into their teams with open arms, given mentors and professional support, and even provided with a gift basket!
“Teachers are encouraged to visit the classrooms and observe lessons of our master teachers. Team meetings, curriculum meetings, and grade-level meetings are held to discuss routines and procedures,” says Debra.
It’s not only the teachers and administrators who work in teams. At J. F. Drake Middle School, even the students are a part of these teams! Much like in Harry Potter, each student’s team is his home. “It is our desire that each student at Drake Middle School feels a part of a family—their team,” says Debra.
All of the teams are named after cats. Leopards, Cheetahs, Tigers, Panthers, everyone is a Wildcat! Teams have colors, t-shirts, slogans, locations, cheers, and flags. Students and teachers come together to support each of their teams. Team identity is a large part of the culture at J. F. Drake Middle School.
Procedures, Practice, Tradition
Procedures, Practice, and Traditions are the driving force at J. F. Drake Middle School.
Procedures at J. F. Drake Middle School center around ROAR: Respectful Organized Attentive Responsible
ROAR is a behavior system with rules. Please see Chapter 18 in The First Days of School
for a definition of Rules. Within the rules, Drake Middle School has incorporated procedures. Please see Chapters 19 and 20 in The First Days of School for a definition of Procedures.
It is important to know the difference between rules and procedures.
For every area of the campus there are four ROAR categories. Within each category are procedures for students to follow. Click here to see Drake Middle School’s ROAR rules and procedures.
Debra says, “Procedures, procedures, procedures are the key to success.” Procedures such as the ROAR school-wide ones helped the school run efficiently while she was away filming Survivor.
Drake Middle School uses a Positive Behavior Support (PBS) program to reinforce the procedures at the school.
“In the past, we took for granted that kids knew how we expected them to behave and what appropriate behavior was,” says Debra. “This is the first year we actually modeled what behavior we want.”
On the first day of school, teacher teams were assigned to various areas of the campus. The teachers taught a PBS lesson so students could practice the rules of these areas. They acted out what to do and what not do. And yes, this included flushing the toilets!
Students were then asked to design some form of advertisement, game, or presentation of the rules they practiced. These were shared with classmates for further reinforcement.
J. F. Drake Middle School is rich in traditions, from their city-wide pep rallies to Summer Camp Drake Middle.
Summer Camp Drake Middle is a transition program for incoming 6th graders. On the last day of school every year, 5th graders from six feeder elementary schools receive a “Congratulations” letter. These letters are personally addressed to each child and contain their team assignments and the dates of their Summer Camp session.
On the day of the camp, students and parents are invited to the school to meet their teammates, participate in games, and even learn how to use their lockers. Debra says, “The staff is in camp shirts; We Are Family is blaring from the speakers; and pom-poms are shaking as the staff welcomes their new student families.”
Students spend the day bonding with their teachers and teams. Meanwhile, parents meet with Debra to go over important information. They review everything from car lines to dress code to habits for success in middle school.
Camp Drake Middle has become a tradition not only in the school, but in the community as well.
Each team holds a big celebration at the end of every nine weeks. During this celebration, students are chosen to be acknowledged for their attributes.
Debra says, “We celebrate success for everyone. Every child, even those whose successful traits are difficult to see, will be celebrated at some point during the year.” Sometimes teachers have to dig deep to find the trait to celebrate. Debra compares this task to a box of Cracker Jack.
Sometimes you open the box and the prize is on top, just like the kids that love every part of school, who turn in their homework, and are so sweet and a pleasure to have in class. Other boxes require you to dump some of the Cracker Jack out of the box to find the prize, like the kids that generally behave, but do not always turn in their work and occasionally have minor infractions. Finally, some boxes have to be completely emptied to find the prize. This is the student having a difficult time, who does not want to “play school,” and is constantly in the office seeking negative attention.
Drake’s philosophy is to celebrate everyone’s gifts. Every child has a prize; it is our job to find it!
The Importance of a Teacher’s Role
Being on Survivor not only fulfilled a life-long dream for Debra, it has also helped her to become a better educator and administrator.
She says, “[People] may think they know how much a child born into poverty treasures something as simple as a pencil or a book. I thought I knew. But I didn’t, really, until this experience. I now know what real hunger and loneliness feel like.” She says she understands more clearly now what underprivileged students are feeling, and why they may struggle socially or not perform well in school.
“I also understand how unfair it is for us to require students to perform mental and physical tasks when they are hungry and tired,” says Debra. (Her students like to tease her for the fact that she failed a math problem in a challenge on Survivor. In her defense,
Debra says, “For the record, I can add when I am not starving!”)
Debra acknowledges, “I knew there was an end to my experience. Some children live in these conditions daily and never see the end.”
Debra came to realize just how important her role is, how important the role of a teacher is, to a student who has nothing else. When a child is needing, there is nothing more special than the supportive and loving environment like the one at J. F. Drake Middle School.
Our Mission Is to Carry On
How far did Debra make it on Survivor?
Out of 16 competitors, she was the 10th one voted off the show.
What happened to her school while she was away those fall days?
The school thrived while Debra survived. Procedures, procedures, procedures!
How does Survivor apply to you?
Imagine dialing the phone right now and calling in to say, “I’m going to chase my dream. See you in eight weeks!” We have told the story of the substitute teacher not showing up for the teacher and his students carrying on without him. The teacher joked he could have taken a vacation and not be missed—yet his students would not have missed a beat.
Whether you are a teacher or an administrator, “procedures, procedures, procedures” are your insurance that students will carry on without your physical presence. Procedures provide the continuity, the stability, the structure, the direction for positive action. Procedures are your survival skills to save yourself and your students from unexpected adversity. Use them to create an environment of calm and care where thriving is the norm.
a printable version of this article click
Harry and Rosemary Wong have been writing columns for Teachers.Net for over 13 years and the columns all have a distinctive style. They write about effective teachers, administrators, schools, and school districts featuring techniques that are immediately replicable and at no cost. More importantly, they work to enhance student learning. An archive of past articles can be found at the end of every column, with an abstract of all articles at the end of the most recent June column.
For over 30 years, helping teachers become effective has been the passion of the Wongs. Writing for Teachers.Net is just one of the many ways they reach out to educators with their ideas on how effective teachers improve student learning.
About Harry & Rosemary Wong...
Harry and Rosemary Wong are teachers. Harry is a native of San Francisco and taught middle school and high school science. Rosemary is a native of New Orleans and taught K-8, including working as the school media coordinator and student activity director.
Harry Wong has been awarded the Horace Mann Outstanding Educator Award, the National Teachers Hall of Fame Lifetime Achievement Award, the Science Teacher Achievement Recognition Award, the Outstanding Biology Teacher Award, and the Valley Forge Teacher's Medal. He was selected as one of the most admired people in education by the readers of Instructor magazine. Rosemary was chosen as one of California's first mentor teachers and has been awarded the Silicon Valley Distinguished Woman of the Year Award. She was also honored as a Distinguished Alumnus from her alma maters, Southeastern Louisiana University and Louisiana State University.
Harry and Rosemary have been awarded the Upton Sinclair Award and were nominated for the Brock International Prize in Education. They have built and sustain a school in the jungles of Cambodia.
The Wongs are the most sought after speakers in education today, booked two years into the future. Their presentations are practical, offering a common sense, user-friendly, and no-cost approach to managing a classroom for high-level student success. Over a million teachers worldwide have heard their message. In spite of their heavily booked schedule, Harry and Rosemary have agreed to write this monthly column so that more people can hear their message.
How They Develop Effective Teachers...
Harry and Rosemary Wong are committed to developing effective teachers, one teacher at a time.
To do this, they have formed their own publishing company, of which Rosemary is the CEO.
THE Classroom Management Book is what everyone has been waiting for. It is an exhaustive extension of Unit C on classroom management in The First Days of School.
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How to Be an Effective and Successful Teacheris an audio CD set that was recorded live before 800 teachers in St. Louis. Listen as they walk you through classrooms that hum with learning and share how you can replicate the same success in your classroom. In 2 hours and 40 minutes, Harry and Rosemary can transform you into a very effective and successful teacher at no cost!
This presentation has transformed the lives and teaching success of hundreds of thousands of teachers.Learn how to
Begin the school year with a plan
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Teach procedures and responsibility
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The Wongs have written The First Days of School, the best-selling book ever in education. Over 3.8 million copies have been sold. It is used in 120 countries, 2,114 colleges, and most every new teacher induction program. The fourth edition has been translated into five foreign languages and includes:
An additional chapter on procedures
A new chapter on assessment with rubrics.
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A new chapter for administrators on implementation
Additional information in Going Beyond Folders
A new DVD, Using THE FIRST DAYS OF SCHOOL, presented by Chelonnda Seroyer
The Wongs have also produced the DVD series, The Effective Teacher, winner of the Telly Award for the best educational video of the past twenty years and awarded the 1st place Gold Award in the International Film and Video Festival.
They also have a successful eLearning course, Classroom Management with Harry and Rosemary Wong. The course can be taken in private at the learner's convenience. The outcome of the course is a 2 inch binder with a personalized Classroom Management Action Plan.
This Action Plan is similar to the organized and structured plan used by all effective teachers. Details for the classroom management course can be seen at www.ClassroomManagement.com.
You can hear Harry Wong LIVE on a set of CDs, called
How to Improve Student Achievement, recorded at one
of his many presentations. He invites you to steal from him the secrets of effective teaching for all grade levels.
Never Cease to Learn has the power to transform your
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When the books, video series, CD, DVD, and eLearning course are used together, they form the most effective professional development training tool for producing effective teachers. Staff developers and administrators who would like to know how to implement the aforementioned book, video series, and CD are encouraged to consult the book, New Teacher Induction: How to Train, Support, and Retain New Teachers. Information about these products can be found by visiting the publisher's website at www.HarryWong.com.
Helping you produce effective teachers is our passion.