Written by JP School Improvement Specialist Wanetta Jones
Mr. Anson Mitchell, soft spoken yet poised principal of Lincoln Middle School, East St. Louis, Illinois was determined to find a viable solution to a systemic challenge that was affecting his total school program-smooth hallway transitions.
Respectfully, I call him the "gentle giant." That is, gentle in his approach but giant in confidence. He knew that he needed students to transition from class to class quickly and efficiently; he knew he needed the change now; he knew that a reduction in referrals and suspensions needed to decrease; and he knew he needed something that would work effectively and permanently. Mr. Mitchell didn't stop until that goal was accomplished.
Like most students in middle schools, regardless of socio-economic status and academic ability, the generalized personalities of this group of developing young people must be handled with "kid gloves," so to speak. Even though they like to be treated as independent thinkers and doers, the inward cry that lies underneath the need to be independent, is the need for structure when executed positively. Mr. Mitchell understood that need of his students. Further, he heard the spoken and unspoken voices of teachers who said, "Help!"
Several trials of various methods to garner smooth daily hallway transitions from class to class were good, but not for the long haul. The data indicated, tardiness to class, referrals and suspensions were high, and teachers were frustrated. "There has to be something that will work and we'll get there," I recall hearing him say in a coaching support session.
Mr. Mitchell put his teaching and learning knowledge and experience into motion. He tried one last strategy. Music, the universal language would work. He researched types of music that would be most appropriate for students of middle school age-the best music to get the best results. Music that would bring about an expected positive end to that-systemic challenge. He found the top ten to twenty tunes he could rotate that provided motivational messages to students as they transitioned from class to class. Students responded positively to this new strategy! Teachers were happy! Tardiness to class, referrals and suspensions decreased! The school environment looked and felt differently. Once again, the data was the "proof in the pudding."
Says Mr. Mitchell, "We have been using music instead of the ringing of bells to dismiss classes and to let a student know that he/she should be in class. We have received positive feedback from students, staff and visitors. The staff has brought songs in for us to use and recommended songs to be played. We use songs with positive messages, inspiring messages or we may choose a theme based on the time of the year. We have noticed a change in the behavior since we started this process."
Mr. Mitchell embraced and successfully implemented the IFSaM problem solving method for this systemic challenge. That is, Identify the problem, Function (find the cause of the problem), Solution, and Monitor. This method was created by Chris Jones and Doug Blancero for school administrators in East St. Louis' LIFT (Leadership Innovation for Today) program. Now, the "gentle giant" has another tool in his toolbox that will be applicable for effective use in the total school environment. Bravo! Mr. Mitchell.