Last week, our ninth grade intervention team was having its sixth weekly meeting of the year. There have been plenty of times where these meetings depressed me more than inspired me. All four of us are hard-charging, high-belief, high-will, high-skill teachers, but all four of us were struggling with the motivational mountains that seemed lodged in many of our students’ hearts. How were we going to do this?
Our plan was simple:
- In all four of our classes, we would pervasively integrate what we call the four pillars of high school success: academic success, social success, a plan for the future, and enjoyment of the process. These are on our walls, on our tongues, periodically in our warm-ups, and often in our one-on-one conversations.
- Once a week, we would meet as a team of four to discuss one of the four pillars. One week, we’re pulling student GPAs and deciding how and when to intervene. The next week, we’re looking at the clubs, sports, and activities our students are involved in and deciding when and how to intervene, etc.
- Always, always, always we would be biased toward simple, robust solutions to complex problems.
That last point brings us to what we were discussing at last week’s meeting: the dumbest intervention ever. That intervention? Moments of genuine connection (which we sometimes shorthand as MGCs).
In the past, a group like ours would’ve been tempted to host after-school group events or plan expensive field trips or something like this. Now, our aim is to develop an approach to teaching ninth grade that’s viable — like, something you can really do, without driving yourself crazy or sacrificing your home life.
Moments of genuine connection cost zero dollars (well, except for the clipboard and class roster that you use to track them), and they can largely be done during the passing times before and after classes. In cases where you want to be especially aggressive, you can use independent work segments of your lessons to pull 2-3 kids per hour. And what you’re aiming for is 30 seconds to 3 minutes where you converse with the student in a way that helps them feel valued, known, respected, or seen by you.
Mr. Johns, our science teacher, did this the other week with one of our students — we’ll call her Alina. Prior to the MGC, Alina’s affect in Mr. Johns’ class wasn’t positive. She seemed quick to anger and slow to engage with lessons. When he called her into the hallway, she immediately said to Mr. Johns, “What’d I do?”
“Oh, nothing Alina,” he said. “I just wanted to check in with you to see how things were going.” Immediately, he said, her whole demeanor shifted.
Since then, Alina’s been a dream to teach.
“It is actually dumb,” he said, “how well things like this can work.”
He’s right. This is what wise interventions look like: low effort, high humanity, low time investment, high return.
We all have our students on the roster who still aren’t responding to our best efforts at cultivating the five key beliefs. But bit by bit, earnest move by earnest move, we work toward the long-term flourishing of our young people.