According to Evie Reid (Education Week, June 2017), “Students pick up signals from their schools and peers about whether or not they belong, perceptions that can affect their success both inside and outside the classroom.” As a classroom teacher, I observed many students every year that struggled with belonging. Now as a principal, it continues to tug at my heart when I see students who try unsuccessfully to fit in at school or be accepted by their peers. How can school leaders address these student needs? How can we create an environment where every student belongs to something? According to research, approximately 25% of students are involved in extra-curricular activities such as sports, clubs, or fine arts. How can we create a school where students are actively engaged in learning and hate being absent? How can we build the self-confidence of our students?
In an effort to find answers to the above questions and to meet the needs of all of our students, our school instituted a school-wide House System. A House is much like a team, and the members of each House become very close-knit. The purpose of our House System is:
- To create a sense of family, camaraderie and belonging for all students
- To create an avenue for consistent recognition and healthy competition
- To create excitement and a sense of pride in our school
- To create an environment where every child feels valued, nurtured, and loved
- To improve school engagement
Every student is randomly assigned to one of six Houses. Each House has its own name and meaning. Tiyaga which means perseverance in Filipino; Respectus is Latin, and it means respect; Bonté, which means kindness in French; Integridad is Spanish for integrity; Uaminifu which means loyalty in Swahili; and Zeren which means responsibility in Chinese.
Students receive a letter over the summer with their House assignment and are given a House t-shirt on the first day of school. This helps create a sense of belonging from day one of the school year. Houses meet on the first day of school to learn about the House System. This is followed by a school-wide assembly where students sit with their own House and compete in a variety of fun competitions.
Throughout the school year, students earn points for their House by passing all of their classes, making the honor roll, having good attendance, performing random acts of kindness, participating in community service, and much more. In addition, a quarterly “Battle of the Houses” is held to keep the momentum going throughout the year. This includes a variety of competitions (sporting events, trivia, relay games, eating contests, etc.).
Finally, a full day of celebration is held for the House with the most points at the end of the school year. This may include a special breakfast and lunch, field trip, on-site laser tag, inflatables, ice cream break, and of course plenty of candy and soft drinks.
The House System has evolved over the last four years. Student and teacher buy-in has increased; we have experienced improvement in attendance and student engagement, which in turn has increased student achievement as measured by End of Course assessments, course performance, and credits earned. In addition, the implementation of the House System has brought a sense of excitement among student and staff and a drastic improvement in our school culture.
If you have questions or would like more information about our House System, feel free to post comments and we will be happy to respond.