Like most Harry Potter lovers, I understand the basic components of the House System at Hogwarts. I know that there are four houses at Hogwarts, and that a magical hat assigns students to the house which they will belong to for their tenure at school. Everyone, including faculty and staff at Hogwarts belonged to a house. The houses had their own colors, crests, and student leaders. Of course the House System makes sense at a Magical School, but what about in an Urban Public School?
Last May, along with several administrators and teachers from my campus, I visited the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta, Georgia. To be honest, I had vaguely heard of Ron Clark prior to the trip, but knew nothing of his school or what to expect during the 3 day training.
We were greeted before we even entered the doors by energetic, articulate, buoyant teens. I was amazed by their conversational abilities and knew immediately that this was something that I wanted for my students. Even more impressive, they had created and successfully implemented a House System reminiscent of Hogwarts. We were immediately placed into Houses, ushered into the gym by student leaders and taught the House chants and cheers. The energy was electric. At that moment i knew that we needed this on our campus and why.
Why Implement a House System?
Flash forward 2 months and it's mid-July, 6 weeks before the first day of school. Since the trip to Ron Clark Academy, over half of the staff members that attended the training had moved on to other schools. I brought the idea up in a leadership meeting to our new principal. He wasn't immediately sold on the idea until he asked me why and how could we do this.
The reasons that I shared with our principal for implementing a House System included creating community within the school, increasing attendance, reducing drop outs, rewarding positive behaviors and academic achievement, just to name a few. These are the reasons that I could think of off the top of my head and before doing any real research. He was interested because in urban schools, even at the middle school level, these are real issues that must be addressed in order to increase student academic achievement. He asked me to do some research and planning, and come back to present a complete picture to our PBIS (Positive Behavior and Intervention System) Committee. I have listed resources at the bottom of this page if you would like to read the research and justification of other schools. The steps listed below outline the approach that I presented and we decided to implement. I hope you can use them as a springboard to your creativity and implement the best plan for your school.
How Many Houses and Which Ones?
We decided on 4 houses, Red, Blue, Black, and Green. These are the same colors as the RCA houses, but I wanted our house names to be unique to our campus. I thought about the character traits that I most value and chose Respect, Responsibility, Trustworthy, and Good Citizen. In English these names aren't near fabulous, so I pulled up Google Translate. I had already decided that I would nominate myself to the Black House, that we would be dragons, and that our name would translate into responsibility. This is because black is my favorite color, I love dragons, and to me, responsibility is the most important trait of the ones that I listed. So it only made sense that I would translate our name to Punjabi. Why Punjabi? I am a great fan of the Dalai Lama. He resides in India, which is a country where Punjabi is spoken.
The other 3 houses were a little bit more arbitrary. I translated respect in Italian to come up with the Red House name, Rispetto. The Rispetto mascot is a stallion. The Green House was named Gaskiyansu, a Nigerian translation of trustworthy, with an eagle mascot. The Blue House became Ithageneia, a Greek translation of Good Citizen ,with a griffen as the mascot.
Once these details were ironed out, I searched online for a crest template. I chose a basic crest, inserted the mascot for each house, and added banners with our house names. I created the crest designs in Paint so that I could color them with the colors of their respective houses. Once I had the crests created, we made posters for each house and hung them around the school.
What to Do When You Don't Have a Sorting Hat
One thing that I knew for sure is that if we were to implement a successful House System, I would need 100% buy-in from staff, parents, students, and our community. I also knew that we would need a strategic marketing plan, and the system would need to be easy to use.
A Digital Solution
My next big task was to figure out how would we place students, staff, and community volunteers into houses, since obviously we did not have a sorting hat? Luckily I had attended a seminar earlier in the summer where the presenter used "Wheel Decide", which is free digital wheel creator that you can customize and share with unlimited number of people. Once we had found a solution to the sorting problem, my next hurdle was how would we get our 65 staff members and 500 plus students access the wheel? How would we record and share which house they were placed into after they had spun?
My first priority in hyping the House System was to get teachers on board. I had a two prong plan for this. One, we would host a "house" party at Dave & Busters with food, fun, and games centered around placing staff members in a house and then giving them time to team build and familiarize themselves with the house concept. House members created House Chants and Cheers, selected a theme song, selected a House Leader, and began working on the lesson plan for the first house meeting that they would have with their students.
Secondly, we found a t-shirt vendor who agreed to print our House shirts for less than $9 each. I created a simple design with the house name and mascot printed in white on colored shirts that represented the houses. Community members donated the cost of the shirts so that we could give them to the teachers for free at the house party.
Getting Student Buy-In
We decided that during the first days of school, teachers would allow their first period students to spin the wheel to determine their house. Teachers were given access to a Google Sheet with all students listed so that they could enter the student houses and share it campus wide.
Our goal was for all students to be placed in houses within the first 3 days of school. We almost reached that goal and had approximately 90% of students placed by the third day. On the fourth day we held grade level assemblies to give students information on what a house system is, the specifics of their own house such as the meaning, language, country, flag, color, mascot, teacher members, rewards, and benefits.
Advertising on Badges
All students and staff are required to wear ID badges while on campus. We took this as an opportunity to advertise for the houses as well. Student house crests were printed on the back side of their badge and their lanyards were the color of their house. This turned out to be quite useful when awarding points, and admitting students to house parties.
Plan, Plan, Reflect and Plan
During staff development week, I went over all aspects of our house system plan with staff. We gave a rubric that outlined how many points could be awarded for particular indicators. Our house system allowed 50-200 points for indicators such as academics, attendance, timeliness, and social interaction.
I created and shared a Google Sheet that listed points accrued for each house so that all staff members could view the points at any time. We created posters for teachers to tally points throughout the day and by class period.
Every third Monday after school, all house members meet together for building community within the house, character, social skills, and academic capacity. One of the lessons that our house planned was adapted from Ron Clark Academy's S.P.E.C.I.A.L. lessons. This lesson gives a specific outline on the art of conversation. As I mentioned earlier, it is my opinion that superior conversational skills gives students a head start to post-secondary success. Other lesson plans have included community service projects, learning more about our house, discussing civic duties, etc. Because our school is a Title 1 School, we also serve dinner to our students and have used this time to sit and discuss topics that are important to them prior to reporting to our house common area.
Each week we announce a House Winner of the Week based on house points. The house with the most points at the 3rd and 6th week win an ice cream/pizza party and additional 15 minutes recess during lunch.
Teachers can give out points to any student at anytime based on a rubric that they were provided with during staff development. On Thursday, teachers submit their house points for each house to their house leader. The house leader emails the cumulative weekly points to the House Administrator. Points are updated every Thursday night into a Google Sheets document. The document can be viewing by the entire staff.
Administrators give weekly points based on attendance, behavior, and coursework. In order to curtail point hoarding, we decided that teacher points will be weighted at 40%, and administrator points will be weighted at 60%.
Step 4: And Then There Were Obstacles
Of course we have had obstacles, but at 3 months in, I think it is going pretty well. With the high demands on teachers and academic accountability, sometimes teachers can forget to assign points or advertise their houses as much as they did during the first few weeks of school. We have created time in our schedule to meet with the house leaders, and sending reminders to collect & submit points.
There is lots more I can write on this subject so I may add a part two to this page at a later date. Feel free to contact me if you would like more information on house systems, or if you would like to share your own house system story.
The WHy and How of Creating a House System
By: Wesley Sellers, M.Ed.