Ashanti Foster

PEACE at Oxon Hill Middle School

As kings and queens arrive at school, they are greeted with warm smiles, hand shakes, and student-initiated hugs to staff members and one another. They can't wait to get to school! It is clear that PEACE (Positive Energy Activates Constant Elevation) lives here. "Peace King, Peace Queen." Here it seems that positive energy activates constant elevation.

Situated in Ft. Washington, Md., is Oxon Hill Middle School, where the campus serves kings and queens that represent varied family lifestyles. Some students arrive in wheelchairs, others with limited English proficiency. In order to promote relationship building, creative instructional and support practices are in place so that every student and every parent knows how important their success is to the school. The way in which adult educators acknowledge students' capacity to learn and grow is the fabric of improving teaching and learning. Teachers greet students at the door each module, each day. Parents visit the school on an open door policy and students know exactly what to do and where to go if they have a concern. Each staff member addresses the work they do as an act of service and for that reason student learning is the motivation in all they do.

These actions did not occur instantly. The adults spent a concentrated amount of time getting to know students through interest surveys, supporting extracurricular activities, and being accessible to students and parents. It started with assessing the mind-set.

Mindset, Efficacy, & Attachment Theory (MEAT)

In order to motivate and inspire, the educator must be of a growth mind-set, which Carol Dweck characterizes as the belief that with effort, situations can improve. The text, Mindset, notes how brain study can ignite a passion of learning and a resilience that is the basis of great accomplishment in various areas of life. In addition to teaching students and teachers how to cultivate a growth mind-set, it is also essential to promote self-efficacy. Robert Marzano has done extensive work with teacher and student self-efficacy with the belief that "If I try hard, I have the ability to be better." Growth mind-set, self-efficacy, and positive relationships promote teacher and student growth.

As attachment theory suggests, middle childhood students seek emotional support and protection in relationships outside of the family. Just as there is a correlation between positive relationships with the primary caregivers and student success and self-efficacy, it is also true that teachers bring behavior patterns, feelings, and expectations for students and their learning. For this reason, the unique makeup of the Oxon Hill Middle School staff and schedule suggests that they are fully immersed in building relationships and resiliency on their campus daily. In place are student advocates, support groups, and an unwavering school community belief that all children and staff members can improve and are equipped to change the world. Get to the MEAT of the issue through mind-set, efficacy, and attachment theory.

Supportive Staff

Student advocates are full-time staff members that provide direct student support throughout the school day. They are led by the positive behavior specialist, who continuously analyzes data, meets with parents, and provides professional learning for teachers and staff regarding student engagement and positive relationships. Serving as the first line of defense for student concerns, student advocates are strategically positioned in the building so that they have immediate access to their assigned teams. Advocates are not security officers, administrators, or professional school counselors. Advocates handle mediations between students and encourage and motivate students during class transitions and at the end of the day. The most powerful time with students and advocates is actually during the lunch sessions. Students feel free to create a "lunch bunch" with adult educators and readily share good news about their lives. Because the advocates have such authentic relationships with students, they are able to efficiently coach the kings and queens back to class when they need motivation to be in good standing and get them right back into class with a clean slate. The school also has a full-time counselor, psychologist, and social worker on staff. The PEACE team meets at least twice a month to provide support to students and coordinate efforts for families.

Model of Resilience

"In Good Standing" is another instructional practice that each person at the school is expected to model. As an anchor of the positive behavior interventions and supports, In Good Standing calls for school community members to be responsible, respectful, and reflective. Checkpoints are posted throughout the campus as a visual reminder of their commitment to teaching and learning. Each month, kings and queens are recognized for their effort in doing their best to embody the qualities of a member in good standing. Monthly incentives are voted upon by the school community as well. Adult educators are also acknowledged for being in good standing with record keeping and peer praise for departmental and team efforts.

Small Support Groups

Oxon Hill Middle School has an embedded time for educators to meet with small groups of students each day. Students are able to complete homework, participate in peer study groups, meet with clubs, complete research in the various technology labs, and build deeper relationships with the staff and PEACE Time group. With 10–15 students, group leaders are able to facilitate sophisticated reflection activities like the 5 Why root cause analysis protocol and engage in Socratic seminars about topics that are important to their human growth and development. Students are empowered to have a voice, share beliefs in a logical and open-minded manner, and reflect upon experiences orally and in writing. This 30-minute block of time allows students to practice and incorporate skills learned in various classes for an interdisciplinary approach to teaching and learning.

We build resilience and relationships at our school community by

  1. Building relationships with students and teachers through authentic opportunities for collaboration.
  2. Assessing the mind-set of every staff member and working towards growth mind-sets in adults.
  3. Praising effort, practice, and persistence, which develops the growth mind-set in young learners.
  4. Using the master schedule to make time for social-emotional development throughout the day.

Although Oxon Hill Middle School is well on its way to a being a truly resilient school community, these actions did not occur instantly. It's worth the work. This foundation is fertile ground for exploring and extending teaching and learning beyond the textbook and "what these kids can't do."

Ashanti Foster serves as academic dean at Oxon Hill Middle School in Ft. Washington, Md. She has provided teaching and learning experiences as a national staff developer to students and teachers of Prince George's County Public Schools and beyond for 13 years. Foster earned a bachelor's degree in teacher education from Morgan State University, a master's degree in curriculum and instruction from Bowie State University, and a post graduate certificate in National Professional Teaching Standards from George Washington University before becoming a doctoral candidate in educational leadership at Argosy University. A National Board Certified Teacher and ASCD Emerging Leader, she is also a Girl Scout troop leader, blogger, dancer, wife, and mother of six.

Comments (4)

Yolanda Holloway

October 9, 2013

Love this concept of school. The flexibility and focus on building relationships is so needed before we can even begin to talk about high stakes testing and new curriculum. Great job presenting this Mrs. Foster. I would be delighted to visit your school to see just how a day works. As a middle school administrator, I find that the middle school allows for so much more flexibility to address students’ needs than high school. But, if we can build a strong foundation at this level, I think high school will be that much easier.

Steven K. Foster

October 9, 2013

I think that the idea of Supportive Staff stated in this article is a pertinent part of the student’s progress and growth.  Its not enough just to show up to work. I think its important for students to not only see their teachers and staff members modeling expected behavior and professionalism, but to also know that they have the student’s best interest at heart.  Great Article!


October 9, 2013

Awesome blog!  It’s great to see “Whole Child” implementation at the middle school level.  Oxon Hill MS is making a difference.

David Barnes

July 8, 2014

In my online class this week’s assignment is about character education. I knew I didn’t have to look much farther than what we do at Oxon Hill Middle school. So I will be using your blog in my paper this week.. I am going to reference you APA style. PEACE

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