At LEAD Public Schools, it is our goal to develop our students into people who will not only be successful in college, but also in life. Academics are just one piece of a students’ development into a successful adult, and LEAD addresses our students’ social and emotional needs in a unique way through our weekly Crew program. We spoke with several teachers across our middle schools to get their perspectives on this aspect of our school culture and its benefits.
As a structure, Crew is a dedicated small-group time where 10-15 students gather to discuss their progress and challenges and find consistent support from a dedicated, trusted staff member and fellow students. Our middle schoolers spend 35 minutes weekly in Crew, and Crews are single-gendered and grade-specific, so students are surrounded by students with whom they naturally connect.
The structure of Crew allows for relationship building, academic progress monitoring, and character development. Students focus on social and emotional skills like conflict resolution, study skills, and teamwork. Crew is also the home of Individual Growth Goal Conferences, personal reflection and goal setting, celebrations, and family engagement. All of these things live in all school spaces, but they are anchored during Crew time.
“The Crew space – where there are regularly scheduled individual student data dives, and where most questions that are asked are open-ended – creates an opportunity for staff to have a deeper understanding of what students are experiencing, what students need, and what actions both students and educators can take to continuously improve the learning environment for every child,” said Regina Schumacher, LEAD’s director of student support.
Crew provides an outlet where students can own their own academic progress and also intentionally develop social and emotional skills.
“We have to teach the skills we want our students to develop, which includes teaching them how to manage their feelings, how to solve conflicts, how to speak in different contexts, and so much more!” said Amy Nystrand, a teacher at LEAD Cameron. “These are not innate skills, just like math and reading skills aren’t innate. Providing time for our kids to learn these skills, make mistakes, and learn more is part of becoming a well-rounded young adult.”
Students need a space at school where they can steer the conversation, be the owners of their academic data, and express themselves in ways that don’t lend themselves to their regular instructional environment. They need all of these things under the supervision of a trusted adult, and Crew offers this.
Benefits of Crew: For Parents
A culture of Crew puts student and family partnerships at the forefront, acknowledging that the personal input of the communities we serve is necessary for student growth. A healthy Crew culture is one in which the smaller student groups create a web of connections and support among students and staff, making it nearly impossible for children to fall through the cracks.
Schumacher wants parents to know that their child’s Crew teacher is an irreplaceable resource. “Want to know what grade they have in every class, what their progress reports are averaging, or if they are eligible to attend the next field trip?” said Schumacher. “Make just one call to the person who has all that information – their Crew teacher!”
While so many teachers build strong relationships with students, a child’s Crew teacher arguably has the most comprehensive view of each child’s educational experience making them a strong ally for families.
In addition to providing academic support, Crew also allows educators to come alongside families to develop students’ soft skills. “Crew is our way at LEAD to partner with you to help your student be a person who takes in the world happening around them, and learn how to process those things,” said Jeremiah Webb, an exceptional educational assistant at LEAD Cameron. “We want to see your child take in those things and become more empathetic people. We want them going home asking questions that matter.”
Benefits of Crew: For Students
Our teachers are passionate about Crew as they see their students engaging in genuine and more personal ways than they can in the academic classroom setting. “We have a small group of eighth grade girls that have learned to use the opportunity to reflect on relevant topics presented each week,” said Sonya Patterson, a reading interventionist at LEAD Neely’s Bend. “Their interactions are genuine as each of them becomes more engaged in our deliberate and inclusive space. I love sitting in the ‘circle’ which is a powerful arrangement within itself imparting the idea of togetherness, inspiring a continuum of thoughtful exchange, and more importantly, providing a safe space to speak their truth as they perceive it at that time.”
Crew naturally fosters a smaller community and support system for students, ensuring that they never feel alone at school.
“When I have asked what students like most about our Crew, their responses are the same: ‘our conversations,’” added Patterson. Students are able to dive into topics that they are interested in and are able to own those conversations more than they are able to in their core classrooms.
Students also use their time in Crew to think about their future goals.“I’ve seen beautiful things come from my eighth grade boys because of the content in Crew,” said Webb. “I’ve seen my Crew come off as if they didn’t care about their options after middle school and beyond, but as soon as they had the space and opportunity to ponder on their options of what they want beyond high school, awesome things happened. I saw that my boys had vision and aspirations. They are goal setters. They just need our guidance with action steps to get there!
“I love CREW because it’s an opportunity to teach students about what’s happening in their brains and bodies when their feelings get too big (whether positive or negative) and how to manage them in healthy ways. It’s also a chance to discuss what’s important to them and weave that into what we’re doing in the classroom. So much of what we do at LEAD is rigorous and academically-focused, which is extremely important. And, they are still kids who need outlets to have fun, to process what’s happening socially, and to create relationships with their peers and other adults in the building.” – Amy Nystrand, Teacher at LEAD Cameron.
Benefits of Crew: For Teachers
Not only does Crew benefit families and students, but it also inherently benefits teachers. “CREW gives educators the space for mentorship beyond the small moments in the classroom,” said Webb.
Crew lets teachers connect with students on a human level, especially students they might not encounter in their regular classrooms, which enhances the familial atmosphere that LEAD is known for. “Crew allows us to get to know students who we might not teach, which further builds that school community,” said Nystrand. “It allows us to have a better understanding of what it’s like to be one of our students and to understand what the pressures and expectations of being a middle schooler are. In this low-stakes environment, students are more comfortable sharing and it helps educators understand them better.”
Most of our staff experience Crew as a staff member too. Many schools have teacher Crews that regularly meet. “Our staff are able to build community with a smaller group within the larger staff. Teacher Crews, like student Crews, are often joyful spaces that encourage healthy rivalry, which in turn builds stronger staff culture,” said Schumacher.