Puma Period: Supporting Executive Function Development

We have a homeroom period for 40 minutes after lunch every day, we call it Puma period (our mascot). Students of all grades are assigned randomly to a teacher when they come to the school. The goal is to have very mixed groups of students from a variety of backgrounds, achievements and grades in each class. The students stay with the same Puma teacher until they graduate, so each year a few leave and we get a few new freshman, but over half of the students remain the same. As their Puma teacher, I make contact with their parents and am a point of contact when parents have a question or concern about their student. I also keep track of each of my Puma students’ grades and missing work and stay alert if something seems off or if they need some motivation or a high five.

Here is our current weekly Puma routine:

puma

A quick explanation of Planner Points: Students currently have teachers sign their planners in each class and they get 5 out of 5 points if they are doing everything well. They lose points at teacher discretion for behavior, tardiness, missing work, etc. This is used as a daily tool to communicate with parents. Students calculate their average for the previous week on Mondays. The goal is to separate grades from behavior. Most of our staff is frustrated with this aspect of our system and we are considering eliminating it next school year.

On Mondays and Fridays we stay together as a small group. On Mondays, students look up and list any missing assignments and their grades and write them in their planners. I meet briefly with each student to help them plan to be successful for the week. On Fridays we have a open whole group heart to heart where we focus on the things in their life that are causing stress and then discuss strategies to manage those things. Since we meet every day and hear about each other’s lives, we become a pretty close group, making the school culture more empathetic to their peers. This leads to students developing a goal for the next week.

Some recent goals I have seen are:

  • I will go to the gym for 1 hour three times.
  • I will take a few deep breaths to calm myself down when I notice myself getting mad.
  • I will go to bed by 10 pm every night this week, with my phone in another room.
  • I will complete all of my missing assignments this week.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, after checking in with their Puma teacher, students can go to classes where they need help to complete their assignments. Any student who claims to have nothing to do can go to our gym. On Tuesdays, students with no missing work and acceptable grades get “free Puma” which means their lunch is extended, this is a major incentive for students to remain caught up.

On Wednesdays we have a whole school assembly where we occasionally have guest speakers, awards, plays by the theater class,  updates on upcoming school events. Sometimes we sing happy birthday to individuals who are having birthdays that month. If time is available we have question and answer time where students are invited to suggest ideas on a school policy (usually cell phone issues) or general questions and they are discussed and considered with the principal and their peers.

The Puma period affects the culture of the school. Students feel included and valued, they learn to reflect and take responsibility over what they can control and they define what that is (and what it isn’t). They also look out for each other more than students do at other schools where I have taught.

2016-02-23 16.40.01

Students learn executive functioning skills through reflection and discussion. This poster is in every classroom and has been adopted as a common vocabulary among the staff. Being able to define a deficit instead of feeling inferior helps students to have something actionable to develop. I am in the process of creating a document listing each skill and what it looks like in students as well as strategies to manage students with a deficit in that area.

 

 

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