hen students walk into Kaila Kramer’s math class each day—or into any Middle School classroom—they are immediately engaged by a message stating the day’s learning target and instructions for getting started. “It helps students understand what the class is going to be about,” says Kramer. “It gives them a task and a goal to work towards.”

Learning targets are just one component of Origins Developmental Designs, a program that increases academic achievement by integrating social and academic learning. The program transformed WT’s Middle School Advisory program three years ago. Now, it is shaping the entire Middle School experience, from algebra to art, PE to the playing fields, even at lunch.

“It’s our approach to creating community in the Middle School,” states Amanda Greenwald, Director of Middle School. “It’s how we relate to the students: the language we use; how we approach providing them autonomy and independence; how we help them to develop a growth mindset.”

The same format undergirding Advisory—the Circle of Power and Respect—provides consistent structure for each class. “Middle school students thrive on routine and structure. Providing this common approach to all of our classrooms sets students up for success,” adds Greenwald.

“The golden moment is the first 15 minutes of a lesson, when students are most engaged,” explains Kramer. “I usually teach new topics and important concepts here. After that, students get ‘antsy’, so they work on an activity that gets them moving and applying what they just learned. The last 15 minutes is the silver moment”—a reflective piece. Fifteen-year veteran social studies teacher Adam Brownold calls it “Before You Go, Do You Know.” “It helps to close the loop on the class, and allows for me and the students to see if we understood and achieved the learning objectives of the day.”

Empowering language—reinforcing, directing, redirecting, reminding, and reflecting—is at the program’s core and guides students to take responsibility for their own learning. “The students are constantly moving and changing partners throughout the 80-minute period. They even take ‘brain breaks’ along the way, and yet I am covering much more content than I had in the past,” shares Brownold.

“It’s a shift in culture,” acknowledges Greenwald, noting that teachers have undergone extensive training to learn the program. “We’re a work in progress, but this is something that fits really well with our faculty and our mindset as a school. It’s the foundation of everything we do.”