Purpose Built Schools Atlanta strives to create a positive climate and culture where students feel known, accepted and supported. Providing consistency is a big part of that.
But when children come from generational poverty, they face barriers that prevent them from experiencing that consistency in education, which can impede their ability to be successful in school.
To break this cycle, a group of teachers at Thomasville Heights Elementary School have stayed with the same cohort of students year after year.
This educational practice is called looping, where teachers spend two or more years with the same group of classroom students. There is evidence that looping is very effective from 3rd through 5th grade as well as through transition years, when students go to middle school or high school.
At THES, Ms. Rosales, Ms. Edwards, Ms. May and Ms. Ward have looped with the same group of students since third grade. The students will begin 5th grade this fall, kicking off their third year together.
“Looping is a great way to provide students with the stability and consistency needed to thrive in the classroom,” says Ms. Rosales. “Kids are more familiar with you and it makes it easier for them to participate.”
“We’ve gotten to know our students and they’re comfortable with us,” says Ms. Edwards. “Kids learn from people who they know love them and care for them. We’ve instilled that in them and motivated them. When they were told what they couldn’t do, we made their successes bigger.”
Looping helps teachers understand the learning styles of each student and accommodate them year after year. They can also group students by ability and personality.
“These relationships have helped students improve across the board,” says Ms. May. “They listen to every teacher now. We build relationships outside of school with our families. Parents trust us because they’ve known us for years.”
For students with behavioral challenges, looping can help create consistency in how classrooms are managed. Students know exactly what is expected of them in each classroom, no exceptions.
“I had a student for three years and his sister before that,” says Ms. Ward. “He knew exactly what was expected of him. The parents and I had a great relationship. They know us by now so we don’t have the “getting to know you” part. We can just jump right into teaching on day one.”
Keys for Looping Success
- The group of teachers has to be willing to work together as a team. “When we got together, it was an automatic sync,” says Ms. Edwards. “You have to marry the personalities, strengths and weaknesses of the group of teachers. It’s a marriage. We’ve been together for four years.”
- The teachers need support from administration. “Ms. Nunn and Mr. Miles tell us their expectations, then let us get to it,” says Ms Ward. “They allow us to teach and give us the autonomy to do our job. They allowed us to be the best third grade teachers, 4th grade, and now the best 5th grade teachers.
But looping can present challenges, as well. With each new school year comes the need for the looping teachers to learn a new set of standards and purchase new resources.
“We have to get to know the new standards each year,” says Ms. Ward. “But we know our students better each year, so we can adjust the standards to what they need. We can adapt because we know exactly where they are.”
Overall, the teachers have seen the method produce results each year.
“I once had a student who came to my class in 3rd grade from an alternative classroom because of her behavioral issues,” says Ms. Rosales. “This student was known as a slow learner who wasn’t able to get along in the classroom. But in my class, she hasn’t had a single issue because of the consistency and stability we provided her by staying together year over year. She recently told me she wants us to go on to middle school with her!”
Looping has been so successful for this team of teachers that they may consider starting the next cohort of students earlier, potentially in first grade; proof that the benefits of this educational practice are worth the effort.