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Greg - Yes! Please continue to write about your experiences with at-risk students. As an assistant principal at a school that serves at-risk students in an online environment struck home and looks a lot like what my school is trying to accomplish this year. I'll be sharing this article with my principal so we can discuss it.

Thanks for blogging this.

Bud Hunt


This post very accurately reflects my experiences as an advisor to at-risk students (I hate that label - everyone's "at-risk" of something pretty much all the time.). We were trying to make students aware of their situations in much the way that you write about here. Please keep blogging about your work -- it's useful. How, I wonder, would you measure if students are actually aware, as opposed to merely having been present in the room, in a way that isn't wasteful of time or other precious resources?


After being in an administrative/counselling role at my school I've been seeing this trend - but did not have the experience to make it explicit. Thanks for your insight. It has been very helpful and perhaps there are some ways my staff and I can work to help our students.

Tracy Rosen

Thank you for sharing your experiences in this post! I have been hired to begin a new program for students who are at risk to not graduate from a large English high school in Quebec. I will be coordinating the program and teaching the students in it. I really like the 4 characteristics you present and see it as a framework for developing awareness in students who are at risk to not graduate.
Situational Awareness certainly does seem to be key as the first 3 characteristics seem to be able to be folded within that one as possible reasons for their lack of Situational Awareness.
I plan on referring to this often as I start this new project!

Elizabeth Butler


Addie Gaines

Excellent blog and I, too, hope that you continue to post your experiences. Although, I am an elementary prinicpal, I could relate your observations to many of my PreK-3 students.

I sent the following email (including a link to your article) to my faculty and staff:

I was reading an online leadership blog and read an article that was primarily about “at-risk” high school students and the fact that they typically share 4 characteristics:
1. Unresolved security issues
2. Feelings of insignificance
3. Academic frustration
4. Situational unawareness
The first thing you may be thinking is, “last time I checked we didn’t have any ‘at-risk’ high schoolers at KES,” but I challenge you to think about how these four characteristics relate to students in our rooms, particularly to our struggling students and to most of our transfer students that are now part of our learning community. Which of our students have issues with feeling secure, especially those who are new and are still getting to know us? How many of our students have security issues because not all adults in their lives are people who can/should be trusted? How do we bridge the gap?

Do our students feel that they are significant part of our classrooms and our school? Can they affirmatively answer the question, “If I wasn’t here at school tomorrow, would it matter to someone?”

Obviously some of our students must be feeling academic frustration because they are not currently performing at the expected level of proficiency for their classroom and they know it. How do we cross this divide? How do we do this, providing the optimism, hope and confidence that they can be proficient?

Finally, how many students are experiencing “situational unawareness” because they are new to our school and don’t yet understand all the expectations or maybe they “know” the expectations, but haven’t internalized them or are still testing them to find out how firm the walls are in our classroom and in our school. Maybe if this is their first school experience, it seems like a visit to a foreign country because many of our “norms” are not an expectation in most households. When is the last time that you had to raise your hand and ask to go to the bathroom at home or line up with the rest of your family and walk single file to the dinner table? It can also be an issue of coming from the culture of poverty. Schools typically operate using “middle class norms.” Some students do not live these norms any place else in their lives, making them somewhat like a tourist in the school world. How can we be like a tour guide, helping students understand how things work in the world of school and patiently integrating and acclimating them to this world?

The linked article mostly focuses on “situational unawareness” and asks the analogous question: “When someone calls you and asks for directions to your office [house, school, location, etc.], what's the first thing you typically need to know? Where will you be coming from? Before anyone can be given meaningful directions to any destination, it is important to know where their starting point is.”

So, we know what the intended destination is for our students…grade level proficiency. The question is, “Where are you coming from?”

From that point, we can figure out how to get where we need to go.

It also made me think of something cute and profound that one of my preschoolers said the other day. When I visited her classroom, she asked me to "hold her baby". After carefully adjusting the tiny blanket on her doll that was cradled in my arms, she said, "I have to take good care of my baby, so she can grow up to be a kid...like these [gesturing to her friends engaged in play]." In relation to your article it says, "We have to take care of our 'babies' so they can grow up to their potential."

Thanks for your thought-provoking and practical essay.


Greg - insightful!

As I read your concept and the comments that follow, I am curious as to what your series of questions you reference contains. Is it a rote list that you follow, or does it ebb and flow with the responses? If you could post it, that would be fabulous as well. I'm not an at-risk administrator, per se, but I find that my struggling students and those with exterior conflicts and interference are those to which I am the most drawn. Working to make sure all students are learning and becoming successful, I would think that all of us would at least benefit from what you have unearthed as a workable solution to individual success. Situational awareness is something that most of us, if not all, struggle with at some time (if you don't believe me, go to a Japanese restaurant for the first time alone and sit at the Hibachi grill or attend a student's quinceanera and it will become painfully evident if this is not your familiarity zone), so we can relate to our students that seem to get stuck in that mode. Your approach interests and excites me. Thanks for sparking a light for me.

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