How to drive student engagement? Unleash a swarm.

Relentless principal Hamish Brewer thinks a Harry Potter-inspired house system can rally students to succeed.
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In a school-wide effort to boost student engagement, our favorite principal, Hamish Brewer, and his team of educators in Woodbridge, Virginia are sorting students into their very own academic houses, just like Hogwarts.

Inspired by J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, more and more schools across the U.S. are adopting the traditional house system to improve academic performance, student behavior, and more.

Throughout each semester at Fred Lynn Middle School, houses become enthralled in friendly competition, which uses a point system to reward positive behaviors and recognize accomplishments such as academic improvement, notable effort, and acts of kindness or thoughtfulness. 

A Brief History of the House System

Although Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry first introduced much of the world to the concept of the house system (with Gryffindor, Slytherine, Hufflepuff, and Ravenclaw), the system has been around much longer than the Harry Potter series.

This tradition actually dates back to English schools of the Middle Ages, when students who didn’t live at their schools would live together in nearby houses. Schools eventually took ownership of these houses and appointed each residence a “headmaster” to be personally responsible for the students who lived there.

English boarding schools continued the tradition of housing students together to create a sense of belonging, community, camaraderie, a support system, and a healthy bit of competition. In their houses, students ate together, enjoyed organized events, and remained together as they progressed to the next grade level.

The house system was also exported to nations within the British Commonwealth. Although a handful of American universities use the house system, dividing students into specific residence halls and arranging house-only events, the concept was foreign to most of the U.S. until we read about the sorting hat at Hogwarts.

Today, Fred Lynn Middle School and other schools across the U.S. use the house system to create the same sense of community and competition as the traditional system. Even though these students aren’t living in actual houses at school, educators have modified the concept to simply refer to groups of students, rather than residences.

The Benefits of House Systems in Schools

The competition within a house system naturally increases student engagement, as each house works together to accumulate the most points. What is student engagement? The term refers to the level of interest and participation that a student demonstrates in the classroom, and it extends to the motivation a student has to progress in the subject.

So, why is student engagement important? Research has repeatedly indicated a strong correlation between student engagement and academic performance. This is why many teachers are searching for effective student engagement strategies; the more engaged the student, the better their performance in school.

According to the research, this correlation rings true at every level and across subjects. Student engagement activities help improve focus and attention, and foster a more meaningful learning experience.

Schools with a culture built around a code of ethics that use the house system automatically see improvements in student behavior, as well. 

More Than Just Increasing Student Engagement

House systems are not just beneficial with respect to academics and behavior; they also provide compelling emotional benefits.

Bringing students from different grade levels together, the community-centric nature of academic houses has the power to reduce bullying, ease a student’s transition into a new school, and create a sense of belonging.

For many children, school is the most consistent and reliable part of their lives. House systems can strengthen both the emotional and academic support they receive at school, steadily creating an environment of stability and security. 

Fred Lynn Middle School and the Relentless Principal

When Hamish Brewer first arrived at Fred Lynn Middle School, the institution had just lost its accreditation and was in need of some serious help. But before Brewer could convince the students they could succeed, he had to reinvigorate the staff with his positive energy.

Galvanized by Brewer’s relentless spirit, Fred Lynn’s teaching staff was able to better motivate and engage their students. After Brewer’s first year at the school, students’ test scores improved, met the standard benchmarks, and earned back the school’s accreditation.

Principal Brewer and the rest of the team at Fred Lynn Middle School, however, aren’t satisfied with simply being “good enough.” So now, they’re on a mission to make their middle school the best.

This year, Principal Brewer is taking his students on an exciting journey inspired by Hogwarts and his own experience growing up with house systems in his school days.

Complete with colorful costumes, confetti, and noise-makers, the school year began with a celebratory sorting ceremony of its own making, where students were divided into five different houses. Each house has teachers who act as advisors and mentors, and eighth graders are appointed as group leaders.

Team building activities for middle school students are right up Hamish Brewer’s alley. After the ceremony, still donning furry, purple boots, the principal says, “We’ve had our fun,” while pulling a streamer from the ceiling. “But now we want it to go beyond just the celebration to now be about what’s happening in the classroom, about our academics, our behavior.”

The next step for Fred Lynn Middle School is putting their freshly sorted houses into action so that students gain a stronger sense of community and a desire to excel.

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