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Pack is a 50-minute morning block dedicated to building belonging and explicit competency instruction. Every Pack class is highly individualized because teachers design learning experiences based on their own proficiency, their students’ needs, and their students’ interests. 

The Pack Model focuses specifically on competency development. This means that students are developing discrete skills that will support them both in and outside of school. During daily Pack classes, an Opening Circle is used to define the competency, a challenge is used to practice it, and a Closing Circle is used to reflect on it. Competencies are driven by students’ and teachers’ interests and passions. Pack provides time that is strictly preserved for social emotional-development in the form of specific skill instruction and opportunities for practice and reflection. Pack includes circles and challenges that work in concert to build students’ proficiency in competencies. This structure facilitates student voice, ensures that all students can be seen and heard, and creates ritual.

Pack was created and designed initially to support the under-resourced communities that City Year supports. Implementation begins with a focus on trust, belonging, and peer-to-peer and student–adult relationships. Pack is now implemented in three states and 15 schools, along with numerous education-aligned organizations like City Year.

Compass Academy supports other schools interested in the Pack Model through training and ongoing support to develop teachers’ competencies. Pack Overview

  • Learning Strategies & Habits
  • Relationship Skills
  • Positive Mindsets
  • Integrated Identity
  • Community Circles
  • Advisories
  • Goal Setting and Reflection
  • SEL and Well-being Supports
  • Resource Toolkit
  • Professional Development

What Makes This Model Innovative?

Relevance
Pack helps students develop and practice competencies driven by student interests and passions and then apply them to settings in and out of the classroom.
Connection & Community
Pack helps create a safe, vulnerable, trusting environment in which students build relationships with their peers and work together to solve challenges.
Affirmation of Self & Others
Pack supports students in developing a sense of self-awareness and their relationship to others and enables each student to be known deeply by an adult and several peers.

Goals

All students deserve the opportunity to build and take ownership over the development of social, emotional, and academic competencies that will position them for success in high school and beyond. Pack provides a dedicated time in which students can learn and develop these competencies.

Advocacy

Students learn how to affect change for themselves and their community, and solve real-world problems.

Communication

Students recognize that words in all the languages people speak are important and use them to empower themselves and others.

Goal Navigation

Students develop agency to pursue goals and meet a vision for the future.

Growth Mindset

Students believe that they can learn, grow, and succeed through a series of activities, challenges, and reflections.

Metacognition

Students build an understanding of their own thought processes and get to know themselves as learners.

Self-Awareness

Students have the opportunity to make choices aligned to who they are and who they want to be.

Experience

The Pack Model is intentionally designed to build competencies through explicit instruction and opportunities for application and reflection. The competencies are Advocacy, Communication, Goal Navigation, Growth Mindset, Metacognition, and Self-Awareness. Teachers choose one competency to focus on and build learning experiences around this competency. Students in grade-level groups engage in competency learning, practice, and reflection through circles and challenges. Teachers teach competency lessons through an Opening Circle, where they define and discuss the competency. Next students engage in a challenge to practice the competency. Finally, through a Closing Circle, students reflect on the competency of focus. The goal is for students to actually get to practice a new skill in a new context and reflect on their experience. 

While all competencies are addressed over time based on student needs, each grade level has two competencies that are emphasized across the year: in 6th grade, students focus on Communication and Growth Mindset; in 7th grade, students focus on Self-Awareness and Metacognition; and in 8th grade, students focus on Advocacy and Goal Navigation.

Circle is a structure that facilitates student voice, ensures that all students can be seen and heard, builds trust and community, and creates ritual. Teachers create a safe, trusting environment in which students can share their experiences to feel they’re not alone, get affirmation, and build relationships with each other. Circle is used ritually at the start and end of the week to give students the opportunity to reflect on academic and social-emotional concerns, focus on a competency, and build connection. 

Typically, teachers choose 1–3 questions with a goal in mind, depending on the vulnerability of the group or what the teacher would like students to think about. Students are then divided into dyads or small groups, or stay in the larger group to discuss.

Opening Circles commonly focus on academic concerns and the competency focus for the week. A common Opening Circle would begin by welcoming students to the circle, reminding them of the ground rules, grounding them in the rituals that define the work of the circle (e.g., talking sticks) by having students practice the ritual with an opening question that serves as an ice-breaker. The teacher then transitions the circle to a discussion focused on an identified competency. This discussion could take place whole or in smaller groups and is designed to engage students to share their perspectives, ideas, and/or questions focused around a prompt or series of prompts. Finally, the teacher transitions to debrief the discussion and create closure. Typically, students will articulate goals focused on practicing the competency in their academic classes.

Closing Circles focus on a reflection back on the week’s challenges and offer an opportunity for the teacher to ask questions to debrief the challenge and get a commitment from students on what they’ll apply moving forward from the challenge. A Closing Circle, similarly to an  Opening Circle, has an opening, discussion, and closing, but is informed by the work students have done over the previous few days in Pack. Teachers might ask such questions as “Is there always one way to ‘best’ complete a task?” or “What can we learn from our own failure?”

Challenges are learning experiences focused on the identified competency where students work together to accomplish a task or solve a physical puzzle. In this way, students experience learning by doing, similar to ropes course-type activities. Typically, the first day of a challenge involves the actual activity and the second day students might either extend that activity or create an artifact that is a reminder of the lesson learned the previous day. Pack Sample Scope and Sequence Teachers then lead students through collaborative debriefs to discuss collaboration, community building, and the competency. 

All challenges include an eight-step process to teach competencies, instill a variety of skills, and give students an opportunity to practice competencies:

  1. Brief challenge introduction (storytelling to illustrate the concept)—In this step, teachers briefly explain the challenge and answer student questions. Teachers avoid giving yes and no answers in order to allow students to use their creativity without being guided into a particular path of thinking.
  2. Individual brainstorm to allow students to generate ideas independently—The individual brainstorm is a crucial step in allowing students to generate their own ideas before being influenced by adults or other students’ ideas in the room. 
  3. Share-out of ideas—All students share their ideas, and it’s crucial that everyone shares or agrees with someone else. Teachers model and encourage clarifying sentence stems (e.g., “I think I understand what you are trying to say, but do you mean __________?”).
  4. Group consensus of approach—The entire group needs to decide on a plan of attack. In this step, letting students struggle through coming to consensus is an important part of the process. Teachers provide support if needed in the form of questions.
  5. Attempting the challenge—Students attempt the challenge and fail/succeed as many times as time permits as long as the attempts don’t result in such negative verbal or nonverbal communication that it shuts the team down. The teacher captures the verbal and nonverbal positives, and the verbal and nonverbal deltas.
  6. Individual reflection (tangible takeaway from lesson)—In writing, students reflect on themselves as individual participants and as a group by answering the challenge reflection questions. Students may be prompted to address what was difficult about the challenge, and also who was the most supportive from their point of view.
  7. Reflection share-out—All students share their individual and group reflections. It’s crucial that everyone shares their reflections even if they agree with someone else. Students can practice using sentence steps to show agreement.
  8. Props and shout-outs—The most crucial and important part of the challenge process is teaching, learning, and practicing how to give authentic appreciation to others and the whole group. Teachers have another opportunity to use and model sentence stems for shout-outs. Nonverbal appreciation can also be modeled and used in addition to verbal appreciation. 

Most challenges can be leveraged to teach work for any competency; it largely depends on teacher framing. For example, a teacher wants students to explore the concept of Growth Mindset and its relevance in real-world scenarios such as sports, academics, health, and personal relationships. For the challenge, students will examine examples of individuals who have demonstrated a growth mindset to overcome challenges and achieve success, and create a Living Wax Museum Presentation that will include an art piece and a presentation to other grade levels and parents. Grade 6 Growth Mindset Unit  Challenge Lesson Plan

Supporting Structures

Successful implementation of the Pack Model requires several shifts to supporting structures within the school—especially to instruction and adult roles.

Teachers leverage Pack’s competency challenges to create units/lessons based on students’ interests and needs. 

Pack does not offer a prescriptive curriculum. While there are tools and resources that all educators can use, the impact of Pack manifests when teachers have the opportunity to build their knowledge and skill through experience over time, develop their competence alongside their students, and identify competencies in response to what’s arising within their classrooms and across the school.

Compass Academy provides 30 different challenges, all of which are flexible enough to map to multiple competencies, depending on the teacher’s area of focus. Teachers, in grade-level teams, use the provided challenges to develop Competency Units, which are multi-week project-based units that provide students with multiple sequential challenges for focused competency application. Grade 6 Growth Mindset Unit

These challenges can also be used at any time during the year to reestablish relationships and/or focus on a specific skill and competency development. Typically, challenges are ungraded.

When educators integrate Pack competencies in academic courses, students are able to apply their learning from Pack across their other classes and accelerate their development of the competencies.

Schools must foster a culture of trust and belonging to successfully implement Pack.

A strong, supportive classroom culture is essential to supporting students in their social-emotional growth and competency learning. Pack should not feel like a traditional classroom environment. To achieve this, teachers must provide students the opportunity to reflect on academics, social-emotional issues, and their own learning through a routine use of circles. Adults’ mindsets must shift from those of content teachers to Pack facilitators, providing students the space to learn by doing and interacting with their peers.

Teachers must be invested in the competency-based approach and committed to building their own competency knowledge alongside students through training, observation, and feedback.

Teachers who facilitate Pack in their schools must be invested in a competency-focused approach to learning and building a safe and trusting environment in their classrooms. Teachers act as facilitators, prompting students in the moment. Students drive the conversation. To support this, Compass Academy provides summer professional development and ongoing training. Summer and school-year training dedicates time to unpacking less familiar competencies with various investigative, reflective, and collaborative structures. 

A site-identified Pack coordinator or Compass-provided coach provides observations and debrief, lesson co-planning, lesson modeling, and lesson review in order to ensure that educators receive ongoing feedback on implementation. The coordinator is necessary to ensure program implementation and alignment, and ensure ongoing improvement.

Schools must provide a dedicated morning period for Pack to ensure community-building and instruction for all students, organized by grade level.

To establish a culture in which students have time to develop competencies, schools must be intentional in allocating adequate time to Pack. Students should be in Pack for a 45–60-minute period a minimum of four days per week. Starting the day with Pack ensures that the whole school can set a tone with circles, level-set on a competency focus that ideally is later woven throughout content area classes, and ensures that each student has the opportunity to participate in Pack challenges each day.

Pack facilitators serve as the primary point of contact for teachers and families to communicate about student grades and behavior.

Pack facilitators streamline the parent-communication process. In some schools, Pack facilitators lead parent–teacher conferences for students in their Pack. In these schools, Pack teachers attend weekly grade-level meetings as a mechanism for getting updates on their Pack students, sharing grade-level concerns, and identifying opportunities for future Pack challenges.

Schools must allocate funding and time to ensure that teachers receive initial and ongoing training and support.

Coaching support is necessary for educators to learn and practice Pack methods, receive ongoing feedback on practice, and respond to student issues. Schools may opt in to customized weekly or monthly support, Pack leader training of grade-level leads, or a coach-the-coach model.

Schools should use multiple formal and informal data points from students and teachers to inform and make ongoing incremental and intentional adjustments to the program.

Schools administer the PERTS Elevate survey three times a year to evaluate student motivation, learning, and social-emotional development and then work with students to improve classroom learning conditions by analyzing data, selecting new practices to improve, and implementing strategies. PERTS Elevate

Teachers use data protocols and procedures to engage students in identifying areas of growth, making commitments, and setting timelines for reflection. Facilitating Consensus with Students Around Elevate Data

Within each Competency Unit are opportunities for students to demonstrate their growth and reflection throughout the unit and at the end of the unit. These assessments provide touch points throughout the school year for students and teachers to be able to see competency development.

Teachers leverage Pack’s competency challenges to create units/lessons based on students’ interests and needs. 

Pack does not offer a prescriptive curriculum. While there are tools and resources that all educators can use, the impact of Pack manifests when teachers have the opportunity to build their knowledge and skill through experience over time, develop their competence alongside their students, and identify competencies in response to what’s arising within their classrooms and across the school.

Compass Academy provides 30 different challenges, all of which are flexible enough to map to multiple competencies, depending on the teacher’s area of focus. Teachers, in grade-level teams, use the provided challenges to develop Competency Units, which are multi-week project-based units that provide students with multiple sequential challenges for focused competency application. Grade 6 Growth Mindset Unit

These challenges can also be used at any time during the year to reestablish relationships and/or focus on a specific skill and competency development. Typically, challenges are ungraded.

When educators integrate Pack competencies in academic courses, students are able to apply their learning from Pack across their other classes and accelerate their development of the competencies.

Schools must foster a culture of trust and belonging to successfully implement Pack.

A strong, supportive classroom culture is essential to supporting students in their social-emotional growth and competency learning. Pack should not feel like a traditional classroom environment. To achieve this, teachers must provide students the opportunity to reflect on academics, social-emotional issues, and their own learning through a routine use of circles. Adults’ mindsets must shift from those of content teachers to Pack facilitators, providing students the space to learn by doing and interacting with their peers.

Teachers must be invested in the competency-based approach and committed to building their own competency knowledge alongside students through training, observation, and feedback.

Teachers who facilitate Pack in their schools must be invested in a competency-focused approach to learning and building a safe and trusting environment in their classrooms. Teachers act as facilitators, prompting students in the moment. Students drive the conversation. To support this, Compass Academy provides summer professional development and ongoing training. Summer and school-year training dedicates time to unpacking less familiar competencies with various investigative, reflective, and collaborative structures. 

A site-identified Pack coordinator or Compass-provided coach provides observations and debrief, lesson co-planning, lesson modeling, and lesson review in order to ensure that educators receive ongoing feedback on implementation. The coordinator is necessary to ensure program implementation and alignment, and ensure ongoing improvement.

Schools must provide a dedicated morning period for Pack to ensure community-building and instruction for all students, organized by grade level.

To establish a culture in which students have time to develop competencies, schools must be intentional in allocating adequate time to Pack. Students should be in Pack for a 45–60-minute period a minimum of four days per week. Starting the day with Pack ensures that the whole school can set a tone with circles, level-set on a competency focus that ideally is later woven throughout content area classes, and ensures that each student has the opportunity to participate in Pack challenges each day.

Pack facilitators serve as the primary point of contact for teachers and families to communicate about student grades and behavior.

Pack facilitators streamline the parent-communication process. In some schools, Pack facilitators lead parent–teacher conferences for students in their Pack. In these schools, Pack teachers attend weekly grade-level meetings as a mechanism for getting updates on their Pack students, sharing grade-level concerns, and identifying opportunities for future Pack challenges.

Schools must allocate funding and time to ensure that teachers receive initial and ongoing training and support.

Coaching support is necessary for educators to learn and practice Pack methods, receive ongoing feedback on practice, and respond to student issues. Schools may opt in to customized weekly or monthly support, Pack leader training of grade-level leads, or a coach-the-coach model.

Schools should use multiple formal and informal data points from students and teachers to inform and make ongoing incremental and intentional adjustments to the program.

Schools administer the PERTS Elevate survey three times a year to evaluate student motivation, learning, and social-emotional development and then work with students to improve classroom learning conditions by analyzing data, selecting new practices to improve, and implementing strategies. PERTS Elevate

Teachers use data protocols and procedures to engage students in identifying areas of growth, making commitments, and setting timelines for reflection. Facilitating Consensus with Students Around Elevate Data

Within each Competency Unit are opportunities for students to demonstrate their growth and reflection throughout the unit and at the end of the unit. These assessments provide touch points throughout the school year for students and teachers to be able to see competency development.

Supports Offered

Compass Academy offers the following support to help implement its approach.

Professional Learning for Educators
Cost Associated

Compass Academy offers a professional learning program for educators. Participants engage in problem-solving, reflection, and experiential modeling.

  • Summer training days provide educators with an overview of competencies and opportunities to learn how to develop competencies and run Pack routines and activities. 
  • Ongoing training involves coaching, professional development, classroom observations, and walk-throughs.
Resources
Free

Compass Academy provides resources to support teachers with their initial implementation of Pack that include a playbook, a guidance document, lesson plans, challenges, thematic considerations, rubrics, checklists, templates, and calendars.

Reach

15
Schools
5,388
Students
149
Educators
83%
Students of Color

Impact

Although it is too early to measure outcomes from Pack’s multi-year coaching partnerships, satisfaction with Pack resources and support, as measured by surveys, is very high.

“The Pack structure, tools, resources, and curriculum have helped me to develop into a more well-rounded teacher. I am more able to meet the needs of my students both in their academic development and in their social and emotional development. Through use of the challenges in my classroom, I have more opportunities to address lower-level conflicts and create meaningful conversations and teaching moments with students in authentic, controlled, low-stake situations. I have also developed as a leader through one-on-one coaching and training and guided conversations to support my development as a lead teacher and coach.”Teacher, Hoopa Valley High School

In addition, at the founding school, Compass Academy, results are promising:

  • On the 2021 Holistic Student Assessment: Retrospective Self-Change (HSA-RSC), a norm-referenced assessment tool, students reported high positive change (greater than 62%) in Action Orientation, Perseverance, Empathy, Reflection, Learning Interest, Critical Thinking, Academic Motivation, and Relationship with Peers after at least one year of Pack classes. Compass HSA Results Holistic Student Assessment

Contact

Brandon Jones
Executive Director