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  • Writer's pictureSpike Cook

Non Negotiables in the Middle School


In the spring, our staff worked collaboratively to identify a climate and culture goal for the 2019-20 School Improvement Plan. As part of the process, we did a compare/contrast on Pearl Cohn High School in Nashville. This school was featured in Edutopia's School Climate section.


We spent a considerable time reflecting on where we were and where we wanted to go. We surveyed parents, students and the staff to help us determine a specific area (s). One of the areas that resonated with the staff was Pearl Cohn's emphasis on Non Negotiables. In fact, one staff member said, "That is exactly what we need. We have to be on the same page with the Non Negotiables."


Prior to the conclusion of the school year we identified our Non Negotiables (which are very similar to Pearl Cohn). We had a parent meeting to discuss the ideas to improving the climate and culture of the building. Staff met with students to ensure they were a part of the process, and even had them do a compare/contrast with the Pearl Cohn School. Over the summer, the administrative team operationally defined and organized the Non Negotiables. We also developed a script and a response protocol.


At our Staff Welcome Back we officially "rolled" out the Non Negotiables. As everyone knows, the Staff Welcome Back time is precious but we scheduled a considerable amount of time so that we all understood the "why" and had opportunities to interact with the Non Negotiables. It was time well spent.


Our staff worked collaboratively to develop "real middle school life" scenarios and practiced how we would address these scenarios. This activity added to the ownership that is needed to make an initiative like this work. We have very creative writers and actors in our staff!

Beginning of class script (every period, every day).


“In this class, I expect that you will follow our non-negotiables. We do not use cell phones, we respect each other, we are dressed appropriately, and we do not use profanity.”

End of the class script (every period, every day)

Before we enter the hallways, remember we walk to the right, we keep our hands and feet to ourselves and we keep our voices down.

We are off to a great start. Many staff members feel that this is one of the best openings we have had at our school. We are very mindful that we need to work together as a team in order for this initiative to work. We are dedicated to doing everything we can to improve the climate and culture of the building!


Spike Cook, Ed.D., Principal, Lakeside Middle School, Millville, NJ. In addition to being a Principal, Dr. Cook published two books through Corwin Press (Connected Leadership:It’s Just a Click Away; Breaking Out of Isolation: Becoming a Connected School Leader). He is the co-host of the popular PrincipaPLN podcast and his blog, Insights Into Learning, was recognized as a finalist for Best Administrator Blog by the EduBlog Awards. Spike earned his Doctorate from Rowan University and is featured in their Alumni Spotlight. Connect with @drspikecook via Twitter.

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