Background Information & Talking Points
for National Middle Level Education Month
At no other time in the life cycle are the chances of finding one’s self and losing one’s self so closely aligned.
It is during these middle years that young people form their own answers to the fundamental questions of life.
Those who work with young adolescents, regardless of the grade configuration of the school, must realize that their school is must be designed to meet the academic, social, and emotional needs of young adolescents. It’s far too easy to forget that students entering the middle level are only five or six years removed from those first days of school and those leaving are only a few short years away from the rigors of college.
Other than from birth to age three, 10- to 15-year-olds are experiencing the most rapid, significant changes of their lives—changes that are physical, social, emotional, and cognitive in nature. Schools that work successfully with middle level students understand and recognize that the students are seeking new levels of independence and can be highly peer centered; that the changes they are experiencing affect their thinking and behavior; and that each young adolescent is maturing on his or her own timeline.
This understanding of young adolescent development must be considered when making decisions about curriculum, instruction and assessment. Middle grades students must be provided with engaging learning experiences that build on their personal interests and help them develop connections between the content, their present lives and their future possibilities. The curriculum should be relevant, challenging, and interdisciplinary—and learning must be assessed through multiple measures, including real-life application and demonstration of knowledge and skills, and not solely based on state test scores. Instruction should be as varied and diverse as the students themselves; should take advantage of the young adolescent’s need for movement and social interaction; and should be engaging, thought provoking, and interactive in nature.
Explore these links to find additional free resources to help create quality middle level schools:
- The Breaking Ranks Framework (National Association of Secondary School Principals)
- This We Believe (Association for Middle Level Education)
- Schools to Watch Criteria (National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform)
As a middle level educator, you may be asked to formally or informally speak to a variety of groups that make up your school community. We strongly advocate for casting middle level students and their schools in a positive light whenever possible. Unfortunately, in today’s media it often seems fashionable to bash middle schools and middle level students. March is National Middle Level Education Month and can serve as an opportune time to embed positive images of our students and their schools whenever we have an appropriate forum.
Different audiences need to hear different messages, therefore here are some thoughts and suggestions for you to consider as you prepare to speak in different settings.
In your schools, with your staff:
- Acknowledge that middle level students can be challenging but can also be caring, compassionate and concerned. Share positive stories about your students.
- Decisions regarding curriculum, instruction, assessment and classroom management must take into account and capitalize on the development characteristics of young adolescents. Ensure that all staff members in your school are aware of these characteristics and use them as a basis for decision-making.
- Remind them they are working with young adolescents, and the adults in their lives are still important people to them - even when they act otherwise.
- For many students, friendship trumps everything, and students can be desperate to have friends. However, kind words from adults outside the classroom can work wonders.
- Consistently remind staff that middle grades students need adults in their lives who are supportive and caring. It is never too late to establish such a critical relationship.
With Current Parents/Guardians:
- Stay involved. Both your student and the school need your support.
- When in doubt, ask questions. Trust your child but take his or her vague answers with caution and keep asking for more details –and then contact your child’s teachers.: “I never have homework” “Everyone’s going…” “Sally’s parents let her do that…” “My teacher never answers my questions” etc.
- Volunteer when possible. If you’d like to help but your child is uncomfortable having you work in his/her class, let us know. We can arrange for you to help in other ways.
- Attend school events in which your child is participating – concerts, sporting events, conferences, open houses, etc.
- Recognize that your child will be experiencing the challenges of puberty. They will be going through many physical, social, emotional and intellectual changes and sometimes feel they are the only one experiencing this. Don’t dismiss these concerns—they are very real to your child.
- Get to know your child’s friends. Invite them into your home, involve them in activities with your child and stay in contact with their parents.
- Distinguish between behavior that is “appropriately” inappropriate (childish irresponsibility) and out and out defiance. Don’t over-react to the first and don’t ignore the second.
- Be aware of and present in your child’s growing cyber life. Students’ social circles expand tremendously through the internet, and parents play a crucial role in monitoring the choices they may make.
With Incoming Parents/Guardians:
Your child is entering young adolescence:
- During this time period, your child will face challenges and make life-impacting choices—including such things as friends, leisure activities, study habits, serious moral dilemmas that need to be addressed, etc…
- The physical challenges of puberty are real—not everyone develops at the same rate or in the same manner.
- Friends are important and your child may be unintentionally embarrassed by your actions—talking too loudly in restaurants, insisting on calling them by pet names in front of their friends, trying to be “cool”, using “their” language, etc.
- As your child enters young adolescence and becomes more aware of his/her sexuality, the need for accurate information is critical. Keep the lines of communication open and assure your child you will answer his/her questions honestly
Being a supportive middle school parent or guardian:
- Stay involved. Middle level students really do want parents to be involved in their lives—even though it isn't always obvious.
- Middle school is the best place to launch a successful future and that is best accomplished when the school and family works together.
- It is important to be patient, understanding, caring and loving with your young adolescent—even when you cannot understand where this new child came from.
- Ask questions and provide information—the school needs to know if there is a concern or situation that needs to be addressed.
- Read school communications and attend transition activities that have been planned for incoming students – both in the spring and in the fall.
- Talk with your child about the upcoming school year and emphasize the positive aspects of being in the middle grades.—Address his/her areas of concern and contact the school if help or more information is needed.
- Remind them that young adolescents are not simply bundles of hormones. They are looking for a place to belong and when the opportunities are present, they are capable of making significant contributions to their community. Tap into their energy!
- Emphasize the positive aspect of the learning in your school and share the good work being done by staff and students.
- Let them know that serious learning is occurring and they are welcome to come and observe. 'Outsiders' are frequently amazed to discover that kids are in classes and experiencing amazing learning opportunities – not having a party!
- Elicit their help:
- Create business partnerships
- Invite them to volunteer in your school
- Ask them to share their expertise with classes or during a career day/fair
- Request they host field trips for classes or small interest groups
- Invite them to be a member of a school committee
- Encourage them to attend school activities
- Solicit help for middle level students in need (clothing, medical/dental attention, housing, etc.)
Information courtesy of: