10 Reasons Principals Love Leading in the Middle Level

Think connections with students, a true love for middle-schoolers, culture and community, extracurricular activities, and, of course, TikTok.

Topics: Middle Level

“I could never do that! Seriously, you are a principal of a … middle school?”

Yes, we have heard it—multiple times—from parents, students, and our fellow principals. Leading in the middle years takes a very special person. Here are 10 reasons why.

  1. We actually love middle schoolers. Seriously. Want to see a real middle school principal in their element? Get them in a space with at least five tweens or teens. From shooting hoops to solving algebra equations, middle school leaders love middle schoolers.
    Sharing the love means finding others who are like-minded. Insert Jack Berckemeyer and Kim Campbell, career-invested middle level educators whose energy is bigger than the sales of the last Beyoncé record.
  2. We know technology. From TikTok and Snapchat to connecting to a wireless projector, middle level leaders get the importance of technology in our schools. These skills are grounded in frameworks such as the Future Ready Principal that give guidance to why technology is important, what we can do with it, and how you can embed practices that are meaningful for students, educators, and families.
  3. We live and die on energy and empathy. From pick-up basketball games to sitting on the floor after an eighth-grader has an epic meltdown, middle school leaders bring their social-emotional learning A-game when you least expect it. We make connections with students in the classroom, in the hallway, and on the court. No space is off limits.
  4. We fall forward. A lot. Leading in the middle means you need to learn how to be vulnerable. Hard conversations, leading teams, and moving into different instructional models means sometimes you get it right and other times you don’t. Falling forward and sharing the learning builds culture and community, inside the school-and out.
  5. We have more to say than a table of kindergartners. Middle school principals are the key to the transition from elementary to high school. That being said we have a lot to share and a lot to say about our kids. Collaborating with our elementary and high school leaders ensures we are focusing on the right things when students enter and exit our schools. Looking for ideas to make that transitions more intentional? Spoiler alert! Check out the May/June 2021 issue of Principal magazine for an article on supporting successful transitions through the middle grades.
  6. We forgive easily. Middle Schoolers often let their mouths (or keyboards) work faster than their minds. An interaction, decision, or response will be taken wrong at some point of the day and a seventh grader will undoubtedly let you know that they are mad at you. We don’t take it personally; instead, we give the student time for their thoughts to catch up with their actions. When the middle schooler takes a breath, reflects, or sees you face to face after the email or interaction, they find an adult who is willing to forgive, forget, and move forward.
  7. We work with students at multiple stages of development. Middle-level principals have the uncanny ability to consistently switch gears between working with students at any stage of their social emotional or physical development. Often we will interact with students who are at very different stages of their development who need a common denominator to create a bridge of understanding.
  8. We are risk takers. Middle level principals know that just doing the same thing we have always done will get us the same results we have always gotten. Change is uncomfortable but we take on that risk because the reward of improved student learning is worth it.
  9. We develop interest in all things extracurricular! Middle school is the first tier where students learn to juggle academic accountability with athletics and other extracurricular activities. Students begin making lifelong bonds with students outside of the classroom, and many, for the first time, have teachers who also double as instructors and coaches during extracurricular opportunities. Many carry these interests to high school and beyond.
  10. We juggle teacher certifications. In hiring teachers, middle school principals have the difficult task of juggling the state certifications of teachers. With middle schools having different models: sixth through eighth, fifth through eighth, and seventh and eighth grades only, principals have the tough task of ensuring that teacher licensures adequately meet the subject and grade level of need.  Many times teachers in the building are not certified to teach all of the grade levels on campus.

Join the middle-level leadership discussion. Have a question or a “fall forward” to share? Share it on Twitter using #naespMLL as a way for us all to learn, have fun, grow, fall—and get back up—together.

Jessica Cabeen is principal of Ellis Middle School in Austin, Minnesota. Connect with her: @JessicaCabeen
Kevin Armstrong is principal of DuPont Hadley Middle School in Nashville, Tennessee. Connect with him: @DrKDArmstrong
Lindsy Stumpenhorst is principal of Challand Middle School in Sterling, Illinois. Connect with her: @lstumpenhorst
Ryan Carlson is principal of Wayzata West Middle School in Wayzata, Minnesota. Connect with him: @RyanCarlson8