Saturday, March 10, 2012

Valuing the Middle Level Student

The first characteristic of a successful school for young adolescents as described by "This We Believe" is: Educators value young adolescents and are prepared to teach them.  The Association of Middle Level Educators places this in the Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment part of the characteristics of successful schools.

What can be done to create a school where educators value young adolescents?  How can we know that teachers are prepared to teach young adolescents?

1.  School Culture-Create a school culture in which talking about students is done in a positive way. This starts at the top but doesn't end there.  Every person in the school should be an advocate for students.  When a teacher makes a joke about a kid-do you laugh?  If negative people don't have an audience, it becomes very uncomfortable for the comedian/teacher.  Take a stand for what you believe and when you do you will realize that most of the people who got into education got into it because they love kids.  You will find yourself in the majority once you take the stand that negativity about young adolescents has no place in a school.  Come with a solution to help a student, not a one liner to demean the student.

Rock, Paper, Scissors Contest
2.  Have fun with students.  Create times in the week to do something just to show that you value students.  We have an activity day during homeroom on Friday.  It probably doesn't have much academic value, but it can have a great deal of value of showing kids that you like them and want to be around them.  Last Friday our middle school completed a rock, paper, scissors contest.  I am pretty sure that this rock, paper, scissors knowledge they gained will not be on the Nebraska State Accountability tests.  However, I am also sure that the 15-20 minutes spent laughing and cheering with their classmates and teachers was not wasted time.

3.  Practices and Programs-Create programs and practices that show you appreciate students' effort.  Every student gets recognized at some point during the year with a "Soaring Eagle."  A Soaring Eagle is a note written by the principal to a student that shows appreciation for their attitude, behavior, and/or character.  The teacher submits a student's name and accomplishment using a google doc form.  The principal then gets this submission in a google spreadsheet and writes the letter to the student.  At lunch time, the student is given the Soaring Eagle along with a sucker.  Teachers also have postcards that they send home when students do something above and beyond in their classroom.

In addition to recognition, your student discipline system should show value in the individual student.  We created our own system called "Living Above the Line" that values students rather that creating a one size fits all discipline system.  Rather than having a discipline system that is punitive, natural consequences  (and logical consequences when natural consequences aren't possible) should shape student behavior.

4.  Hire Teachers with passion for the middle level-Teaching candidates with a 4-9 grade endorsement should be given some priority.  The reason I say some priority rather than "only hire teachers with MS endorsements" is that I don't want to lose great teachers because they have a 7-12 endorsement or a K-6 endorsement (or any other type of endorsement).  What is great about a 4-9 endorsement is that it shows the passion for education is with middle level students.  Passion is the key, not endorsement area.

5.  Teacher Training-If a teacher comes with little practical knowledge of what it is to teach at this level, then it is crucial to get that teacher the training necessary to work with middle level students.  Encourage teachers to join the state association for middle level educators.  Encourage teacher to participate in professional development focusing on young adolescents.

Those are my 5 ideas, what else should be added to create a school that values middle level students?

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