Saturday, August 3, 2013

Middle Level Education at a Crossroad

Middle level education is at a crossroad.  With funding a constant problem, people look for items to cut from the budget.  Most will look for the items that will have the least impact on education.  Middle level education can be an easy place to look for cuts.  We have to recognize what cuts we can't afford and protect those ideas and programs.

So how do we protect middle level education?  How do we make sure that students in the middle don't get overlooked?  How can we frame the debate to make sure that the important parts of middle level education are given the support that is needed?

Middle Level Philosophy worth protecting
  • Collaboration
  • Challenging Curriculum
  • Developmentally Responsive
  • Sense of Community

Collaboration

Grade Level Interdisciplinary teams
Interdisciplinary teams look out for their kids.  They look for ways to make the curriculum come to life and make connections.  This collaboration benefits students in amazing ways.  When teachers know their students and can create a small school feeling, the students are the winners.

Departments

Students benefit when teachers who teach common classes have a chance to collaborate.  Teachers, in the PLC structure (not exclusive to middle level), gain from instructional strategies from teachers they don't even have.  They are guaranteed a curriculum that will be rigorous and that will challenge them to be their best.

Challenging Curriculum

Instructional Quality
What shows up higher on Hattie's Effect Size: Instructional Quality or Instructional Quantity?  Instructional quality, of course.  Granted, instructional quantity is right behind it and both are considered very big influences on achievement. How can we improve our instructional quality without time to learn from each other?

Developmentally Responsive

If you placed 13 teachers who each teach a different level in front of you and asked each teacher the following questions, you would be able to guess within a few years what grade level that teacher teaches.
1) How important is getting to know the kiddos in your class?
2) How important is strong content knowledge?

The teacher who cringes at the word kiddo, but pushes students to higher levels because of their content knowledge, probably teaches high school.  The teacher who gets bored with content discussions but lights up when they see their students walk in the room (and the students light up when they see him/her) is probably in the lower elementary.  In the middle, we are a little of both, content and kid centered.  A middle level education program that fails to recognize students developmental needs can't be successful.  Conversely, a school that treats middle level students as if they were at the elementary level would lose their credibility with the kids and do a disservice to the students academically

Sense of Community
Adult Advocate for every student
All people need a mentor.  Why is it so important that we assure students have someone looking out for them in the middle level?  Kids begin to show signs of who will drop out as early as the 6th grade.  Data will show that students with poor attendance, behavior, and academics in the 6th grade are less likely to graduate.  We can't afford to let kids slip through the cracks.  We must advocate for our students. We must have someone who can watch out for each and every kid.

Safe Environment and Character Education
In a time where bullying has become such a big issue in schools, we can't afford to get rid of character education.  Students who are bullied need an advocate.  Students who bully need to learn a different way. Character will last longer than any other thing that we teach.  Students come to us with a wide array of backgrounds and support.  We must make sure that all kids get the supports they need to be successful in life.

Frame the Debate
It's pretty hard to argue against safe school environment.  It's hard to argue against high quality instruction. Framing the debate so that people understand that it is hard work to collaborate and constantly strive to be better.  We don't team because we think it's easy, but rather to makes a bigger impact on our students. Some say we can't afford to spend so much time collaborating and working on the soft skills. I think it's pretty obvious what we really can't afford.



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