Posted by: jockmackenzie | May 20, 2010

Middle School¹ – Defined

My “Middle School” blog entries will feature a variety of middle schools. Here’s the place I began teaching in 1973 – then known as Westpark Junior High.

Recently (May, 2010), I did a talk for a group of teachers in Brooks, Alberta about adopting the “Middle School Philosophy” in their junior high school. In preparing to give the session, despite having been involved in middle schools for the last 10 years, I realized that I didn’t really understand the BIG PICTURE.

Teaching in a middle school doesn’t guarantee one knows, for example, what the National Middle School Association deems a middle school. Further, because you call a school a middle school doesn’t mean it truly is one. As I gathered information for my talk, I spoke to 8 middle school principals. It was clear from my conversations that each of these schools had significant differences from the others.

Because I like to simplify things, I am going to begin with what I see as the overview (from the NMSA’s point of view) of what a makes a middle school. Then I’m going to give the “Jock Version.” It may take a few blog entries but the journey was certainly worthwhile for me; I hope it is for you.

The NMSA says this (and I quote from This We Believe: Keys to Educating Young Adolescents):

To guide and support students in their quest to achieve these goals, NMSA further affirms that an education for young adolescents must be

1. Developmentally responsive: using the distinctive nature of young adolescents as the foundation upon which all decisions about school organization, policies, curriculum, instruction, and assessment are made.

2. Challenging: ensuring that every student learns and every member of the learning community is held to high expectations.

3. Empowering: providing all students with the knowledge and skills they need to take responsibility for their lives, to address life’s challenges, to function successfully at all levels of society, and to be creators of knowledge.

4. Equitable: advocating for and ensuring every students’ right to learn and providing appropriately challenging and relevant learning opportunities for every student.

When I shared these four essential attributes at the beginning of my talk, I suggested a mnemonic to remember the four terms. I proposed the idea of planting a seed but, in this case, a C.E.E.D.. The four terms had to be rearranged slightly – Challenging, Empowering, Equitable, Developmentally responsive – but we middle schoolers are a flexible lot.

I see the NMSA as seeing the four attributes as the beginning or the seed and, for me, one more acronym may help me remember my roots. (the punishment continues)

But the terms, mnemonic or not, may be easily forgotten unless there is a picture, a challenge, an anecdote, or a reason to remember that these four attributes are critical. And so . . .

To be continued

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