Not long ago, I was fortunate to spend some time with a
group of very dedicated middle grades educators at the
New England League of Middle Schools (NELMS) Summer
Educators Institute. As the week progressed, we had many
discussions about what is best for middle grades students.
We spent time discussing the importance of Middle Level Education Month
and our plans to recognize
the students not only during March, but each and every
day. These conversations ultimately led to discussions about
the harsh reality of the budgetary challenges all schools
It didn’t matter which of the New England states my
colleagues worked in, everyone had or knew of a school
that was losing the ability to create and sustain teams
because of budget restrictions. I’d like to devote this column
to addressing the need to celebrate the Month of the Young
Adolescent year-round and fighting to keep teaming alive
and well in our schools.
Young adolescents should be celebrated every day.
However, October is a good time to highlight the
uniqueness of young adolescents across the country and
recognize the unique abilities and talents of the young
adolescents in your school. Here are some suggestions:
Recognize MOYA in the school community. Send home
information in your newsletters and provide information
on your websites. Mention MOYA on school signs and
inside the building on bulletin boards. Develop a plan
to include the entire school community in recognizing
the importance of the month.
Allow students to reflect on being a young adolescent.
MOYA is a perfect time to encourage students to be
introspective. Involve school counselors in discussions
with students about early adolescence. Give students
an opportunity to create projects that allow them to
write stories or poems, create artwork, or keep a journal.
This month is a perfect opportunity to have students look
We each need to be a voice for young adolescents.
We need to remember that each of us is an advocate for
the needs of each student, and we must do whatever we
can to be that voice when the students are unable to be
their own voice.
This month especially, we should be tireless advocates
for our students. Perhaps some days we lose sight of the
fact that we are gifted with the opportunity to work with
the most rewarding group of students.
Effective teaming is one of the most powerful best practices
for middle grades schools. Effective teams have consistent
team planning time, focus on student needs, set clear
procedures and expectations, have a “team space,” are
together for multiple years, and integrate curriculum
across disciplines. Team planning time is critical to
successful teaming because if it doesn’t happen, it is
difficult for team members to communicate and be
accountable to each other.
One constant source of frustration for my colleagues is
the pressure to eliminate middle grades programming due
to budget constraints. However, we must be the advocates
these children need by fighting to keep alive the very
essence of middle grades education. The benefits of having
effective middle level teams far outweigh the money that
can be saved by eliminating teaming.
As we all know, working together as a team, we can
accomplish more than as individuals. In the 1980s, The
A-Team was a popular TV show among young adolescents;
a movie based on the television program was released in
2010. The show centered on a former military team on the
run after being framed for “a crime they didn’t commit.”
Each week, the team was thrust into the middle of another
seemingly impossible task.
The A-Team was a team, but they certainly had challenges
to overcome. For example, they didn’t always agree on the
same course of action for a mission, they didn’t always get
along with each other, and they openly aired their conflicts.
However, the A-Team had some characteristics that
helped them succeed.
- They had a defined leader in John “Hannibal” Smith.
Although he was sometimes unorthodox, he listened
to each team member’s input, and he helped the team
Each team member had unique strengths. One was a
pilot, able to fly any mode of transportation; another
was a mechanical genius with brute strength. Although
their strengths were different, it was easy to see that
the team would have been incomplete if any member
- Perhaps most important, the team was always ready to
respond to new difficulties that arose in the middle of
the plan. When the inevitable problem occurred, they
focused on the overall goal of the mission.
In the world of TV, the plot was simple: a problem
occurred, a plan was devised, something went haywire,
and the team adjusted and overcame. As repetitive as the
plot was, this formula is similar to what effective middle
level teams do every day—and that’s why team planning
time is so important.
Early in my teaching career, I was part of an effective
team of teachers at Monticello Middle School in Cleveland
Heights, Ohio. One powerful example of the importance
of daily team planning time came to light when a student
arrived at school out of sorts. Because we had team
planning time each day, we all had an opportunity to
discuss his actions, express our concern, and talk to him.
We learned that his father had been arrested the night
before and he had no idea what was going to happen
when he got home. He was tired, frustrated, and scared.
Had we not had time to discuss the situation, this young
man probably would have had difficulty getting through
the day without getting himself into trouble. Instead,
we were able to contact the principal and work with the
principal and the student to alleviate his concerns and
provide him with the support he needed to get through
the day and prepare for the challenges that were to come.
Another example of an effective use of team planning
time is the ability to make instruction relevant. A school
in Western Ohio described how during the Vancouver
Olympics games, the staff members were able to
incorporate events that took place the night before into their classes the next day—because they met for
planning time the first period each day. The teachers were
able to use that time to determine how the prior day’s
Olympic events were best incorporated into their classes.
These are just two examples of the positive outcomes
that result when middle level educators work together as
a powerful team. Neither of these would have happened
without common planning time. As Hannibal would say
on The A-Team, “I love it when a plan comes together.”
Take Some Time
Take some time this month to recognize your staff and
students in special ways. And if your teaming structure
is in danger, take a minute to jot down some of the
reasons teaming is so critical to the success of our young
adolescents—then share those reasons with the district
staff and the community.
Previously published in Middle Ground magazine, October 2012