The ABCs of Middle Level Education
MLEM17 & The Final A List Awards!
Sticking with the letter A, here's an Announcement: It's March, and Middle Level Education Month has officially begun! On behalf of everyone here at AMLE, thank you for everything you do every day to make teaching and learning blast off like a rocket for young adolescents. Thank you for advocating for young adolescents, for your fellow educators, and for the cause of the critical middle grades. Here are some quick ideas to help you celebrate Middle Level Education Month (MLEM):
- Visit www.amle.org/mlem for resources, sample advocacy letters, and tips for celebrating MLEM.
- Tweet a picture of you, your team, etc. with the "I Love Middle Grades" sign to #MLEM17
- Email April Tibbles, AMLE director of communications, at firstname.lastname@example.org or me at email@example.com with details about awesome MLEM celebrations happening at your school!
- And at any time during the month of March, feel free to randomly stand up (in a faculty meeting, on a bus, on the roof of the school, in a crowded restaurant, in a quiet library) and shout out loud and proud, "Hey! I was once a young adolescent! You were once a young adolescent! We were all once young adolescents! And I am proud to be a middle level educator who teaches, leads, and serves young adolescents every day!" (for this last suggestion, be ready to hear waves of applause or to run somewhere safe).
And with every beginning there is also usually an ending. So it's time to bid farewell to the letter A for this blog. It's brought us some good times and some serious times, hasn't it? Ideas about Access and Advocacy, Anger, Appreciation, and Adolescents. Of course, there are A words that I've left out that also relate to middle level education, and before we move on to the next letter, I'd like to pay tribute to those words now.
- Abilities: As middle school educators, we must continually remind our students that they have powerful abilities—abilities that need to be cultivated, nurtured, and celebrated. And as middle school educators, we must recognize and honor our own abilities and push each other to continually hone our pedagogical craft.
- Art: Teaching is an art form, and it demands that we practice it passionately, consistently, and with commitment to the craft. We need to support each other as artists, allowing for creative risk-taking in the classroom and embracing the messy reality that is educational artwork. And as a content area, art should be included in every classroom—not just in art class. Giving students the chance to demonstrate mastery through art is a glorious thing!
- And: Of all the conjunctions I know, I am a huge fan of And. While I'm also a fan of the skepticism of But and Or, I am crazy about And. It represents what young adolescents need and what we need from each other. And is the positive connector. The affirmative bridge-maker. The welcoming water of opportunity that carries us onward. Instead of "You can do this, but you can't do that," what would happen if we said to students and to each other, "We can do this and that. We can dream this and that. We can explore this and that"? And has the power to kick down fences that may limit young adolescents and ourselves.
- Accountability: Oh boy, this one can be a doozy. At the risk of irritating some folks, I have to admit that I don't think accountability in education is such a bad thing. In many ways, it's just another way of saying responsibility. We are responsible and accountable for the educational wellness of our students—just like doctors are responsible and accountable for the health and wellness of their patients. So how did accountability get such an ugly reputation? Perhaps that happened when we started to tie teachers' pay to accountability systems. Or perhaps it happened when high-stakes tests became the paramount accountability measure we used to determine a teacher's and a school's worth. Perhaps we need to take accountability back and reclaim it as a positive, driving force for responsible school work.
- Act: As teachers and leaders in the middle grades, we are wonderful actors. And I don't mean that we put on false personas and read from scripted lines to manipulate people and situations. Rather, I mean that we are talented actors who know how to adjust our words, mannerisms, tones, and even our props for the various audiences with whom we interact. In a 10 minute span, we can unjam a locker, soothe a kid in crisis, email an eager parent, and collaborate with a teammate on a lesson plan. I realize that the Oscars just concluded, but I think middle level educators deserve Academy Awards for the exceptional performances we do on a daily basis. Where's our gold statue and after party? Act also means that effective middle level educators do something when they sense that a child is in crisis or when they realize that a child is struggling in their class. That's the difference between showing up and stepping up. We act and we step up.
- Awards: Speaking of awards, how do we increase recognition so more students are celebrated? It's good to award students for high academic achievement through end-of-the-semester ceremonies. It's nice to hand out certificates for perfect attendance at the end of the year. But typically, it's the same students getting those awards. And the same students not getting those awards are feeling ignored. In addition, how do we increase teacher recognition so more educators are also celebrated? Clearly, it's great to have a way to recognize a Teacher of the Year, but could we do more to shine a light on best practices and best teaching? And, of course, this raises the debate of how awards detract from intrinsic motivation—a topic best left for another time and another blog.
- Awareness: in the middle grades, awareness is a key ingredient—because of the amount and pace of change that young adolescents go through; because of their predilection for risk-taking behaviors; because of their often mercurial emotions that influence decision-making; because of their ardent and sometimes arduous search for identity, acceptance, and belonging. It all happens so quickly that we need to be keenly aware, which means noticing the large, sweeping changes that our students make as well as the small, subtle ones—and then taking the time to act on that awareness. Because when we were young adolescents, we wished we had that support. This also means that we watch out for the adults in our buildings. We need to be aware of teachers who may be dealing with challenges personally or professionally, and we need to act on that awareness. Because when we are struggling in our classrooms or in our lives, we wish we had that support. We deserve it. Our students deserve it.
So there's the final A list of A words for the ABCs blog. What A words would you add that reflect the critical middle grades? And stay tuned, eager readers, for the next letter around the bend for the ABCs blog!