We’re in the home stretch – the end of the school year is in sight. There’s no sugar coating it, this has been another challenging year. While we hope that next year brings more of the calm and routine that our young adolescents crave, in the meantime how we can use the remaining days of this year to finish strong and set ourselves up for success in the year to come? We sat down with five of AMLE’s Leadership Institute faculty for their advice and lessons learned.
Supporting Student Wellbeing
“It’s no secret that kids are having more trouble self-regulating,” says Phyllis Fagell, author and school counselor, adding that there are some easy-to-implement tactics we can use to support them. When students make mistakes, for example, “give them a plausible reason for making that mistake before offering them constructive criticism or imposing a consequence. You might say, ‘I’m guessing you did that because you thought it was funny, and I can understand that…’ They’ll be more open to behavioral correction if you start from a place of understanding.”
Similarly, students – and even your colleagues – may need a little encouragement asking for help when they need it. Phyllis recommends giving kids face-saving, dignified ways to ask for help. “Maybe they place a specific, pre-designated object on their desk when they want their teacher to know that they need a break or help understanding an assignment,” she recommends. She also recalls a piece of advice she received this year from Jae Lee, a principal at a neighboring school, when she recently interviewed him for an episode of the Middle School Walk & Talk podcast. “He grew up in South Korea, where kids turned down help unless an adult offered it three times. If a teacher offered to help you three times, THEN you knew it was okay to accept their assistance. That’s consistent with what students have told me about the difficulty they have asking for (and receiving) help. Along those lines, offer help three times, whether you’re extending support to a student or a member of your staff.”
Veteran teacher Cheryl Mizerney added that incorporating movement into class is essential as the year winds down: “Go outside whenever possible and bring on the fun!”
Tips for Administrators
Our administrator faculty’s advice aligned along a common theme: celebrating the positives from this past year and the resilience of your staff and students. “This year has been one challenge after another, one fire after another,” acknowledges Cedrick Gray, Director of Education for Shelby County Government, “But, for those who have paid attention, it’s also been one miracle after another, one moment of grace after another. This summer, after the last bus rolls off the lot, take time to reflect on those positive moments. Once you have made a list of them, create a way to celebrate them and share with staff and students when they return in the fall. This way of coming back to school sets a tone of resilience and perseverance. It will have a remarkable effect on your school community.”
Ann McCarty-Perez, author and former principal, echoes that putting your people first can help you recenter as the school year winds down. She counsels, “Don’t let the administravia take away from precious moments with teachers and students. The end of the year is so busy with paperwork that it can keep us from enjoying the best resources in our schools: the people. Put off what you can in order to enjoy those last few weeks.” Phyllis adds that a simple way to make your staff and students feel seen and valued is to pass along any-and-all compliments, “whether they’re from a peer, a colleague, a parent or someone in central office. Be as specific as possible. Everyone feels vulnerable these days, even the most competent student or teacher, and everyone does better when they feel seen and valued.”
Adding to the importance of people, principal and author Dru Tomlin reminds us not to forget your team when putting this year in review: “Your people are essential when reflecting on this past year.” He recommends taking time to “genuinely assess what to stop, start and strengthen for next year–and invite multiple voices into that conversation.” At the same time, don’t forget to remember your “why” as you plan for next year. While you absolutely need to plan out time for self-care and rest, “always be thinking about how something creates a great middle school experience for students, staff and families.”
Finally, Katie Powell, AMLE Director for Middle Level Programs and Chair of the Institute, had gratitude to share for educators after working with schools from around the world throughout this past year. “I’ve had the pleasure of meeting with principals, assistant principals, instructional coaches, counselors, teacher leaders, and district administrators from across the country and beyond,” she said, “The vast majority of these meetings have been interrupted by students stealing urinal cakes (thanks, Devious Licks Challenge), teachers–in tears–needing a moment of the principal’s time, community protests against masks (or for them), contact tracing notifications, and student behaviors ranging from the absurd to the alarming. Each principal or leader I’ve met with has apologized for these interruptions, but I tell them there’s no need–this is all part of the job. To each leader, I simply say, ‘Thank you.’ This has not been an easy year to carry. Thank you for all you do for your colleagues, your students, and your communities.
AMLE assembles a world-class faculty of diverse expert practitioners for its Institute for Middle Level Leadership. Join them in tackling the challenges of middle school leadership this summer in San Diego or Orlando.