The conflict between doing more with less and doing what is right and just for young adolescents is a difficult one for middle level educators to confront. For example, when district leaders determine that program cuts must be made, many often propose eliminating teaming at the middle level. They don’t understand what teaming is and how important it is to the education of young adolescents.
And that’s where we come in. We need to make our case at the district level for putting financial support into true teaming. We need to explain why it is so important. We need to be able to support our case for teaming when others ask, “Can’t we just show kids we care about them?”
We need to share the research about how the young adolescent brain learns. For example, research shows that students struggle to learn when their brain is overloaded with negative emotions. As Lori Desautels, assistant professor in the school of education at Marian University explains, “When a continuous stream of negative emotions hijacks our frontal lobes, our brain’s architecture changes, leaving us in a heightened stress-response state where fear, anger, anxiety, frustration, and sadness take over our thinking, logical brains.”
Two strategies that educators can use to help stave off these negative emotions for middle level learners are teaming and advisory.
When I was a middle level principal, the staff spent countless hours in teams discussing the emotional needs of their students. They believed that by getting to know each student and providing a positive learning environment, they were doing what was best for kids.
Also, as teams, they were able to develop learning activities that helped students make connections to what they were learning across the curriculum. Our former students often reflect about how well they understood ancient cultures because of the Egypt Day that one team planned. The day helped students take separate pieces of knowledge and synthesize them into coherent learning that encompassed all academic areas. They also had a chance to be creative, creating costumes and artwork that was appropriate to the time period.
The advisory relationship is another core tenet of effective middle level education. The opportunity to develop a positive relationship with a concerned and caring adult is critical for young adolescents. Knowing that they have an advocate who cares about them is important when negative thoughts are flowing through their brains, overwhelming them with feelings of doubt.
True teaming and a high-quality relationship between advisor and advisee are core concepts in effective middle level schools.