How We Used the Changing By the Minute Documentary for Powerful Professional Development

These are challenging times in education, and middle school educators are looking for encouragement and inspiration about how to best engage this unique age group. Enter the amazing, uplifting, and sometimes provocative documentary Changing by the Minute which captures one school’s remarkable and memorable efforts to help young adolescents thrive.

The Center School (the public school featured in the film) challenges conventional and too often negative assumptions about young adolescents by emphasizing trust, flexibility, belonging, student voice, adult mentoring, high expectations for student behavior and student learning, and a compelling, challenging curriculum. The staff clearly delight in teaching 10-14 year olds, provoking viewers to ask: Is this how it feels at our school? Do we convey this delight to our students? Do we celebrate this amazing time in life in our school?

We used the film for professional development this summer with 20 educators, and it proved to be a powerful and energizing tool, launching teachers into significant conversations, critical reflection, and innovative thinking. Now that AMLE has partnered with All Points North Foundation to make the Changing By The Minute documentary tool kit available to all members, we thought it would be helpful to share why and how we used the film. It can be daunting to use new PD material, but we assure you this tool is both fun and worth the effort.

Why We Chose to Use Changing By the Minute

The documentary tool kit includes a 62min film, a 10min film, short bonus clips and discussion guides. We used the long film, but both versions work well for PD. We did not present the documentary as the story of a model school, but as an opportunity to observe another school’s practices and think, “What can we learn from this?” Educators can both relate to what they are watching and feel comfortable critiquing what they are seeing – because it is not their school.

We were particularly interested in these themes:

  • Seeing young adolescents as capable young adults The Center School believes that adults should trust young adolescents, giving them increasing responsibility and independence, as a core part of what they learn in school. One way they do this is by mixing fifth – eighth graders in almost all classes and requiring them to collaborate in randomly assigned groups. This robust web of relationships fosters a strong school community, a culture of acceptance, as well as leadership and communication skills. Students report little to no bullying in the school.
  • Building in Time for Kids to be Kids In the documentary we see the powerful role of peer relationships in the lives of young adolescents, and the fact that the school deliberately carves out social times for students to attend to this important work (i.e., extended hall breaks, long lunch period, club periods, special interest classes).
  • Cultivating Student-Teacher RelationshipsTeachers today feel pressure to not overstep boundaries in relationships with students. They often feel their hands are tied. But educators in the film appear relaxed conversing with students, treating them with respect, while holding firm boundaries for unacceptable behavior. These scenes offer a jumping off place for reflection about how teachers can help students mature and what is appropriate discipline, accountability, and restorative work.

How We Used It

We had 20 teachers at our summer institute with goals of helping them reconnect with their passion for teaching, refreshing their understanding of young adolescents, and reflecting on strategies for developing a stronger culture of belonging.

We used the film over two days, but note that AMLE has provided the 62-minute film in chapters that can be used in pieces over several months of PD. (The 10 min film has its own PD discussion guide). After studying the film ourselves, we selected questions from the discussion guide that we wanted to use.

Session 1

  1. The day before watching the film, we asked educators to think and write about the features and conditions they associate with an optimum middle school environment.
  2. We then asked them to work in small groups (3-4) to distill their thinking into one synthesized list of features and conditions.
  3. Finally, we asked them to consider how their own school environment measures up to their ideal.

Session 2

  1. Teachers viewed the 62 minute documentary.
  2. Immediately following the film, we returned to the same small groups to:
    • Describe the school environment of the Center School and the strengths of the environment witnessed in the film.
    • Identify what features and conditions may contribute to that environment.
    • Compare and contrast the school environment to their own schools.
    • Create a list of suggested changes to consider in their own classrooms and schools.
  3. Each participant then generated individual plans to improve their classroom environments, leaning on both the film and middle level education research.
  4. Groups then met to share their ideas and generate action plans for their respective classrooms or schools.

The Outcomes

Over the two working sessions, there was rich discussion and engagement about the nature of a school day, radically inclusive school practices, innovative approaches to class organization, and how adults can positively shape student learning and lives. Teachers reported having new awareness about:

  • How student growth and success is impacted by school staff assumptions, attitude and tone about dealing with young adolescents
  • The benefits of inclusive practices on student sense of belonging
  • The power of compelling curriculum content
  • The changes in student attitudes and behavior that result when teachers use steady mentoring and coaching.
  • The influence of multi-age learning on student self-efficacy, peer relationships, bullying and school culture.

We hope you’ve benefited from hearing our experience using Changing By the Minute and that you’ve been inspired to try something new in your PD strategy this year. We assure you, you and your teachers won’t regret it!

Note on the Changing By the Minute membership benefit

Thanks to its partnership with All Points North Foundation, AMLE members have access to the documentary toolkit in its entirety (login required). The toolkit includes access to Changing By the Minute (62 min film), Middle School Moments (10 min film), and Bonus Clips (16 clips of ~2 min or less), each with accompanying discussion guides for use with staff, students, and pre-service teachers. For support in using the toolkit with staff or students, contact AMLE Director for Middle Level Programs Katie Powell at

Attending AMLE50? You’ll also be able to catch a viewing of the 62 minute film in National Harbor this November!