The Last C Words for the Critical Middle Grades

Six Words to Create a Great School for Young Adolescents!

It’s time for us to bid farewell to our good friend, the letter C, for the ABCs blog. Before we move to our next letter, let’s take a look back at sensational, scintillating C. We’ve looked at the magical middle grades through the lenses of ConversationCross-Content explorationCross-Pollination Professional DevelopmentCourageous ConstructionCritical Urgency and a whole slew of 22nd Century Cs. And we’ve learned a lot, haven’t we? But with any list, it’s inevitable that words get left out. Not intentionally. Not maliciously. No harm meant, but to pay honor to some of those words, here’s a final list of six C words related to middle level education: (what words would you include?)

Confident:  As middle school educators, we must be confident in our efforts, in our fellow teachers, in our administrators, in our students—even as we provoke, nudge, and push for change. And as middle school educators, we must continually instill confidence in our students, so they, too, can feel empowered to make positive changes in their lives and in their communities.

Cheese: I am an unabashed fan of all cheeses—in a wrapper, in a tub, in a squeezy can, sprayed on a Cheeto, aged, shredded, etc. Cheese (in whatever form) is a beautifully diverse and accessible tool, and the educational experiences (in all of their forms) we offer young adolescents should be equally malleable, ready, and delightful. However, we should be careful not to lean too heavily on the pre-wrapped cheese when feeding ourselves and others. Similarly, we need to operate with the same caution when using pre-packaged, purchased lessons, curricula, etc. A product that is convenient doesn’t mean that it’s quality.

Chaos:  A couple of thoughts about chaos. First, many people assume that young adolescents desire a chaotic environment. They mistakenly think our students’ changing, shifting minds are like wanton tornadic weather systems that enjoy spinning and causing destruction everywhere. Those of us who work with young adolescents know that they seek out and thrive when there is consistency, routine, and structure. Now, they may buck up against our fence lines, but they feel safe because they’re there. Second, the ability to work in chaos is one of the most important skills a middle school educator and administrator needs. It’s critical to be organized. It’s vital to manage time well. But it’s equally important to know how to function when nothing is organized and nothing happens according to plan.

Climate: I’ve read recently that climate grows culture. Basically, the small, daily things we do create the climate in our schools, and over time, those repeated actions foster the school-wide culture. If you want a negative, toxic culture, let the naysayers have their say at every meeting. Let the pessimists push their agendas on us to drive out bold innovations. Let the extinguished educators squash the fire of the distinguished, passionate ones. However, it you want a positive, collaborative culture, don’t wait for an administrator to clean it up. Stand up and fight back against those little minds and their little actions by committing acts of hope, teaching lessons of innovation, and spreading words of promise. Through little steps, you can be the one who shifts the culture of the grade level, the ID team, and the school. The kids are watching and waiting.

Comfort:  A couple of dichotomous thoughts about this term, too. We definitely need to create comfortable learning environments for our students and ourselves. We all need places where we feel like we can express ourselves freely and take intellectual risks. Spaces where we can collaborate with peers and create progressive stuff. But too much comfort can be counterproductive. If we stay in our comfort zones and we don’t push ourselves beyond them, we can stagnate and our cognitive clay can harden. We need to stay impressionable, so new learning can make an imprint. What would happen if we occasionally took a wrecking ball to the prescribed ZPD? What would it look like if we pushed our students and ourselves to new, challenging places despite the levels and labels we’ve been given?

Conference: There is only one national and international conference devoted to the critical middle grades, and that’s the AMLE annual conference. While I know that I may be a little biased, I contend that there is no better conference around to inspire and propel greatness for the middle grades. There is no better professional learning event about middle level education to bring people together, to connect passionate educators, and to grow great schools for young adolescents. If you haven’t been to an AMLE conference, now’s the time: AMLE2017 will be in fabulous Philly on November 6-8. We have low rates and high impact. We have variety in the types of sessions and great speakers you thirst for. And it’s going to be in Philly—need I say more? Get involved and get to it!

Again, as we say adios to the letter C, give this question some thought: What C words do you think relate to middle level education? What words did I leave off? Break out of your comfort zone and add them in the Comments section or on Twitter!