The Nature of Middle Level

It is difficult for me to look at an autumn leaf and not think about Greek mythology. There is an undeniable connection between the rich reds, auburns, ambers, and crimsons of fall and the ancient gods and goddesses. Of course, there is also an unflappable tie to middle level education, but first let’s talk about the Greeks.

When I was in the seventh grade, I read a story about a mother, Demeter, and a daughter, Persephone, who were sadly and suddenly separated. In brief, Persephone was taken to the underworld by Hades and she became his queen. Demeter, the goddess of grain and the harvest, was forlorn, and with the help of Zeus, agreed to a plan that would return Persephone to her at specific times during the year. When Persephone was about to come home, Demeter’s spirits would rise, and the earth would flower and flourish. This growth would continue while mother and daughter were home on earth together. Then, when Persephone was scheduled to return to Hades in the underworld, Demeter would grow sad, and the earth would become cold and the leaves would change and then fall off in winter when Persephone was gone. Hence, our seasons.

What exactly does this have to do with middle level education? The answer for me comes with the power of leaves, guidance counselors and social workers, and story-telling. First, autumn leaves represent transition and change, which our young adolescents go through every day. They are traversing the most rapid cognitive and physical changes of their lives except for birth to three years of age.

The leaves’ varying hues also reveal how our students develop at different rates. Some students are changing rapidly before our eyes, while others are changing more slowly and methodically. The sixth grade hallway may have 4’ 5” boys carrying books next to 5’ 8”girls. Eighth grade classrooms may have students whose legs fit nicely under their desks while some students’ legs may stretch out like stilts into the aisles.

Of course, they are also growing differently in the cognitive, social, ethical, psychological and behavioral arenas. They make illogical decisions because their minds are still forming. They make ethically questionable decisions because that critical compass is still taking shape. They are psychologically erratic because the framework of mental certainty is still tender.

This all begs the question, “How do our middle schools respond to all of this change, so we can improve the education of our students?” Do we simply watch students change and let them fall aimlessly—like so many leaves from a tree? Or do we observe and understand them, make adjustments in what we do in classrooms, advisement, and other school-wide programs, and help them understand and manage the changes? Similarly, how and when do we reach out to students’ families, so they can be a part of this work?

Fortunately, teachers and school administrators are not alone in their efforts to provide help with all of this change. In my years as a middle school teacher and administrator, I had the joy of working with guidance counselors and school social workers who helped me reach students who were going through change and transition. They had caring souls and could find the right words to comfort a student in crisis. They had knowledgeable minds that could identify a child in need and locate the best resources for him or her. They had professional passion that drove them to serve students in the school house as well as their families beyond the school house.

Thus, if we want to help students and families manage and understand the incessant and inconsistent changes of early adolescence, we must continue to tap into these vital professionals working in our schools. They not only have capacity to soothe students who come to their doorstep with issues; they also have the power to develop grade level and school-wide programs, to create responsive wellness curricula, to facilitate parent workshops, and to reach out to community agencies that can provide even more help. In other words, the changing of the leaves is only dizzying and overwhelming if we attempt to see it all on our own. Many eyes (like many hands) make it easier to comprehend and care for. We must appreciate, celebrate and utilize the powerful vision of our guidance counselors and social workers as we improve the educational lives of our young adolescents.

This We Believe Characteristics:

  • Comprehensive guidance and support services meet the needs of young adolescents.
  • Health and wellness are supported in curricula, school-wide programs, and related policies.
  • Educators value young adolescents and are prepared to teach them.

Changes can be gifts
Need our guidance to unwrap;
Cannot leave to chance.


  1. To start, I think the fact that the students that we will be dealing with on a daily basis are experiencing the most rapid cognitive and physical changes of their lives, besides between birth to when they were three years old is a very important thing to remember when interacting with them. We must be understanding with these students, as well as guide them on the right path to the best of our abilities.