Guest Blog Post – Making Our Middle School Work: A Student-Centered Approach

The following blog entry is from a friend and former colleague at Noblesville Schools.  Mr. Ryan Rich is principal of Noblesville East Middle School, a school recently selected as a best example of what schools in the state of Indiana should be emulating.  Mr. Rich’s blog can be found here, and a link to the press release can be found here.  Ryan is found on Twitter @NEMSprincipal

 

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Our student-centered middle school model was strategically designed to provide the balanced approach needed to meet the unique needs of middle school kids. Meeting both academic and social-emotional needs are a priority at NEMS.

Making the middle school experience right for middle school kids can be tough given the relentless pressures of academic accountability and endless limitations on time and resources. But a clear understanding of the needs of young adolescents coupled with a creative school structure designed to support such needs can provide a school day that better works for your middle school kids.

At NEMS, we have developed a student-centered, whole child middle school model that provides a balanced approach to meeting the academic and social-emotional needs of middle school students. Finding and maintaining this balance has greatly helped our students to better explore and discover their talents, interests, and passions while at the same time engaging more deeply in relevant academic pursuits.

Not surprisingly, it all starts with our daily schedule. NEMS has adopted a truly interdisciplinary teamed schedule, where students in our large middle school (over 1000 students) are assigned to smaller teams of core teachers (math, language arts, science, and social studies) and often a special education teacher. A counselor and administrator are also assigned to each team and “loop” with the same students each of their 3 years at our school. In other words, our kids are surrounded by a small cadre of adults who get to know them individually and support them throughout their middle school journey.

When students at each grade level leave their teams each day for diversified and performing arts classes, grade level teachers have time not only for personal planning, but also for team or academic professional learning communities. When teams meet, the focus is on how they are best meeting the social-emotional needs of their students through collaboration with each other, the counselor, and parents. When academic professional learning communities meet, the focus is on curriculum, instruction, and assessments. Teams and team meetings are led by team leaders, and PLCs are directed by department chairs. Each month, the entire leadership team – administrators, team leaders, department chairs, and counselors – come together to tackle the issues and needs of our school in a collaborative approach that supports and aligns with our middle school model.

In many middle schools, it’s either teaming or academic professional learning communities that go. One is sacrificed at the expense of the other. But at NEMS, we believe that both teams and PLCs can peacefully co-exist and provide mutually beneficial support for our students through a thoughtful and strategic school day design. Doing so honors the complex and often interconnectedness of the academic and affective needs of middle school kids, and allows your students to meet their fullest potential.

For more information on middle school teaming and middle school models that best meet the needs of young adolescents, I’d encourage you to visit www.amle.org/.

 
~Ryan Rich
@NEMSprincipal on Twitter
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