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Besides being seen as new implementations to improve middle schoolers achievement, “The middle school concept” should be seen as a deep change in personal paradigms that will result in changes in the schools’ culture. In other words, the actual “change” starts within the school staff and then spreads into the school as an organization. That can be a daunting task since it “forces” professionals to leave their comfort zone, tapping into unknown areas. That’s how I perceive some of the staff at Oakwood School, they feel they are getting into an unknown territory and they are not sure it is going to be feasible. For instance the sixth grade teacher sees the Turning Points, Great Transitions and This We Believe recommendations as “too much”, while the guidance counselor believes that they can be a good middle school without putting into practice “all” the recommendations (21). In order to really be a middle school, Oakwood should develop family-community partnerships, interdisciplinary teams, challenging and student-centered curriculum and assessments that promote active learning. The school should also be developmentally responsive with regards to scheduling; promoting young adolescents’ wellness and nurturing relationships between teachers and students (Manning and Bucher, 2012, 7-15).
I believe that the Oakwood School leaders should start this educational “re-engineering” by implementing changes in the organizational culture, that is, the staff should be on the same page and they aren’t. A good way to start changing their organizational culture would be through meetings with all the school staff, so that the team can determine where “they are” in terms of educational excellence and “where they want to be” and then start brainstorming solutions. Oakwood School seems to be focused on long-term goals (three year plan), they should also have short-term goals (6 months plan) so that they can efficiently speed up the process. “The idea would be to avoid change just for the sake of change and to avoid making too many changes at one time” (21), I agree with Oakwood School that the school staff needs time to internalize all those changes but, there are many resources that can help teachers and school administration to truly get on board. For instance, brainstorming sessions structured by the Ishikawa Diagram would help them identify possible causes for the problems the school is facing.
Manning and Bucher (2012) affirm that “The student centered emphasis of the middle school lends itself to the promotion of inclusion” (18). Although Oakwood School decides to start focusing on the development of exploratory programs on the third year, they don’t mention anything about curriculum and how it would be designed. I would suggest that the team consider implementing a student-designed curriculum using the Curriculum Integration Model explained by Brown and Knowles (2007). The authors emphasize that a curriculum that follows the Curriculum Integration Model is developed by teachers and students together. It also takes into consideration the students’ concerns and questions rather than the demands of standardized achievement tests (131). In that way, the students are learning based on what is significant in their lives, they are also learning the principles of democracy and most importantly they feel motivated to learn.
I agree with the 3 year plan, except that I’d recommend that exploratory programs would also be developed on the first year. Effective middle schools answer to the needs of its young adolescents and implementing exploratory programs is an urgent matter since they motivate students to learn and help them develop skills that are fundamental for high school, college and real life.
Brown, Dave F, and Trudy Knowles. What Every Middle School Teacher Should Know. 2nd ed. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2007. 290. Print.
Manning, M. Lee., and Katherine T. Bucher. Teaching in the Middle School. 4th ed. Boston: Pearson, 2012. Print.