Why the Reform Will be Led From the Middle

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This blog post was submitted by Bill Zima and is the first in a series of posts on the changes in Maine education. Bill can be reached by emailing zimabill@link75.org (after July 1st).

One would need to avoid all forms of media to not realize that the American public wants to reform the way we educate our youth. From movies to blogs, people question if we are properly preparing our students for the challenges of a global economy. Our current system of education was designed for a very different time. An era when it was important to identify students who could remember reams of information. Those that could memorize fell onto one path preparing them to be doctors and lawyers and those that could not fell to other paths. Doctors after all needed to diagnose patients quickly and correctly. Having to refer to the medical books consumed time that was not always available.

The needs of today are different. Colleges and schools are no longer the “seats of knowledge”.  Google and Wikipedia are committed to making the world’s knowledge available to all. To be competitive, one needs to be able to use readily available knowledge in novel situations to help solve a problem we may not even be aware of today. ‘Knowing that’ is not the same as understanding why something is true. As educators today, are roles are not to teach our students everything, but to prepare them for anything.

Many of the education reformers of today, from Marzano to Hess and Wormeli to Costa, promote student-centered classrooms where students demonstrate their understanding of specific learning targets within their zone of proximal development in ways that engage their interests and see them as a person of a larger community. Sound familiar? It should if you have read the Bright Futures document from the Maine Department of Education. The characteristics that will make successful 21st century schools, from well-defined learning outcomes to a collaborative, democratic environment, are the same as those identified as keys to a great middle school. After working for the past several years on transitioning to a proficiency-based, student-centered system of instruction, I have recognized that assuring the twelve core practices found in Bright Futures are supported through action in our school, the path to this goal is much clearer.

So what can we as Middle Level Educators do to develop our understanding of the Bright Futures document, advocate for reform and lead these changes? That is a question with many answers. Some that come to mind are:

  • Attend the Middle Level Education Institute in August at Thomas College and/or the fall MAMLE conference at Sugarloaf and join in the conversation.
  • Record the great things your school is doing to meet one or more of the core practices and share it in a professional publication, like the Maine ASCD journal, MAMLE’s Newsletter or the Bright Futures Blog.
  • Communicate to your colleagues at different levels in your district how the work you are doing at the middle school meets the student’s learning level while teaching responsibility by increasing their autonomy for the task.
  • Email your local and federal representatives and let them know that the reforms they seek are already part of the middle level movement (they just need to be fully embraced and implemented).

Middle Level Educators need to lead the reform to create schools that develop leaders who are responsible and not simply compliant; thinkers and not knowers. It is already in our creed as a Middler.

I will share my perspective on the alignment of the 12 Core Practices and the elements of a student-centered, proficiency-based system of instruction in subsequent blog posts.

What are your suggested ways to advocate for and support the 12 core practices of Bright Futures: Please leave a comment.

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