Posts Tagged ‘effective middle schools’

Positive Pressure and Support: Driving Your Initiative to a High Level of Implementation

June 14, 2012

Ok. It’s no secret.

Just having professional development doesn’t mean that your initiative is going to get implemented or implemented well. It doesn’t mean that your initiative will have it’s desired effect on your school.

Sure. PD is critical to getting where you’re going. But it isn’t sufficient.

Level of implementation matters.

A lot.

It doesn’t matter if you’re trying to get better at implementing your laptops, or you’re using Bright Futures to look at your middle level practice, or if you’re working on a literacy initiative, or implementing the Common Core, or on Customized Learning, if you want your initiative to have the impact you’re looking for, then you need to insure that you have a high level of implementation with a high level of fidelity.

So, how do you get to a high level of implementation with a high level of fidelity?

The answer is possitive pressure and support.

Positive pressure and support has three easy pieces: expect, supervise, & support.

Expecting includes strategies like starting simple, participating yourself in trainings and meetings, having teachers set goals, and collaboratively setting expectations.

Supervising includes checking with teachers, talking about implementation at meetings, doing walk throughs, and talking about the walk through and level of implementation data.

Finally, support includes things like celebrating successes, facilitating the sharing of ideas, providing opportunities for PD (of course!), providing resources, and removing barriers and running interference.


How could positive pressure and support help your work at your school?


What’s Your Top 10?

October 6, 2011

EDU 617 Students Learning About Being Sight Impaired

Each summer I have the pleasure of teaching two middle level courses for USM’s Ed Leadership program. EDU617 – Teaching in the Middle Grades is a one week intensive class, with the emphasis on intensive. From Monday through Friday we put our lives and significant others on hold and “own” one another. We are together for class all day, then reading and posting into the night. I have the pleasure of reading and posting into the wee hours of the morning as assignments are posted to the class wiki. Aside from the long days I really do look forward to learning from the exchange of ideas and insights among classmates and colleagues.

I especially enjoy reviewing assignments that ask students to summarize key pieces of learning from our time together. It’s always interesting to see what resonated with the class, both individually and as a group. It’s also useful to notice what doesn’t get mentioned. Summaries tell me, as the instructor, whether or not my curriculum and instruction had the intended results.

Here, with permission from the students of EDU617 – August 2011 is a “mashup”, based on placement and frequency of their responses to the prompt “As a result of our time together, What are the top 10 pieces of advice you have for middle level educators?”

Which ones resonate strongly with you? Are there any that don’t make sense? What would you want to include in your list of top 10? Do you think this class “got” what working with young adolescents is about?

#10.  Technology is cool, use it well.

#9. Build frequent, short breaks into your teaching process.

#8. Be courageous and look closely into the mirror of your own practice often.

#7. Feed the good wolf. We become the wolf we feed.

#6. Do everything with students in mind first, teachers second, administration last.

#5. Middle school students will do anything to you, and anything for you.

#4. Teamwork! None of us is as smart as all of us. No wallflowers or prima donnas.

#3.  Descriptive feedback has a greater impact on learning than grades.

#2  Students will learn more from what they see than from what we say.


#1. Mr. T says, “I pity the fool that doesn’t Model, Reflect, and Transfer!”

I Need My Middle Level Conferences!

September 15, 2011

I need my middle level conferences.

I know that funding is tight and might rule out being able to attend.
But I need my middle level conferences.

And I know it’s hard to be away from your classroom and the school.
But I need my middle level conferences.

I need them because they feed me.

Most of you know about the MAMLE conference at Sugarloaf each October – this is certainly one of my favorite places to learn and to network with friends. But I’m always surprised at how many Sugarloaf conference attendees aren’t familiar with the NMSA/Association for Middle Level Education, or with that amazing conference.

(Yes, NMSA recently updated their name to Association for Middle Level Education, to better reflect their global, not simply national, mission and that they work with any school that works with middle graders, not just “middle schools.”)

This year’s national conference is in Louisville, Kentucky, on November 10-12, and promises to be just as amazing as previous years. Henry Winkler is one of the keynoters, and there are fabulous featured sessions on everything from student motivation to technology to dropout prevention to literacy to differentiated instruction, and more! There are also hundreds of breakout sessions on nearly any topic you might find helpful, the the Exhibit Hall is full of vendors with interesting and helpful products (as well as freebies!). But mostly there are thousands of amazing middle level educators from all over the country just dying to connect and to share and to collaborate.

I don’t know about you, but by this time of the year, I have initiatives I’m working on, challenges I’m facing, and ideas I want to share. And by attending middle level conferences, I can hear keynotes that inspire me, and attend sessions that answer my questions, and give me more good ideas, and address my challenges.

But for me, the most important aspect of attending middle level conferences is networking. My best work in school comes from the ideas I’ve shared with, talked over with, or “stolen” from colleagues. And other than some communication through email, twitter, and Facebook, conferences are primarily where I get to see, visit with, and talk to (face-to-face!) my colleagues. Conferences are where I can find out what my professional friends are up to. What are their initiatives, successes, and challenges? How are they doing? What tidbits can I take away from their experience? What tidbits can I share from my own? Where are our potential points of collaboration? What are their new best books or resources or contacts to share?

And this is is how I am best fed professionally.

It’s your turn: How are you fed professionally? Why do you need to attend your middle level conferences?

Resources for New Teachers and Veterans for the New School Year

September 25, 2010

One of the first online middle level resources I found was a site called Middleweb.  It was started by a group of middle level educators who wanted to engage in congenial, collegial conversations focusing on middle level education.  Imagine a virtual room filled with hundreds of diverse, yet like minded middle level educators from all over the US, Canada, and the world engaged in a free flowing ongoing conversation about all things middle school.  Teachers, librarians, counselors, administrators, university folks, parents, and more contributing their perspectives with one another. That was over 10 years ago and Middleweb continues to provide educators who work with students in grades 5-8 some of the best resources for effective teaching and learning.  You can subscribe to MiddleWeb’s bi-weekly newsletter by visiting their site

Here are some items from this week’s newsletter.  Although the topics are selected specifically for educators new to the middle level, I think there’s some great reminders for everyone to keep in mind as we settle into the new school year.

Here’s the list of topics and a link to the newsletter…Enjoy!


Dropouts and Barn Doors

July 19, 2010

Here’s a recent Op Ed. Piece from the Portland Press Herald. What follows are some of my quick thoughts, which I posted online. I wonder if anyone on the dropout prevention group will see it. Hopefully they will take it as I intended it to be…Respectful. Here you go…

Our View: Dropout prevention very important state goal
A real boost in graduation rates would give hundreds of our young adults a brighter future.

Among the most desirable educational goals the state has set is the one calling for a substantial reduction in the dropout rate for high school students. Lawmakers in Augusta passed a bill this year that called for increasing the state’s overall graduation rate to 90 percent by the end of the 2015-16 school year from the 80 percent recorded in 2006-07.

That’s a substantial challenge, because studies show there is no single reason why students stop attending school before graduation.

They include lack of parental involvement in students’ performance in school (and often in their lives in general); repeated use of drugs or alcohol; violence against fellow students or adults in the school setting or outside of it; abuse by adults, either caretakers or not; bullying by other students; and lack of involvement in their situations by teachers and administrators. And that’s only a partial list.

In addition, the dropout rate varies widely by school system and region, with some systems already meeting or exceeding the state goal and others falling far short of it.

Dropping out is a significant social problem because young adults who fail to graduate from high school become more involved with criminal activity, are more dependent on state assistance and are more likely not to have health care coverage due to sporadic work histories.

So, a 26-member group of educators and other specialists are working on creating a program listing the most effective techniques for keeping kids from leaving school. They are due to submit their recommendations to the state by Nov. 1, with a report to the Legislature due by Jan. 10, 2011.

It’s an important task, and that report will deserve serious consideration and thoughtful implementation. Many students’ futures depend on it.

Here’s my thoughts…
A gentle reminder to the 26 member group…Closing the barn door on the dropout rate must happen before students head for the door. Just as planning for important life events begins well before they occur, planning for successful graduation must begin well before commencement. Two recent national research studies about high school graduation by the ACT and Johns Hopkins as well as Maine’s own Bright Futures report indicate this must happen by 8th grade and earlier. They echo over 3000 studies in the past 30 years indicating the absolute need for a high quality, comprehensive middle grades experience to ensure overall success in high school and beyond. ACT’s study, “The Forgotten Middle” states that success in middle grades is THE most significant indicator of high school success…more significant than type of courses, including AP or remedial courses. Success in grades 6-8 is more significant than academic or personal counseling that takes place in grades 9-12. I’m sure the planning group includes members who are well acquainted with these three documents as well as the extensive research surrounding effective middle grades. I look forward to seeing how the plan incorporates strategies for implementing comprehensive effective middle grades programs and practices in Maine schools to engage and keep all students in school until they graduate.

As Fred would say…That’s my opinion…I welcome yours!

Slow Food and Educational Reform: A Cautionary Metaphor

July 12, 2010

As an educator I have been lucky enough to combine my love of teaching and food by teaching some simple recipes around southern and central Maine for the past 30 years.  There are great connections between effective instruction and teaching cooking, but I’ll save that for another time.  In this entry I’d like to share a metaphor about the relationship between good food and good education.

A tasty meal generally begins with high quality, nutritious ingredients.  After all, in addition to the pleasure and socializing associated with eating, there is nutrition. This realization made me curious about just where vegetables, meats, fish, poultry, and grains come from, and how they are grown, raised, and processed.  I discovered that there is a well established international movement with an interest in healthy and sustainably produced food known as “Slow Food”.

Did you know that the majority of what’s in our supermarkets are not really food at all? They are food-like substances that are sold as food.  Pre-packaged, pre-prepared products such as “processed cheese spread”, or “Gogurt” are examples of these food-like substances.  Check the ingredients on the labels to confirm the lists of unpronounceable chemicals and inert ingredients pretending to be food.  You’ll also find a list of added vitamins and minerals that have been added to “enrich” the product.  The list will include the percentage of recommended daily allowance provided by each added nutrient not naturally found in the food substitute.

So as long as we eat fresh produce all will be well when it came to good ingredients, right?  Wrong!  Virtually all of the produce sold in the  local supermarket has been “scientifically” selected, grown, and processed not for their nutritional value, but for their marketability, resistance to specific pests, and ability to travel over long distances.  The goal?  Bigger and better yields.  Scientists and agribusinesses have manipulated genes, developed new species of plants and animals, patented them and encouraged farmers to grow them using specially developed fertilizers and feeds.

Yields certainly have grown by all measures! Unfortunately, this  “scientific” food production has resulted in a kind of paradox, poor nutrition amidst high crop yields.  Interestingly it also resulted in greater standardization, the rise of fast food, and increased obesity, along with concurrent health issues such as diabetes, heart disease, and higher rates of gastro-intestinal ailments. We can eat more, but we actually get less of the two things we need and want from food. Nutrition and taste.  It makes me wonder…Is today’s education actually resulting in less of what we really want in learning?

So, how does this relate to the challenges facing middle level education today?  I think it all comes back to the key purposes of middle level education,  meeting the developmental needs of the whole adolescent child.  Whole means whole…The academic, physical, social, and emotional needs of young adolescents.  Just as food science and policy has focused on higher and bigger yields as the measure of success for farmers, educational science and policy has focused on higher test scores to measure the effectiveness of schools, teachers, and principals. A troubling metaphor…What is it that we think over focusing on higher test scores will do as far as meeting the needs of the whole child?

In many school districts educational leaders…superintendents, principals and teachers feel they must eliminate courses that are not subject to local, state, national, and international testing from students’ schedules in order to increase the amount of time in courses that are being tested.  In other schools teachers are required to read scripted lessons word for word from a programmed text, pausing to wait for student responses memorized in previous lessons.  In some schools, common planning time, professional time for teachers to meet and consult about students and curriculum has been eliminated in order to provide more class time…to raise test scores.  As components of that ecosystem known as the effective middle school are eliminated in order to raise test scores, its ability to provide the complex and comprehensive interactions needed to meet the needs of the whole child is diminished, making it more and more difficult to move toward, let alone sustain a comprehensive vision that supports effective learning.

Thousands of research studies, experience in schools, and common sense tells us that the well-being of the whole child is limited by the weakest aspect of the child, just as a chain, web, or system will be limited by its weakest part.  The lesson from the whole food movement is clear to me, systems are highly complex and attempts to simplify and minimize their components in order to distill and force a desired outcome is to be done at the risk of those who are to be served by that system.  And if tinkered with, should be done very carefully, thoughtfully, with the same level of skill and planning of the most delicate and complex medical, legal, technical, or philosophical undertaking…and  with a very clear and comprehensive educational vision constantly in focus.

Just as the partnership of agricultural research, government regulations, and agri-business has resulted in the paradox of measurably greater crop yields but less nutrition, it is quite possible that the partnership of educational research, government programs, and testing companies is resulting in the paradox higher test scores but less learning.

The response of farmers and consumers who see the purpose of agriculture as meeting the nutritional needs of the whole person has been the Whole Foods and Slow Foods Movement.  I wonder…what might be the response of teachers and citizens who see the purpose of education as meeting the developmental needs of the whole students?  Whole Education?  Slow Education?

One thing I’ve learned is that it’s very important to engage ALL stake holders in asking the right, simple questions before even beginning to identify problems, let alone formulating possible and complex solutions.  My sense is that many “solutions” to both agricultural and educational problems did not, and do not, have major representation from farmers in the fields or teachers in the classrooms. So I wonder…In light of this metaphor connecting Whole/Slow Food’s vision of good food and Middle Level Education’s vision of educating the whole child, what are your thoughts?

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