Posts Tagged ‘middle level’

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?


Let’s Put the “Middle” Back in Middle Level

April 11, 2012

There are a lot of discussions of what should happen in school for 10 to 14 year olds. It’s driven by a lot of factors: implementing the Common Core, increasing graduation rates, getting ready for high school, work readiness, making kids more compliant, a global economy, 21st Century Skills, Race to the Top, No Child Left Behind, the demands to know and be able to use technology… And on. And on.

I’ve even seen middle level organizations get distracted by these issues, starting to be led away from their focus…

It’s not that I don’t think these goals for education are important. They are. I’m just reminded of the saying, “keep the main thing the main thing.” I don’t see these issues as the main thing, even though I think of them as goals or issues that could support the main thing.

Middle level shouldn’t be about test taking, or getting kids to put aside their cell phones or Facebook pages, or high school readiness, or work readiness. It’s not even about “hormones with feet” (although, ironically, it does seem to apply to a couple teachers I know!). 😉

First and foremost, middle level needs to be about young adolescents: what are their characteristics and what practices are harmonious with those characteristics.

That is the “Middle” in middle level.

And the more we get away from that being our center (no pun intended), the harder it is to teach middle level students. That includes (and is perhaps especially true for) that list of important (but supporting) goals for middle level education I mentioned in the first paragraph.

You see, the irony is exactly that our believing in the importance of those goals, which has taken us away from the middle, has made it harder to achieve those goals. We can only achieve those goals with young adolescents when we put the Middle first.

So, how can we put the Middle back in middle level education?

I was part of a team that created two wonderful tools for AMLE for just that purpose. They are shared on AMLE’s website for you to use with your school and community.

Fundamental for Student Success In The Middle Grades is a self running presentation overview of the characteristics of young adolescents, an overview of national recommendations for this age group, and an introduction to some of the research on what works.

Middle Grades Education: Fundamentals and Research is a collection of 9 presentations with presenter notes on topics vital to understanding what works with 10-14 year olds.

Use these tools with your colleagues, your teaching staff, your parents, your communities, and your young people wanting to become teachers to remind us all what the main thing is in middle level education.

Let’s put the Middle back into middle level, so we can achieve all our goals.

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!”

Need High Quality Student Centered Learning? You Need MLEI!

May 18, 2011

Dear middle level colleagues,

Here’s a comment from Commissioner Bowen about his experience at MLEI. “In my time at the Middle School in Camden, I attended two MLEI sessions and found them to be a great opportunity to do what educators seldom have time to do, which is to reflect on our instructional practice and to really do the kind of thinking and planning we all need to do to be effective. It was always a great experience and one I hope to get back to one day!”

MLEI models engaged learning for all!

Registrations are now open for the Middle Level Education Institute. We are very excited about this year’s program as we have added several components to the already excellent offerings. In addition to the well established cutting edge middle level focus there will be top notch expertise relating to RTI (both academic and behaviorial), Standards Based Education (student centered, outcomes based, proficiency based learning), and safe schools (digital citizenship, bullying, and cyberbullying). And of course, these are in addition to any school or classroom based initiatives you would bring to the Institute.

Since the Institute will be held from August 1-4, we will be accepting registrations right up to the end of June. To register, contact Mikaela Ziobro at You can also call her at 859-1211. For online information go to If you have any questions about the program, putting a school team together, creating a plan, or arranging for graduate credits contact Jill Spencer ( or Chris Toy (

We believe MLEI can be a key to moving your school’s vision forward!


Jill Spencer
Chris Toy

Middle Level Education Institute

Closing the Barn Door After the Horses Have Bolted – High School Dropouts and Middle School

March 15, 2011

Waiting until high school to address the issues of truancy, dropouts, and college and career readiness is a perfect example of the old adage about closing the barn door after the horses have bolted. Recently, the Bright Futures Partnership made a presentation to the Truancy, Dropout, Alternative Education Advisory Committee to the Education Commissioner. The presentation opened up with a short video summarizing key research findings from two recent national studies indicating how critical the middle years are in determining the future success or failure of high school students. The ACT’s “The Forgotten Middle” and Robert Balfanz’s “Putting Middle Grades On The Graduation Path” both make a strong case that high school dropouts give clear early warning signs that they are at risk for dropping out years before they are eligible to graduate, enter college, or the workforce. The presentation video and soundtrack, “The Architects of Change”, by middle level educator and musician Monte Selby can be seen on Youtube on the Brightfutures4me channel

You can also see the first three installments of the Bright Futures video series. Check them out and give us feedback!

Bright Futures on YouTube Part Two!

December 10, 2010

Check out the second installment of the Bright Futures videos on Youtube. Mary Callan and Jill Spencer talk with me about what the Bright Futures Report has to say about the characteristics of an effective and engaging curriculum for young adolescents.  Let us know what you think!

Bright Futures on YouTube!

October 20, 2010

Last week, members of the Middle Level Partnership braved the wind, rain, floods, and power outages on the midcoast to meet at Medomak Middle School. What could have been so important? It was the creation of the first Bright Futures video! Medomak guidance counselor Chris DeGrof interviewed Jill Spencer and Mary Callan for the opening segment about the unique needs of middle school students.

We’d love to get any comments, questions, or suggestions for subsequent Bright Futures segments. Our goal is to publish a new Bright Futures episode each month.

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