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March 5, 2021

Four Strategies To Create A Culture of Success in Middle School

If you’ve ever taught middle school, you know it can be challenging. But you also know what a special place being in the middle can be. Middle schoolers enjoy laughter. They’re curious. They’re starting to think like adults, but still enjoy being a kid. They’re ready to take on new challenges, but they’re also anxious about them. And, they’re full of emotions! I spent ten years of my education career teaching middle school and loved every minute of it, but I definitely needed to develop a thick skin, a small ego, and a hearty laugh. And I was always looking for materials and strategies specifically for middle school, since it really is its own world.

Teaching Channel, in partnership with Educate Texas, is excited to launch a new video series: Creating Success in Middle School. In part one of the series, we visit classrooms in Texas to see teachers using strategies to engage students in the social, emotional, and academic learning that happens in middle school. After watching these videos, we hope you’ll walk away with a few new ideas to implement in your own classroom, whether middle school level or not. And if you’re a new teacher, this series is a great way to see how others are creating cultures of success in their classrooms.

1. Embrace Their Social Nature

Middle school students thrive on relationships with each other, and — believe it or not — even with teachers. Seventh grade math teacher Jeremy Yager understands and embraces his students’ need to be social. In Relationships, Routines, and Rethinking the Lesson, we see students exploring the mathematical concept of slope with partners, in groups, and with the help of peers who have mastered the content. Jeremy feels that his students respond well to learning from peers, and that the peer coaches grow from this leadership challenge.

When pairing and grouping students, Jeremy uses formative and summative assessments to make decisions, but he also intentionally groups students with their friends. Watch Assess and Group to learn more about how Jeremy harnesses the energy and relationships of middle schoolers into cooperative groups. In both videos, it’s wonderful to hear Jeremy acknowledge that he is always growing in his practice, and that some days he has to adjust on the fly when things don’t go quite as he planned. Having a growth mindset is so important when teaching middle school!

2. Develop Growth Mindsets

Teaching Channel recently launched two new videos that show teachers using growth mindset practices with their elementary students. Creating Success in Middle School lets us take a look at growth mindset practices for the upper grades. In Growth Mindsets for STEM Careers, Adriane Davis engages her eighth grade students in an engineering design challenge to teach them about the importance of learning from mistakes and persevering through challenges. Throughout class, Adriane makes deliberate language choices when speaking to her students, such as referring to them as scientists or engineers, or reminding them of the power of iterating and collaborating, so that her language empowers them. Watch this video to hear Adriane talk about the power of language in developing an equitable classroom, and a training she attended that helped her grow in this area of her practice.

3. Provide Structure

Classroom routines can help the sometimes-frantic middle schooler feel safe and comfortable. But too many routines and structures can also stifle the independent spirit of a middle schooler, so it’s important to strike a balance. Daniel Knoll, a fifth grade teacher at KIPP Truth Academy, uses roles and protocols to keep his literature circles on track, but builds in options and rotations to keep his middle schoolers on their toes. In Rising to the Challenge with Literature Circles, you’ll see how Daniel uses specific roles for sharing out what students learned during their reading of a chapter. Daniel also uses two graphic organizers, one for the share out and one for character analysis.

Down the hall at KIPP Truth Academy, Brittany Williams uses lab stations to engage her students in an exploration of energy transformations. Watch Building Character with Lab Stations to see how this structure gives students the freedom to explore concepts collaboratively while providing an opportunity for them to further develop their own leadership skills.

4. Take Time to Breathe

The middle school years can be tumultuous — especially socially and emotionally. Fifth grade teacher Anne Mechler uses mindfulness practices such as deep breathing and guided relaxation to help her students be present in her classroom. In her lesson video, you’ll see how she uses what’s going on in her students’ lives as a way to plan these social emotional lessons, so that they truly meet the needs of her students.

If you’re looking for a simple way to start incorporating mindfulness in the classroom, watch Anne lead her students through a short guided relaxation exercise. Anne says that these deep breathing activities are good for the students — and for the teachers! You can read more about Anne’s mindfulness practices in her blog post.

Whether you’re a new or experienced teacher, middle or another level, there are many strategies to foster student success in these videos. Which resonate with you? What do you hope to try in your classroom next? Let us know! And stay tuned for more strategies from middle school classrooms in part two of the series.

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