on May 13, 1999
middle school reform: structure or style?
This is in response to Scott's question:
Is the lag in middle school progress due to professional development
design or the structure of middle school?
From our experience, the fundamental structure of a junior high system
creates a natural resistance to grade 7 - 8 reform. Middle Schools that are
middle school in name only (such as Becky Montanos challenge in Tucson)
would have the same blocks. I don't believe the problem is grade level; our
sixth grades have been every bit as successful at engaging in the change
process as our other elementary grades. How does sixth grade do in a grade
6-8 middle school? I suspect experiencing the same frustrations.
Professional development must reflect the different needs and issues of
junior high / middle school teachers. It must start from the TEACHER'S level
of concern, not ours. For our project that has meant easing up on cross
curriculum efforts (math, science and technology) and intensifying subject
specific reforms. Science teachers at grade seven have little incentive to
include mathematics in their instruction. They will not be tested or in any
other way held accountable for math outcomes, nor are they likely to devote
time to changing their instruction to include math.
We have found that secondary science teachers ARE eager to meet with each
other or pursue new ideas specific to their subject areas. As such, a
successful junior high "learning community" includes same-curriculum
teachers across grade levels and inclusive of other schools. This is unlike
the elementary "learning community" which is across grade level and subject
area within the same school. The interest in finding ways to combine
instruction math-science-technology for K - 6 is natural; at elementary the
same teacher is teaching all the subjects.
Upper grade teachers do value interactions with colleagues, professional
development sessions focused on their personal classroom needs, as well as
time to combine ideas and strategies across their learning community for
improvement of instruction.
Here are a sampling of their comments that reinforce our perception that
JHS teachers WILL engage in the change process when given the right
What do you think was beneficial about this (workshop / summer institute /
Pulling together as a group, helping others, getting help from others,
getting a chance to see and share with other teachers, what they are doing
to improve the curriculum, etc.
I like the opportunity to meet, share and learn new things from other
teachers. It also helped that other members of my department attended so we
could plan to apply what we learned.
Sharing lesson plans with the whole group.
Working with colleagues, sharing ideas, hearing the guest speakers.
It gave us a chance to see other new technologies and allowed us to works
as a district, not just a department. We were able to pool our vast
knowledge and not have to continue to reinvent ways to engage our students
in hands-on science.
I enjoyed the time that I had to sit back for a second and think about my
teaching, my colleagues and my school, and where we need to be.
As a mentor it allowed me to share what I've learned and to learn from the
experiences of the mentee. I've been able to improve my lessons from her
What would you change/improve about this workshop?
More time to share and exchange ideas about how to make the unit better.
Stronger focus on district objectives.
These summer institutes have been so wonderful that I would love to see my
entire department participate. It's hard for all of us to attend every
workshop during the school year, but we could during the summer. These are
also more enjoyable without worrying about time needed to prepare for the
next day's lessons. We also have time to figure out how to use the info in
General overall comments:
Every workshop I've attended, I have been able to take something valuable
to help me in the classroom. I've enjoyed them and look forward to them
unlike the classes I must take for the school district which have been a
waste of time. Hopefully we can find a way to continue these after the five
years are completed.
I can't speak for others, but I know I am a stronger leader, better
teacher and more tolerant colleague than I was prior to MSI. This has been a