SEL is ESSENTIAL for Middle School Teachers and Students Too!

I’ve always admired middle school teachers.  I wouldn’t want their job!  They have quite the challenge on their hands when it comes to getting students to learn!  Students in middle school are going through many biological changes. That means the distraction of hormones, awkwardness and everyone in a variety of stages of growth.  Middle schoolers are also going through many psychological changes.  Research shows that is a very social time and academics and school are mostly a secondary focus for them.  I sometimes liken middle schoolers to a puppy who is about a year old.  The puppy looks pretty grown up, but is still awkward and needs to learn a lot.  Not quite ready for full adult responsibilities, but ready for some opportunities to spread their wings and trust.

Middle school teachers are special breed of teacher that takes all of that into account and encourages, teaches, and helps their students succeed.  If you remember your favorite middle school teacher, you probably remember that they spent time getting to know you and building a relationship with you.

What does the research say?

According to the paper, School Climate in Middle School: What are students telling us about their experience in schools? (April 2016) School climate is a really important indicator of students’ well-being, engagement, and academic performance.  It is a really challenging time!  What are students looking for at school?  They are looking for authenticity and feeling a sense of belonging and some sort of significance.

School climate is recognized as a main factor influencing students’ well-being, engagement and academic performance (Osher & Kendziora, 2010). A growing body of research suggests that schools with positive school climates, where students feel safe, supported and engaged in challenging and developmentally appropriate work, have better academic performance and motivation, higher attendance rates and students display stronger social-emotional competencies (Thapa, Cohen, Higgins-D’Alessandro & Guffrey, 2012).1

All makes sense, right? So what do we do to create school climates that support students during this turbulent time?  There are two recommendations of importance that comes from the data collected by researchers from 14 schools located in the US and Singapore and was shared at the 2016 AERA Annual Conference:

  • Middle school students need to participate in strategic planning and program development. Students in our survey had a profound vision of education as well as promoted specific and actionable ideas for school improvement. Participation of students in planning would enhance their sense of belonging, and help students to hear and value other perspectives.
  • Professional development for teachers could focus even more on the critical role of student/teacher relationships. Students are acutely aware of the value of their attunement with caring faculty and are seeking teachers they can trust. Educators trained in SEL could more effectively respond to student needs and find ways to inspire and motivate them.

What can we do?

The themes for students at each age level in school seem to be the same.  Engage them, create a safe place for emotional awareness and help them with strategies to manage their emotions.   Encourage problem solving and give them the chance to understand and relate to people different from themselves.  The solution?   Focusing on the five core social and emotional competencies:  self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationships skills, and decision making for both students and teachers.  If we all get to the same place, school will seem a little less daunting and middle schoolers will be more engaged.

To read the full article on middle school and school climate, click here.

1Excerpted from School Climate in Middle School: What are students telling us about their experience in schools? (April 2016)