A light bulb moment–Great teaching requires many layers, especially with middle grades. Adolescents are at a crossroads. They can decide to go one way (good) or another (bad). When I worked in ministry the youth director would often tell me that her favorite group to work with was the middle grades students. “Why is that?” I asked her. “Well, because I still have a shot to make a real difference in their lives. Once they hit high school, they just know it all, or at least that is what they think.”
Her response comes back to my mind often as I plan and think about my instruction and classroom management. My takeaway from her response is that middle grades students want to believe that they can become someone and they are looking to us, as their teachers, to make a difference in their lives. To guide them, and create a sense of intrinsic motivation to be better people, to be leaders.
It is great to have rules for the classroom, to develop techniques like from the book Teach Like A Champion, but true teacher leadership goes even deeper than that. We must guide our students to be leaders for themselves and others. Great teaching then is developed in layers.
First Layer— Rules and procedures for the classroom. Yes, all classrooms must have rules, and I believe that student teachers would gain tremendous confidence from Harry Wong’s The First Days of School. It lays rules and procedures out clearly and concisely and Wong’s techniques work for the inexperienced teacher. If a teacher does not have this first foundational layer he/she will not succeed in the classroom.
Second Layer— Technique. Teachers should use techniques to keep kids on track during the instruction period. Techniques such as SLANT, strong voice, 100% percent, and all eyes from the book, Teach Like A Champion are great to keep the class on track. I will warn that for this to be successful in the classroom teachers must be consistent. The awesome benefits include not having to say, “SHHHH!!” “Be Quiet!!” throughout the class, which preserves teacher energy, which creates more enjoyment on the job.
Third Layer–Character Development. Middle grades teachers have a special calling here. Basic instruction is not enough. Character development is critical. This is an area that is difficult for many educators. However, I believe that teachers should read books on how to develop character in their students. Rafe Esquith’s Teach Like Your Hair’s On Fire is a great reference for the importance of character development. He teaches his students Lawrence Kohlberg’s Six Levels of Moral Development.
“I had been planning lessons around my favorite book, To Kill A Mockingbird, and was reading a study guide that analyzed the novel’s character in relation to Lawrence Kohlberg’s Six Levels of Moral Development. I just loved it. The Six Levels were simple, easy to understand, and most important, perfectly applicable to teaching young people exactly what I wanted them to learn. I quickly incorporated the Six Levels into the class, and now they are the glue that holds it together. Trust is always the foundation, but the Six Levels are the building blocks that help my kids grow as both students and people. I even used the Six Levels in raising my own children, and I am extremely proud of how they turned out.” ~ Esquith
KOHLBERG’S STAGES OF MORAL DEVELOPMENT
Excerpt from Esquith’s book, Teach Like Your Hair’s On Fire
I try to incorporate moral lessons throughout my teaching. My hope is that my units with have a high moral theme that will make my students think and reflect on their place in the world and how they will respond to it in a positive way. I don’t preach to them, but I do guide them and ask questions. However, they come up with the discoveries themselves, which I believe is important. It creates more intrinsic motivation and internalization of moral codes within.
Fourth Layer– Developing Leaders. The final layer to classroom management is leadership development. This is when I reflect back on the statement made by the youth director. Middle grades students listen. They still believe in adults, and they are looking to us to develop them as leaders. I love the book, The Leader in Me: How Schools and Parents Around the World Are Inspiring Greatness, One Child at a Time by Stephen R. Covey. The book details case studies of schools around the world that put the 7 habits of highly effective people into action. The schools create strong visions of leadership and integrate their visions in everything they do to develop leaders in the classroom.
The 7 Habits are taught to students starting in kindergarten in very basic terms and in all varieties of ways, including through posters, stories, games, toys, movies, drama, poetry, contests, writing assignments, and art. ~ Covey
Concluding Thoughts– This upcoming school year I hope to incorporate all of these layers together for my classes, and integrate them from the beginning. As a sixth grade teacher, I realize that I set the tone for their middle school journey. I know that this might seem overwhelming, but I believe that if taken layer by layer, we as teachers seeking excellence, can get there. It just takes time, and a concerted and consistent effort to use them everyday. Although seemingly arduous at times. I believe that the rewards are defiantly worth the effort given.