As Coordinator for Middle Grades Education in Georgia, Joanne Lee travels across her state, presenting to teachers, principals, and superintendents about what successful middle grades education looks like and how they can create high performing middle schools in their own districts. In this work, Lee has come to rely on the new Leadership Training Curriculum produced by the National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform. The curriculum provides educators, administrators, parents, and other advocates for middle grades school improvement specific, hands-on lessons and materials for improving the educational experience of students in grades 5 through 8.
The curriculum was developed by the Forum with funding from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation under supervision from the National Staff Development Council. It is packaged in five separate but related curriculum modules with each module reflecting current research, best practice, and field-tested training methods. The curriculum incorporates the Forum’s vision that high-performing schools are academically rigorous, responsive to the developmental needs of young adolescents, and socially equitable. It also includes core Forum beliefs about reform, such as the importance of creating small learning environments, developing professional learning communities for teachers, and aligning curriculum and assessments with performance standards.
“We have distilled the knowledge and information gleaned from decades of work in middle-grades reform, and presented the best thinking of the nation’s middle-grades experts,” says National Forum executive director Deborah Kasak. “Teachers and administrators who experience the modules will be better prepared and thoroughly informed about what it takes to improve middle-level education in this country,” Kasak said.
For Joanne Lee, the curriculum offers a series of hands-on activities to share with educators across the state. For instance, she recently used portions of the training with a group of principals from South Georgia. Through the training, the principals learned about the characteristics of high-performing middle-grades schools, how to assess their own school against these criteria, and build on these features in their own schools. In a separate training with middle school faculty, Lee drew on the curriculum’s middle grades Vision Statement to begin a lively discussion about what excellence in middle grades education should look like. “The curriculum has been essential in my work,” she says. “It helps me lead in depth discussions about instructional practices and how they affect student learning.”
The curriculum was designed with a wide audience in mind. In addition to curriculum coordinators like Lee, it can be used by district-level staff developers, local school boards, or PTOs interested in helping parents understand what makes a good middle-grades school, how to assess their own child’s school, and how to advocate for middle-grades school improvement at the local and state level.
“Through this curriculum, educators, parents, and school board members come to understand that it is not the configuration of a building that defines a good middle school, but rather what goes on in that building,” says Nancy Ames, EDC Vice President and a co-founder of the Forum. “Whatever the particular grade span, young adolescents aged 10-14 need schools that provide strong academics, respond to their unique needs and interests, and ensure equal access for everyone, in terms of courses, teachers, materials and equipment,” Ames said.
The curriculum modules include a CD Rom and a trainer’s guide in hard copy. The guide includes scripted instructions for the presenter as well as multi-media materials for hands-on working sessions. The modules can be used together as a comprehensive package or as stand-alone sessions tailored to specific needs.
Sue Thompson, Assistant Professor of Urban Leadership Policy Studies at the University of Missouri, School of Education, consults to urban educators seeking to improve their middle school programs. She recently used the first module, “The Vision for Middle-Grades Reform,” to introduce a long-term school improvement program with an urban middle school staff. “We used the module during the course of a two-day workshop to kick-off the program. Then we went back to work closely with the school. We found that the module really helped us get everyone on track and jumpstart the work.”
The modules also be ordered through the online bookstores of any of the Forum member organizations listed below.
Originally published on December 1, 2003