The deputy Principal of Junior and Middle School invited myself and a colleague to join her in attending this professional development on Friday. After reading the overview, I jumped at the chance. It looked like a fantastic opportunity to rekindle my passion for teaching, which can at times get worn down, and I wasn’t wrong.
The day started off with a presentation by Dr. Jenny Poskitt, a Senior Lecturer in the Institute of Education at Massey University. You can find out more about her here:
Poskitt has published many papers and been involved extensively in research in education. An incredibly inspiring woman, with great ideas, and I look forward to reading more of her papers.
Poskitt presented on Middle years schooling: exciting opportunities for learning. She discussed what the middle years are, what the characteristics are of learners at this age. How we as educators can excite students about learning and engage them in what really matters.
Poskitt first discussed the difficulties for middle school students in education. They have difficulty finding value in what they are doing, managing their feelings, finding their sense of identity, learning strategies for dealing and finding values and meaning in life. Her focus for the presentation, therefore, were the priorities for these learners.
Middle school learners:
Want to be liked/valued
Want to belong – feel a sense of connectedness
Want to learn

Wanting to be liked/valued:
Middle school learners want to be liked and belong, but they also want to be different. It is important to ensure them that they are normal. That mistakes are normal. For middle school learners failure seems final, and unless we reassure students that their failure is not final, or that there is success in their failure they can forever believe that they are unable to do that task.
Middle school learners also need to feel a sense of connectedness, a sense of belonging, a sense of connection with those around them and this includes their teachers. Teachers need to connect with students, they need to know the name of the family dog, what sports each student plays and how they have performed in these. They need to not only know the student as a learner in their class, but as an individual. It is this connectedness that helps students to feel liked and valued and they will better perform.
Middle school learners are insecure in their relationships. They often have an ongoing anxiety that can lead to depression. Therefore it is important to keep interactions positive – always find the positive in the situation. Doing so, and building strong, positive relationships helps to build resilience.

Wanting to belong:
Middle school learners want to feel accepted in the school environment. To do this they need to feel connected to the school environment, by taking responsibility for it. Think: Service Learning Projects – what does the school need? How can the school be changed for the better? What do you think? Involve students in decision-making and they feel a sense of connection to the project. Improved responsibility leads to a connectedness with the school.

Wanting to learn:
Student engagement is behavioural, emotional and cognitive.
Focusing only on performance and not on mastery can lead to disengagement. 10/15 minute tasks mean that students are actively engaged, longer than this and students lose focus. Students enjoy variety, they like to have choice. But they also like to be told what to do sometimes too.
Suggestions to improve discussion skills:
Fishbowl: Encourages listening. Two circles, inner and outer. Select the inner circle to begin – perhaps those students who do not always actively engage in discussion. Give out prompt cards to the inner circle. Only the inner circle can talk. Outer circle has to critique, give compliments. Initially, positive – what worked really well. Then later, points for improvement. Prompt cards could be thinking about the task in different ways: inferring, recalling, predicting etc. The inner circle has the power and can swap with the outer circle. When the activity is over, the teacher can comment on the discussion and the social skills(listening, reflecting, turn-taking, building on ideas) that have been used – perhaps here also, LPAs or Approaches to Learning?
A better explanation and variations on the fishbowl can be found here:
Ticket to talk: Students write down three ideas that they have learnt in the lesson and one question that they have. Teacher can then reflect on and adjust the lesson for the next day. Students diss the questions the next day, invite students who understand the questions to explain.
Scaffolded talk:
Students get given individual research tasks which they feedback to the class on. Find out about…
These activities help with group skills, peer tutoring, problem-based learning, co-operative learning and team work skills.

When you have had a discussion as a class reflect:
What worked well in our discussion?
What didn’t?
This leads to teaching the skills of discussion/co-operation/team work etc explicitly.

Think about the way that you teach and include a variety. This will help stimulate the students, think about demonstrations, scenarios, role plays.
Students want fun, they want variety, they want activities where they learn. They want different ways of learning, group based and individual. Try the smorgasboard approach where students choose stations to attend – set up 7 stations and students can pick to attend 5?

We also need to start teaching self-regulation. Student ownership. Self regulation in terms of organisation, reflection and next steps – all student driven.

Overall Poskitt’s main message is that the only way that we can teach effectively in the Middle School is through building trusting relationships. Teachers need to know their students well. They need to care about them. They need to treat them fairly. This provides a connectedness for students.
Use humour, talk to students quietly, do not humiliate. Try to view your teaching from the student’s perspective. Encourage risk taking in learning by being a risk taker yourself in your teaching. Try new things, get it wrong. Make students comfortable to take risks in your classroom. Make sure you are connecting your teaching in the classroom to their lives in the outside world. Key factor, Student relationships.

Further reading:

Student Engagement in the Middle Years of Schooling, Poskitt and Gibbs.

Ruth Sutton: The Muddle in the Middle

The second speaker of the day was Angela White, an Executive Officer Middle Years of Schooling Association, Australia. More information on White and MYSA can be found here:
White reiterated much of what Poskitt had spoken about. However, her presentation was focused more on the brain and was based in Nagel’s research. White’s presentation was titled: The Adolescent Brain: what it means for learning with girls and boys.
White brought up The Rite Journey, which is something I would like to look into further.
She discussed teaching explicitly the difference between .com/.org/.govt in research, something I had not considered before – but is so straight forward.
She emphasised the fact the middle school learners enjoy humanitarian causes. They also appreciate hearing the words “me too” – it normalizes.

Further reading:

Dr. Michael Nagel: Understanding the Brain
Brene Brown: Vulnerability and Shame

The third speaker of the day was Margaret van Meeuwen, the Deputy Principal of Diocesan School for Girls in Auckland. van Meeuwen spoke about: Middle Years Curriculum Design
It was interesting hearing about another comprehensive girls’ school and the design of their curriculum. Listening allowed me to pick up on and possibly adopt some ideas for our middle school. van Meeuwen talked about having speakers come in and discuss ethical practices with the students. I wondered if this was something that we could do in regards to plagiarism. Especially given that so many students cut and paste from the internet. She also discussed timetable collapses and the pitfalls.
I also picked up on some ideas regarding deaning and a possible idea for next years EOTC. van Meeuwen discussed a task that they did with their Year 12 students, they built bicycles in groups – in order to strengthen teamwork – and then gave these bicycles away to needy families. I wondered if this was possibly something that I could do with the Year 8 students. Organise with a local bicycle company a donation of bicycles that we in turn can pass on to the City Mission as part of our Community Service.

Further reading:
Youth 12 survey

The fourth speaker, after lunch, was Dr Brian Hincho, Principal Consultant at Cognition Education. His presentation was entitled: Listening to student voices: the power of the emerging adolescent
Hincho’s presentation centered around the idea of giving students ownership of their school. Allowing students to participate in a democratic school environment allows them to feel ownership and responsibility, a pride in their environment.
Hincho provided PowerPoint notes and two interesting YouTube clips ( I cannot find the other video, but it’s on “Building Capacity for Leadership”

Further reading:
Rachel MacNae, University of Waikato.

The fifth presentation was by Adam Heath, the Principal of the Middle School at Kristin School in Auckland. We had the privilege of Heath presenting to us at school in September last year. He is a riveting presenter, humourous and informative. He is a passionate educator with great ideas.
Unfortunately for Heath a 6.6 magnitude earthquake struck at the beginning of his presentation. This caused much distraction and whilst, after having evacuated and then been told it was okay to return to the building, Heath continued with his presentation, it was difficult to concentrate given the after shocks.
Heath reiterated many of the points made and discussed the connection with students, and also allowing them to make decisions. He based his presentation on Kristin and the MYP, so this was beneficial and hit home for me.

Overall, despite the earthquake, the professional development run by the Independent Schools of New Zealand was incredibly beneficial and gave me multitudes of ideas going into this next week at school. I want to trial the fishbowl idea and work more on student led discussion. I want to trial students taking responsibility for their form class. I will continue to consider these talks and how I can implement these ideas. Watch this space to see how these trials go.