Highlights of Exemplary Practices Aligned with the 18 Characteristics of Successful Middle Schools
Characteristic #13: A shared vision developed by all stakeholders guides every decision
E.A.R.R. Philosophy of Education
There is no single attribute, nor program that sets any school apart as a School of Distinction. Rather it is a conglomerate of programs, practices, and policies that tie together into a singular educational philosophy that create a learning environment that includes the essential attributes and characteristics of a successful middle school. At Smart’s Mill Middle School we focus on the needs of each individual student in a holistic way. We strive to be continually listening to our students to ensure that we are providing them with a challenging, empowering, equitable, engaging, and developmentally responsive educational environment.
This is all possible through our philosophy of education that we call, “E.A.R.R.” E.A.R.R. is an acronym that stands for:
- Rigor, and
Characteristic #2: The school environment is welcoming, inclusive, and affirming for all
The E of E.A.R.R.: Engagement
From the moment you step in the door at Smart’s there is an energy that permeates the building. The halls are filled with pictures of students, teachers and families. The classrooms are warm and welcoming. The lessons are created in a collaborative manner to enhance student activity and engagement. The schedule is created to allow for brain breaks and extension opportunities for all students, and all students are placed into inclusive heterogeneous settings in all subject areas. We annually utilize student led conferences to build portfolios of student work and to strengthen the goal setting for all students.
Characteristic #8: Educators are specifically prepared to teach young adolescents and possess a depth of understanding in the content areas they teach.
The A of E.A.R.R.: Authenticity
Authenticity refers to the personality and demeanor of the staff as well as the authenticity of the curriculum. At Smart’s Mill we integrate project-based learning and performance assessments to increase the authenticity of our assessments. The staff regularly uses simulations and real-life examples to augment their instruction. However, the “A” in E.A.R.R. is most closely related to the authenticity of the character and demeanor of the educators in our building. Students at the middle are keenly aware of our staff’s dedication to their profession, their curriculum, and their students. We hire to ensure that our staff are passionate about all facets of their job. Students can sense when a teacher is not motivated about teaching adolescents and/or the curriculum that they teach. Without this authenticity of character student engagement is lost.
Characteristic #9: Curriculum is challenging, exploratory, integrative, and diverse
Characteristic #11: Instruction fosters learning that is active purposeful, and democratic.
The first R of E.A.R.R.: Rigor
Rigor is also an integral part to the educational philosophy at Smart’s Mill. There is not greater travesty than low expectations for learners. This is why we focus on maintaining a rigorous environment for all students. All of our classrooms are heterogeneously grouped. Inclusion is the norm. Staff are trained and focused on using frequent formative assessments to gauge student learning and to drive instructional practice. Flexible groupings are widely utilized throughout the school, and over 80% of all our core classes are co-taught. The stakeholders meet frequently in their content learning teams to discuss the curriculum, instruction, pacing, and assessment. This content planning time allows staff to focus on what needs to be learned, how do we know that the students learned the content, what we do when they need further support, and what we do when they need extension.
Characteristic #3: Every student’s academic and personal development is guided by an adult advocate.
The second R of E.A.R.R.: Relationships
Relationships are important to a vibrant instructional environment. At Smart’s Mill we integrate opportunities into our master schedule to build the relationships between teacher and student. We have an advisory block each day. Each week we extend that advisory block to allow for on-site clubs and a PBL that focuses on supporting the community. Each week interdisciplinary teams week on the opposite day of the content learning team. We routinely use restorative practice techniques. We also include programs to increase the bond between the school and families from other countries. We have created affinity groups, student after-school activities and utilize a MTSS to support all students and build the relationships that they have with the school and with their leaders. At Smart’s Mill we integrate the E.A.R.R. philosophy into all aspects of the school experience. It drives us to be continually reflective and improving. It reminds us daily to listen first so that we can create an engaging, authentic, rigorous environment that puts value into the relationships that are created include programs to increase the bond between the school and families from other countries. We have created affinity groups, student after-school activities and utilize a MTSS to support all students and build the relationship that they have with the school and with their teachers.
At Smart’s Mill we integrate the E.A.R.R. philosophy into all aspects of the school experience. It drives us to be continually reflective and improving. It reminds us daily to listen first so that we can create an engaging, authentic, rigorous environment that puts value into the relationships that are created.