Highlights of Exemplary Practices Aligned with the 18 Characteristics of Successful Middle Schools
Characteristic #3: Every student’s academic and personal development is guided by an adult advocate
For the first 16 minutes of each school day, advisory classes take place. This time allows for the promotion of an inclusive environment throughout Douglas Middle School (DMS). Through the school’s MTSS model, students who need a tier 2 support for certain lagging skills attend advocacy during this time where they focus on individual skill building with their adult advisor until their advocacy goal(s) are reached and they move back to advisory.
When DMS first adopted the advisory/advocacy model, staff were trained by attending T.A.G. (Teacher Advisory Groups) which allowed them to experience and learn the structure they are charged with implementing through advisory. Now, professional development in the advisory model is ongoing for all educators. DMS also uses advisory classes inside a school-wide house system with students in an advisory all belonging to the same house. This allows house meetings, house events, and school-wide celebrations to all be ran through advisory groups.
Characteristic #18: Organizational structures foster purposeful learning and meaningful relationships.
The school’s schedule supplies large blocks of class time (80 minutes) where valuable learning experiences can take place. High leverage practices built around John Hattie’s effect sizes and the use of active learning, student voice and choice, and exploratory activities take place in all core and essential classrooms.
Teaming and PLCs
Block scheduling also allows for ample time for collaboration amongst teachers. Teachers meet both horizontally (daily for 80- minutes) and vertically (every other week for 50 minutes). This time allows PLC processes and vertical alignment to take place. Teachers collaborate district-wide (K-12) to define the CCSD1 guaranteed and viable curriculum and in teams at DMS to define the level of proficiency. Proficiency scales have been created by teams in all content areas which are used with students to provide clarity. DMS has adopted a standards-based grading system and uses a PLC collaboration model to track performance data through varied and on-going assessments aligned to scales to provide powerful instructional responses. Outside of tier 1 instructional responses, DMS also has dedicated time within the schedule for tier 2 acceleration and enrichment courses taught by content area teachers, and a twice a week teacher placed W.I.N. (What I Need block for re-do, re-take, and additional learning opportunities).
Characteristic #8: Educators are specifically prepared to teach young adolescents and possess a depth of understanding in the content areas they teach; and Characteristic #17: Professional learning for all staff is relevant, long term, and job embedded.
Job-Embedded Professional Development
Over half of the educators at DMS have advanced degrees. Job embedded professional learning for both classified and certified staff allows for continued growth around high leverage instructional practices as well as middle school best practices to ensure teachers and staff are both competent and sensitive to the needs of young adolescents. The school has a guiding coalition which allows for shared leadership and helps the school align to the shared vision by planning, implementing, and tracking continuous improvement efforts.
Characteristic #9: Curriculum is challenging, exploratory, integrative, and diverse.
Robust Exploratory Opportunities
In addition to core content courses, essential course offerings at DMS allow for students to take part in eight exploratory courses a year in the following areas of fine arts, performing arts, STEM, wood shop, metal shop, and physical education. Students have opportunities to take photography, piano, theatre, jazz band, welding, project design, coding, canoeing, and many other courses that have career value and can lead to healthy recreational pursuits that can carry over into adulthood. Twice a year, students also take part in mini course week which allows teachers to conduct passion projects and students to have additional opportunities. Mini course offerings in the past have included choices such as Dungeons and Dragons/strategy games, environmental improvement and upcycling found items, nature walks, fishing at the river, nature drawing, archery, and virtual reality field trips.
Characteristic #5: Comprehensive counseling and support services meet the needs of young adolescents.
Counseling services at DMS focus on academic, emotional, and social needs of students. All students have access to two building counselors to talk individually at times of critical need. Counselors are part of the building wide RTI team that includes administrators, the school nurse, the district psychologist, and the special education case manager. This team works with each of the four building teams to support students in a multi-tiered system of supports which is available to all students as needed.
In the 22-23 school year, the DMS counseling team is rolling out a family informational series of evening classes that will run opposite the DMS family engagement series of events. The family information series will us the AMLE publication Middle School Matters by Phyllis Fagell to provide DMS families with tools to navigate and make the most of the middle school years.