Highlights of Exemplary Practices Aligned with the 18 Characteristics of Successful Middle Schools
Characteristic #1: Educators respect and value young adolescents.
The staff of Mattawan Middle School values relationships with students above all, and all they do reflects that philosophy. They work to establish genuine connections with all their students, provide multiple and frequent opportunities to listen to student feedback and adjust to the needs expressed by the students. These needs may involve providing snacks when students are hungry; extracurricular activities to help students feel connected or creating student-focused classrooms and curriculum. The school ensures that what the students receive is culturally responsive. They provide myriad opportunities for peer interactions and activities of interest to the students. A variety of interscholastic sports are available for those interested; there is a Science Olympiad Program, a Mathcounts Team, a Conservation Club, Beekeeping Club, a Robotics team, as well as student advisory groups. As student needs change, so to do some of these opportunities. They also help students recognize the nature of young adolescents. In the 7th and 8th grade students take an Exploring Adolescence Class, which allows them to learn about themselves, their nature and identities, and provides an opportunity for career exploration. The school recognizes the often turbulent nature of adolescence and these programs help students recognize and navigate through the middle years. The school also provides dedicated spaces within the building to provide students with strategies for building and repairing relationships with others, both peers and adults.
Characteristic #11: Instruction fosters learning that is active, purposeful, and democratic.
Mattawan Middle School engages in project-based learning so students are actively engaged and can see real-world connections between content and community. Examples include a Hometown Hero Documentary Project, a Veterans Day unit, and an Asian Gala, which is an interdisciplinary cultural unit. While working on these projects, teachers facilitate students’ soft skills such as time management, personal responsibility, collaboration with peers, self-reflection, and revision. These projects focus on enabling students to contribute positively to the world around them and culminate in celebrations that include the wider community. Choice is honored throughout the curriculum, so students frequently are empowered to explore their curiosities and passions within each subject area. Hands-on learning and workshop models put students at the center of their learning and provide for strategies that honor diverse learning styles. Teachers often assume a facilitative role in the classroom via mini lessons and independent or collaborative work time. The school has a tiered system of interventions to ensure that all learners are supported academically. Additional intervention courses are provided, such as Math and ELA Essentials. Classes across the building differentiate teaching and learning so that all students have an opportunity for growth.
Characteristic #13: A shared vision developed by all stakeholders guides every decision.
Mattawan Middle School has a shared vision that focuses on what is most important in the lives of their students – relationships. Every implementation or decision is measured against the best practices of CATS, an acronym developed by the school: Connectedness, Academic rigor and relevance, Trust and respect, and Safety. All decisions made are measured against those four attributes, with the goal of doing what is best for students. The structure of the school, and the pervasiveness of a collaborative culture encourages individuals to grow their own individual leadership capacity. To be fair and unbiased, the leadership team has developed protocols to facilitate respectful, student-led problem solving. Leadership in the school firmly believes that everyone has an opportunity to contribute and be a leader.
Characteristic #17: Professional learning for all staff is relevant, long term, and job embedded.
Mattawan Middle School has diverse professional development opportunities for staff members. Capturing Kids Hearts provides training to meet the socioeconomic needs of students and relates to the school vision of relationships above all else. Faculty is encouraged to attend relevant professional state conferences. Technology and literacy practices are addressed through professional development. MTSS training was provided by an adjoining district so Mattawan could implement the framework within their curriculum. Teachers are encouraged to offer workshops and sessions as a part of school professional development. Examples include the DEI team (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion), as well as the school psychologist, social worker, and the Capturing Kids Hearts Fidelity Team. In addition to schoolwide opportunities, PLC’s are embedded in the school calendar to ensure time for content specific initiatives. Teachers implement the Universal Design for Learning principles within classrooms and frequently utilize universal accommodations so that all students can meet high expectations.
Characteristic #18: Organizational structures foster purposeful learning and meaningful relationships.
Mattawan Middle School, which serves approximately 850 students, has created smaller learning communities within the school through interdisciplinary teaming. Each grade level contains two teams of five teachers each who have common collaborative time to focus on students ‘academic and social and emotional needs. These teams and schedules enable teachers to integrate subject matter into student-centered learning opportunities. Common planning time allows teachers on the same team to create purposeful learning and meaningful relationships among students and teachers. All 7th and 8th graders participate in a semester of Spanish and a semester of Informational Literacy. The school also offers a variety of exploratory classes that provide students with opportunities to discover different interests and skills of their choice. Teachers on the teams have daily common planning time that allows for collaboration on curriculum, reviewing data, examining teaching practices as well as connecting with students. PLC’s provide opportunities for teachers in content areas to meet to plan for instruction.