Highlights of Exemplary Practices Aligned with the 18 Characteristics of Successful Middle Schools
Characteristic #2: The school environment is welcoming, inclusive, and affirming for all.
Gilbert Middle School utilizes various strategies and programs to ensure that all students feel welcomed and valued in the school. Advisors spend the first few weeks of school interviewing each of their students individually to learn more about them as students and as young adolescents. School leadership eats lunch in the cafeteria with students once a week to engage with them and learn what is and is not working in the school. A “virtual” suggestion box, accessed by students through a QR code, provides anonymity for students as they express concerns and provide suggestions for ways in which they feel their school can be improved. Recess is unique to Gilbert Middle and provides opportunities for students to relax and interact in unstructured ways with their peers. All students are encouraged to become part of clubs and other activities designed to enable them to become a more active participant in the life of the school.
Characteristic #10: Health, wellness, and social-emotional competence are supported in curricula, school-wide programs, and related policies.
Gilbert Middle School has made health and wellness a priority for their school. Each grade level has core instruction around emotional literacy, mindfulness, and mental health topics, including coping skills. Recess occurs at all three grade levels to honor the need for unstructured social time, fresh air, and social-emotional health. There are monthly wellness challenges to encourage and support stronger mental, physical, and social health. In addition to school-sponsored sports, students can compete in grade level or building-wide competitions in flag football, dodgeball, badminton, pickleball, or 3-on-3 basketball.
Characteristic #12: Varied and ongoing assessments advance learning as well as measure it.
Gilbert Middle School teachers meet as vertical 6-8 teams to discuss and align standards and assessments. They also work collaboratively to examine various proficiency scales based on student work. In addition, they meet as grade-level teams to look at achievement data and achievement-related data such as attendance and office referrals. This helps teachers understand the individual needs of their students so they can address them. The school has been labeled by the state of Iowa as high performing in their proficiency ratings in both reading and math as well as social and emotional factors. Their multi-tiered system of supports to help students in foundational skills around vocabulary, reading fluency, reading comprehension, and mathematics provides students identified through formative and summative assessments with opportunities to receive directed instruction.
Characteristic #15: Leaders are committed to and knowledgeable about young adolescents.
Gilbert Middle School has always been centered on principles of effective middle schools. It now is one of the top-rated middle schools in Iowa. School leaders have provided multiple opportunities for their staff to attend conferences and workshops dedicated to the middle grades. AMLE was the first connection to a national association dedicated to the middle grades, and since that time the school has been actively involved in the programs provided by the association. Prior to the publication of The Successful Middle School: This We Believe, the school did a book study of This We Believe in Action, which served as a model when developing and creating the structures and systems for the school. The relationship they have developed with AMLE has continued to ground all staff in best practices for the middle grades. In addition, the school is now in its second year of a three-year focus on brain-based instructional strategies supported by cognitive science. This three-year initiative is centered around appropriate instructional strategies appropriate for middle schoolers. The collaborative culture of school leadership encourages teachers, staff, and the larger school community to provide input into all aspects of the school.
Characteristic #17: Professional learning for all staff is relevant, long term, and job-embedded.
Gilbert Middle School engages in Professional Development that is initiated by the district but expands to include school specific objectives every year. Currently the focus at the school level is the science of learning. Last year teachers spent time investigating and exploring effective instructional strategies as identified through cognitive science research. This included strategies such as retrieval practice, dual-coding, spaced practice, elaboration, and metacognition. This year they are involved in a book study of Learning That Sticks: A Brain-Based Model for K-12 Instructional Design and Delivery. The book identifies teaching strategies based on cognitive science research and brings them together into a framework for classroom instruction. Teacher discussions and reflection are enabling them to identify strategies they already use and how they might incorporate new ones into instruction. The next year of this three-year initiative will allow staff to work in content-alike teams to design units that embed the strategies they are learning now within their curriculum in age-appropriate ways. Additional professional development initiatives involve work on aligning standards, rubrics, and proficiency scales as 6-8 vertical teams, as well as PLCs dedicated to analyzing student achievement and achievement-related data to better inform practice.