including a finite window for being on
probation for the infraction.
Moreover, if students struggle to
control impulsive behaviors, such as
making inappropriate noises, sending
text messages during a lesson, or
making snide remarks, these behaviors
should not affect their grade for content
knowledge. Being rude is not mentioned
in the curricular objective “Understands
oxidation.” Academic grades should
only report what’s in the curriculum.
When teachers can separate impulsive,
immature behavior from academics,
there’s hope for students.
Louis Pasteur reminds us that “chance
favors the prepared mind.” We can
prepare our students’ minds for every
success by being both proactive—for
example, by focusing on experiential
learning—and interactive, for example,
by offering team-building experiences.
We create a real future on the basis
of what we do with today’s young
adolescents, not what we do to them.
Working together, we build
personalized tools for safe passage. EL
1Balfanz, R. (2009). Putting middle grades
students on the graduation path: A policy and
practice brief. Westerville, OH: National
Middle School Association. Retrieved from
2Wolfe, P. (2010). Brain matters: Translating research into classroom practice (2nd
ed.). Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Rick Wormeli is a national education
consultant and veteran educator whose
classroom practice is showcased in
the DVD At Work in the Differentiated
Classroom (ASCD, 2001). He is the
author of Summarization in Any Subject:
50 Techniques to Improve Student
Learning (ASCD, 2004). His most recent
book is Metaphor and Analogies: Power
Tools for Teaching Any Subject (
Sten-house, 2009); email@example.com.
Tips for Great Transitions
l Invite incoming students to begin school a half or full day earlier
than returning students. On these days, students can get their schedules and
lockers, move from class to class, meet their teachers, experience a short lesson
in each subject, get a list of supplies from each teacher, get their school server
accounts, purchase items with school logos, and practice opening and closing their
lockers—without having to worry about getting hassled by an older student or
arriving late for class. Incoming students will start school knowing at least some of
l If your middle school asks students to use lockers, take a locker
door with a combination lock to feeder elementary schools in the last few months
of school. Let students practice opening and closing the lock as much as they want
for at least a week. This activity ranks as one of the most helpful experiences in
l Ask elementary teachers to forward to middle school staff, if
possible, observations and comments regarding every student they teach.
Make it manageable—a single page or less. Comments can include students’
strengths, motivators, family factors that affect learning, potential issues, and
anything else that might be helpful.
l Send a letter of congratulations to all rising middle schoolers on their
last day of elementary school. J. F. Drake Middle School in Auburn, Alabama, does
this every year. The letters are addressed directly to each child and include students’ team assignments and the dates of their Drake Summer Camp session, a
transition program for both students and parents held during the summer.
l Have your leadership team visit with students in their elementary
schools the year before the students enter middle school. Retired principal Patti
Kinney of Talent Middle School in Talent, Oregon, notes that 5th graders pose
concerns freely during these sessions, such as, “My sister says that when she was
in middle school there was [insert distorted rumor here].” These sessions can clear
up inaccuracies and help students see administrators as accessible and supportive.
A similar program in the evening for parents is just as important. Rising middle
schoolers at Talent Middle School are also invited to major middle school events.
l Invite elementary and middle school teachers to switch jobs
for a day. Each gets a sense of how the other school works in terms of daily
operations, content, and both student and teacher expectations. This information
not only will be of value to teachers as they work with their own students, but it
will also help them provide clearer advice about transitioning to parents.
l Repeatedly connect with parents. Send the middle school newsletter
home to parents of rising middle schoolers. Invite new parents to serve on
school committees, and provide clear lists of volunteer opportunities. Meet with
new parents the year before their children enter middle school and periodically
throughout the first year.
l Have all staff members wear “Ask Me” badges for the first two
weeks of school. The badges nudge students to ask questions from safe and
accurate sources of information.
l Include healthy doses of humor. Humor lowers stress and creates
camaraderie. Students need license to laugh at themselves and life.