Category Archives: Middle Level Education

Middle Level Education

MAMLE 2022 Keynote

Conference Keynote That’s a Terrific Middle Level 101


10-14 Year olds can be mysterious creatures. But those who have gone before us can help see the path to reaching these students.

Watch the video here!

Walking in the Footsteps of Sunshine – A keynote on the Founders and Foundations of Middle Level Education

When walking in the woods, sunshine can illuminate a path that has been taken by others, making a journey a bit easier, and offering the opportunity for you to discover what they had discovered. Let’s shed a little light on those who created the Middle Level paths for us. Now is the time to reawaken, enliven, and celebrate early lessons from Middle Level Education.

Presented at the MAMLE Conference, Oct. 7, 2022, at Thomas College.

Learn About

  • The story of Middle Level Education
  • Some of the founders of middle level education
  • The developmental characteristics of young adolescents
  • Practices that are harmonious with those characteristics
  • The impact of those practices on young adolescents
  • The detractors getting in the way of middle level education
  • What our charge, as middle level educators, is now


We’re Looking for a Wonderful Middle School Principal

Auburn Middle School

Are you looking to be the school leader of a terrific middle school, with a strong staff, who are working to implement innovative work around developmental responsiveness (see here and here), teaching and learning with technology, and customized learning? Would you like to be part of such a school that didn’t stand alone in its work, but was in a district doing strong innovative work in the same areas, and with strong, supportive leadership at the top? Do you know of another educator who would be interested in such a position?

Then please check out the Auburn Middle School Principal job posting on School Spring (use 809452 as the Job ID).

But move quickly. We are already reviewing applicants and hope to start interviewing soon.

Frankly, we’d love to find another team member, who is enthusiastic about driving and leading meaningful school change through shared leadership, might have some experience in one or more of our three innovation areas and could come up to speed on the others quickly (they aren’t trivial initiatives!), and is just plain fun to work with!

Did I mention that you’d get to work with an innovative district, making exciting progress on implementing innovative programs to help all children learn at their peak, a district that actively supports and empowers its educators in their professional learning, leadership, and educational entrepreneurship?

Learn more about Auburn Middle School or Auburn School Department. And don’t hesitate to contact me, if you have questions about the position, the school, our work, or the district.

Please share this post with your network and help us find a terrific principal for our innovative school!



Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing in Middle Level

I recently posted “Let’s Put the “Middle” Back in Middle Level” over on the Bright Futures Blog.

In it, I argued that we middle level educators are being pulled away from our core values by a lot of competing priorities and goals. I wrote:

Middle level shouldn’t be about test taking, or getting kids to put aside their cell phones or Facebook pages, or high school readiness, or work readiness. It’s not even about “hormones with feet…” First and foremost, middle level needs to be about young adolescents: what are their characteristics and what practices are harmonious with those characteristics.

And later:

And the more we get away from that being our center (no pun intended), the harder it is to teach middle level students. That includes (and is perhaps especially true for) that list of important (but supporting) goals for middle level education…

I also shared some really great resources! available for free on the AMLE website, that we can use with our teachers, school boards, and parents and communities to remind everyone about the main thing in middle level education.


It’s Your Turn:

How are you keeping the main thing the main thing in middle level education?


Put the Middle Back in Middle Level: Vote Mike for AMLE President Elect #WhyMikeAMLE12

The Association for Middle Level Education (formerly the National Middle School Association – NMSA) is a wonderful organization striving to be the go-to people for all things related to educating young adolescents.

They are currently having their annual elections for the Board of Trustees (elections opened April 5 and continue through early May).

I’m running for President Elect and hope you’ll consider voting for me.

Middle Level has been the driving force in making me the educator I am today. When I was first a teacher in the mid and late 80s, mostly I just knew that school didn’t seem to work for too many kids. Middle Level Education was my first introduction to an approach to education that really started with the learner and a hard look at the developmental characteristics of the age group.

Since then, I’ve considered my work to be being in the service of students. How could I make learning more interesting and engaging to them? How could I make school meaningful? How could I make it work for more students.

Along that journey, I’ve been a middle grades technology integrator, and part of the design team of the country’s largest middle level initiative, MLTI (the Maine Learning Technology Initaitive) which is still the only statewide learning with laptop initiative and started with every 7th and 8th Grade student and teacher in the state. I’ve been a teacher educator at the University of Maine at Farmington, and helped create their middle level education program and established the Maine Center for Meaningful Engaged Learning. My doctoral program emphasized middle level education, and my doctoral research focused on what motivates underachieving middle school students, producing a model that is now a state-approved School Improvement Model in Louisiana. I’ve been an educational developer, creating programs designed to motivate students. And I’ve served my state and national middle level associations, being a Board member and President of the Maine Association for Middle Level Education (MAMLE), and a Research Advisory Board member and an East Region Trustee for NMSA/AMLE. (Learn more about my contributions to middle level)

I’m ready now to leverage my experience to help put the Middle firmly back into NMSA/AMLE.

Please vote Mike for AMLE ’12!

Tell why you’d vote for Mike at

Or Post it to Twitter with the hash tag #WhyMikeAMLE12


Is Middle School All About Grade Configuration?

There is a new study out which concludes that students take an academic plunge when they go to a 6-8 school rather than a k-8 school. The article is called The Middle Level Plunge.

At first glance, it seems to be a reasonably well designed study comparing student performance in a 6-8 school to those in a k-8 school (the old grade configuration dilemma!). Their fallacy is in essentially equating the 6-8 grade configuration to “middle schooling,” and actually say “Our results cast serious doubt on the wisdom of the middle-school experiment that has become such a prominent feature of American education.”

Here is the response that I posted as a comment on their article:

Thanks for adding to the research on the impact of school grade configuration. I especially appreciate that you didn’t just study the grade configurations, but also tried to control for various explanations, including teacher experience, school characteristics, and educational practices. You have defined each of these clearly in your article.

I am concerned, however, with your using the term “middle school” to mean the 6-8 configuration schools. You are clear that this is your definition in the article, but in middle level education circles, the term means something very different, and I fear your conclusions about 6-8 grade configuration will be misinterpreted as conclusions about middle school practices. Readers should be able to make their own distinctions, especially when the writing is clear, as your article is, but you and I both know that in our “sound bite lives” there are too many people who will see the words “middle school” and think that your definition is the same as my definition.

For middle level educators, “middle school” is essentially a set of developmentally appropriate educational practices applied in the middle level grades (generally considered grades 5-8), without regard to the grade configuration of the school housing those grades. Readers may find helpful the numerous resources available on the Association for Middle Level Education website (

Further, the school characteristics and educational practices you examine are not those that define middle school practices. I would have looked for the characteristics defined in AMLE’s This We Believe (, or the Turning Points 2000 recommendations (

Again, I am not criticizing your study or the clarity of your writing, but simply sharing the unfortunate possibility of confusion for school decision makers trying to make informed (especially research informed) decisions based on your article and the use of the term “middle school.”

Perhaps, I could invite you to refer to the schools in your study as “6-8 schools,” instead of “middle schools.”

So, my big objection is defining “middle school” as a grade configuration, and seeming to conclude that “the middle school experiment has failed” and the possibility that decision makers will interpret this as if it were our definition of middle school…

I want to be clear, though. It is right and proper for researchers to select a term, define it, and use it in their article as they define it. It is expected that the reader will read such an article closely and critically. The authors of this study have done nothing wrong. Could it have been better (more clear to a wider audience) if they had done it differently? Yes.

But it is also right and proper for a reader to add their critique (politely and professionally) to the conversation though avenues such as comments on posts.

(For those of you exploring the Lead4Change model, this is a Branding and Buzz issue. Situations like these go directly to the issue of public perception of our initiatives and what role we play in communicating our vision. It is on us to try to correct misperceptions and to work toward the integrity of models we subscribe to.)


It’s Your Turn:

Are you a middle level educator or advocate? What are your thoughts about this study? I often ask you to post your comments here, but perhaps this time, you could post your comments on their article. And maybe you’d pass the word to your circle of middle grades contacts and they could comment, too…


Secretary Duncan Comes Out In Support of Middle Level Education

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is the opening keynote for the Association of Middle Level Education’s NMSA Annual Conference. He split his time between prepared comments and a Q&A session where two 8th Graders and the AMLE President, Nancy Poliseno (who is also an 8th Grade teacher) asked him tough questions about supporting middle level education.

The big surprise for me was the Secretary’s explicit comments that the USDE has historically ignored the importance of middle level education, and that they are working to change that.

I believe another of his comments was historic. Secretary Duncan said he was “disappointed” in recent survey results that showed that less than half of middle schools had advisory programs. (Yes! The inference is that he sees advisory as a critical component for reaching academic success with students!)

Technology to Improve Learning: Strategies for Middle Level Leaders

What should middle level school leaders know about technology? What should middle level leaders do to provide the leadership necessary for effective learning with technology in their school?

When you look out among all your students, you certainly see that tech is an everyday part of their lives. It’s probably an everyday part of your life, too. But figuring out where tech fits in school may be a little more allusive:

  • It seems to be a distraction. Should we ban it?
  • Kids seem to like it. Can we use it as a motivator?
  • If we invest in technology, how do we make sure we get the most our of our investment?
  • We’ve bought technology, but we’ve got a lot of damage. Now what?

Actually, effective leadership is everything when it comes to technology in schools. It is no surprise that technology in schools is neither good nor bad, although there are approaches and strategies to integrating technology into the school that prove productive and those that are counter-productive. The school leader’s effectiveness will depend on how well she understands technology’s role and potential impact on learning, and how to lead and support working toward that potential.

Tomorrow, you’ll have the opportunity to learn more, if you’re attending the Association for Middle Level Education’s conference.

You can attend the featured Technology session (Thursday, 200p-315p in the Cascade Ballroom A (Convention Center)). At this session, I will describe specific strategies needed to lead for large scale school change such as integrating technology, including leading with a focus on teaching and learning and how to support learning with technology through infrastructure considerations, professional development, and much more.

Learn more about the Lead4Change Model here. Some of the early work that led to this model was published in the AMLE book Technology to Improve Learning: Strategies for Middle Level Leaders.

What do you see as critical strategies for school leaders if you want to successfully integrate technology for learning?