Jonathan Ezell is the Vice President at Randolph-Macon Academy. He previously served as the Upper School Dean, Middle School Principal, and a teacher.
As adults we can look back and see our own middle school experience when the transition from elementary school naiveté and young adult self-assurance (however misplaced), was the awkward stage in development of being neither fish nor fowl. The middle schooler requires a place of refuge to grow into the future adult.
All children, but middle school children especially, learn and thrive when a community is dedicated to working together to create an environment of curiosity. It takes a community with like interests, a shared vision, and a pooling of resources to support a school’s mission to educate our young. With energy, vision, and resources as a foundation, leaders can lead and teachers can teach. Large, one-size fits all education is anathema to a middle school child’s intellectual and emotional development.
Every child is born curious. The school community’s mission, therefore, must be to nurture, guide, and stimulate each child’s natural curiosity. The middle school child is different than the elementary school child and the budding adult in secondary school and deserves to develop differently. Too often a school thwarts curiosity. A school fails so far as it creates a culture of fear, shame, and dread. A school succeeds to the extent it creates a culture of courage, pride, and joy in learning, exploring, and pursuing one’s curiosity.
Caring teachers and administrators are essential for success of the middle school child. To that end we all must realize that there can never be any more enthusiasm in a classroom for the subject and the love of learning for learning’s sake than that effusing from the teacher. Therefore, the middle school teacher must be exceptional: he or she must begin with the passion, enthusiasm, and high expectations for each individual student. And a school community must support its teachers just as it supports its students, instilling courage, pride, and the joy of learning together.
For every middle school student there must be a teacher who cares, understands, connects, and inspires. The environment and culture created by caring teachers enriches students’ lives by making it important and safe to learn, thereby creating a community of learners. Imagine the opposite and it becomes clear. No student can be motivated to learn if the teacher is dull, uncaring, and ignorant. No school can thrive when teachers lack curiosity and are bored by their subject. No community can grow if it is a mere collection of individuals without a common purpose, mission, or vision. Therefore, hiring the best, retaining the best, and developing the best teachers is the mission for the leadership of a great middle school.
In the end, a community defines itself by its dedication to its children’s education. To successfully educate a child it takes a community’s commitment to work together to nurture, support, and stimulate educators.