I went to the AMLE Institute for Middle Level Leadership June 19-22 in San Diego. The learning at the institute is more intentional that at a conference. The presenters are more than just practioners. They were very experienced as both administrators and teachers, and they were very good at modelling effective teaching strategies.

Throughout the institute there were big group meetings that everyone went to and small group meetings. At every small group meeting (content breakout session, open space, show and spark) I wanted to go to more sessions that I had time to.

The big group meetings focused on the characteristics of successful schools and the characteristics of young adolescents. To summarize content of This We Believe: Keys to Educating Young Adolescents we were randomly assigned groups and each group summarized information on one of the 21 (16+5) characteristics. The activity modeled jobs and choice. We were assigned groups by drawing a card from an envelope. I didn’t like my characteristic so I put it back and drew another. Our characteristic card also had a group job on it. Once we joined on groups we were given the chance to switch jobs. Examples of jobs are summarized, secretary, timekeeper, etc.

Content session 1: From Me to Me!

I learned that self-awareness is key! Effective leaders know their strengths and weakness. Review Daniel Coleman video.

Note to self: do goal setting exercise handed out in the session.

Contest session 2: Student Consumers –> Creators

Note to self: Why am I not outsourcing newsletter writing to Ss? Ss write announcements advertising whatever is going on at school (note to leadership team)

Job alike 1

I chatted with a couple teachers about the content session they went to, flipped classroom. I knew that it involved students reading and watching outside of class and working in class with the benefit that as they run into questions they have people in the room to provide immediate help. I learned that really a flipped classroom is more about interaction type. In a flipped classroom there is less teacher-to-students interaction and more student-to-student interaction and more student action. Students are active rather than passive. They have choice in how they reach lesson and unit objectives.

Right away I wasn’t sure how this would look in a language classroom. I’ll check out

Content session 3: Integrated curriculum

A-ha moment: Start little, an integrated unit could last as little as two days.

Open space session 1: School-wide recognition systems

Open space session 2: 1:1 challenges

No major thoughts here other than – technology use should be in the background, not the foreground. The activity should be awesome, engaging, and worthwhile regardless of whether there’s a device in use.

Content session 4: PBL

How can we move from traditional project model to project-based learning? Start with asking open-ended questions. Good skill in general.

Show and Spark Speed Learning

  1. Student led conferencing.
    • For fall conferences, I understand that parents want to meet face to face with their child’s new teachers. Would spring conferencing be a great time to for student led conferencing? What does a successful student led conference look like?
  2. PBIS
    • I talked to a lot of people about what their school-wide recognition programs looked like. Almost everyone was excited to share about their tangible rewards/incentives.
  3. Induction program
    • Why don’t we have one? Gail Heinemeyer has lots of resources.
  4. Staff surveys
    • Do staff have a safe space to share? I think staff surveys could help shift us away from being fearful to share our challenges. We want an environment that is supportive and promotes peer observation, feedback and growth.

Content session 5: Developing teacher leaders

The two big takeaways from this session were strategies and reflection questions. Nikki Woodson was AMAZING at modelling strategies to use in the classroom. She started the session with an activity similar to four-corners but instead of corners there was a scale of strongly agree to strongly disagree along the wall.  As she read aloud 10-12 statements, participants moved and quietly stood near their response. What I really really really liked about this was that it was a quiet activity, the discussion piece came later. After the opening activity we did some reading and annotating then we did some table talk. Then we did something similar to speed-dating but rather than mingle or turn to their partner, she had partners move their chairs and sit knee-to-knee, removing the distraction of tables and all the things on the table. Nikki read the same 10-12 statements from the opener, but this time people go to talk with their partner. Each person got 30 seconds to share and defend their response. Splitting the quiet responses and speaking responses made this a more thoughtful and less tedious set of activities.

The reflection questions were:

  • What are our middle school leadership opportunities? Read this. What opportunities do we have, need, want, or need to improve?
  • Do we offer any training for these leadership opportunities?

I want to find out what my team thinks in response to these questions.

Content session 6: Coming and Going Transitioning to and From the Middle School

We have Step Up Day a the end of the school year for the 6th graders who are rising 7th graders. This event gives them to the chance to meet their future teachers and talk to current 7th graders. What about the rest of the transition process? What else does the 7/8 team do to support the transition process? Have we ever surveyed students to find out what kind of concerns they have about the transition?

We could improve the transition from MS. A lot of the 8th graders shadow a 9th grader at one or more prospective high schools. Why not have a day when the RGS 8th graders visit RHS? This would also reduce the disruption of shadow-day absences.

End of Institute Reflection

When I was looking at the schedule, I was not excited about the last two events on the agenda. They didn’t look interesting. Little did I know…

The two big ideas I got out of the large group closing session were FOMO and recognition. What do my colleagues and I do in our classes to promote FOMO (fear of missing out)? Dru Tomlin presented an activity that asked us to tell the story of success. He also modelled an organizational strategy and a partnering strategy. Organizational strategy – he used elements of a story to help us tell our stories of success. Partnering strategy – everyone got a number (a 1 or a 2). The two stayed seated and the ones got up and sat at a table with another two.

Recognition – why do we have a K-8 awards assembly? Do the kids walk out of the room feeling awesome about the year’s accomplishments? Do the kids feel proud of their awards? What could the 7/8 team do to recognize achievement and progress in a way that promotes students’ self-reflection?

The two big ideas to come out of the small group closing session were standing for something and the fourth R. We were asked the name something we’d stand for in the coming school year. I decided to stand for inclusivity and a sense of belonging. What do we do to support new staff? How can we improve? What do we do to support new students? What can we do better, more of, or differently? Do we structure everything in a way that makes everyone feel included? How can we promote inclusivity? Once everyone shared what they plan to stand for, Gail Heinemeyer pointed out that the thing everyone plans to stand for isn’t about the three Rs (reading, writing, and arithmetic) but rather the fourth R – relationships.