Students should be running their middle schools.  If visions of zoo keepers opening all the cages and setting wild animals free or prison inmates busting out of their cells comes to mind, then maybe the idea of a student-centric middle school might be a tough concept to wrap your head around. What if student leaders ran morning meetings and organized team-building activities?  What if students approved iPad apps and personal device usage policies in committees? How about club leadership? Students who are empowered to become working parts of a school create a much healthier and happier middle school environment for all.

When students and faculty work side-by-side to make decisions about the middle school, great things can happen.

When students and faculty work side-by-side to make decisions about their middle school, great things can happen.

One key way middle school students can create a sense of ownership in a middle school is by becoming leaders of club programs. Having choice as part of a middle school schedule is always good for student growth, and when students become the leaders of these clubs, both teachers and students benefit from that relationship. Traditional middle school club structure usually involves a large degree of organization and planning by the faculty member in charge. Giving the students the opportunity to pitch a club idea, to find and recruit students interesting in joining, and then leading the clubs, helps students understand key concepts such as organization, thinking on their feet, and conflict resolution. Teacher advisers can not only learn something about hidden strengths and what their students are interested in, but student leaders can learn valuable time and crowd management skills from veteran faculty who guide them along the way.  Who knew Johnny knew over 100 magic tricks and was able to teach his club members how to do them all? Who would have expected quiet Jenny to perk up when leading a book talk about her favorite book series?

Clubs allow students to take the lead in creation, organization, and goals of the group.

Clubs allow students to take the lead in creation, organization, and goals of the group.

Every middle school on the planet has students who challenge the rules and decisions made on their behalf. It’s in middle school student DNA. A great way to bring students on-board and feel like a valuable part of a middle school is by allowing them to be part of committees. Student perspective can be incredibly valuable, and letting students hear the rationale behind school decisions and choices can be eye-opening to these students. Where in the building can students go during recess? What kind of clothing can be worn during Spirit Week and school dances? A middle school student body is able to swallow limitations and keep up morale when they know they had fellow students advocating for them in the mix during the decision-making process.

Student faculty relationships improve when students feel part of decision-making and creative process.

Student faculty relationships improve when students feel part of decision-making and creative process.

Middle school is a time when many students are trying to find their identity and individuality. Letting students run a middle school doesn’t mean faculty should just pack up and head home after teaching a class or two, leaving their students to tackle the logistics of the school day. When students are empowered to lead their middle school outside of the classroom, not only do students become stronger leaders, but they develop a sense of ownership and community within the classroom. Simply put, they are happier people who begin to connect differently to the faculty who enjoy and work with them eight hours a day, five days a week. The end goal is that their evolving identities develop into that of student leaders, fellow collaborators, and meaningful contributors.

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About Tina Duver

Tina Duver is the Dean of Middle School Students at Allendale Columbia School in Rochester, New York. She is the 6th and 8th Grade Science Teacher and coach of the First Lego League team and U.S. Department of Energy Science Bowl team.

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