It’s hard to be a middle school student. On the one hand there’s the turmoil of adolescence, on the other hand social connectedness has never felt so important. Though middle school students are much more independent and capable, they still need adult role models to help them make good choices and understand who they are in the world. Research shows that just one positive adult role model can make a huge difference in a young person’s life.
Here are six ways any teacher can be a positive role model for middle school students:
1. Invite middle school students into a social group.
Social connectedness is a critical component of feeling confident and respected. Create a group specially designed to connect kids’ interests, for instance around science fiction fandom or a love of animals. Help them find ways to connect to each other during school and outside school.
2. Help kids identify what they value.
We’ve become a culture that seems afraid to discuss values, but teaching values doesn’t have to mean telling students what to value, but rather helping them to discover and articulate their own values. Focusing on values can also help students maintain self-control—an important skill that helps students face many of the challenges in middle school. The more kids talk about what they value, the better they get at making the right choices for themselves.
3. Encourage a growth mindset.
A mindset is a person’s beliefs about whether his or her abilities or characteristics stay the same no matter what or can change with learning. When an adult uses words like “You’re good, but what can you do to get better?” the world of possibilities opens up for a middle schooler. With a growth mindset, kids begin to understand that nothing is forever.
4. Use daily occurrences to weave emotion management strategies into classroom talk.
The stress level of middle schoolers is higher than ever. Some might even say it’s very close to adult stress, but without the ability to control much of their lives. Teaching kids how to label and deal with their emotions will help them manage them. Make use of your school counselors, who may already be working with students using excellent, consistent language like that used in the new Second Step middle school program.
5. Develop community service projects designed to teach empathy.
Learning about empathy early on in life is critical to becoming a well-balanced citizen as an adult. In the elementary years, volunteering provides empathy for individual people. However, middle schoolers are emotionally developed enough to begin learning how to empathize with community members and groups. If you teach them to organize and implement a community project, they begin to see in an authentic way how connected we all are.
6. Ask students how they plan to implement their goals.
“Although goal setting by itself is important, simply setting a goal often does not include specifying what action will lead toward the goal, or when, where, and how that action should be done” (Second Step Middle School Review of Research, 2017). When middle school students learn that you have to make a plan for achieving the goals you set, they begin to see a life roadmap. This is dramatically different in that they will begin to focus on actions and make room for change and flexibility.