By Rebecca Honig, chief content officer
Words cannot express how excited I am to offer our middle school family engagement curriculum. When I talk about it, I literally burst out of my seat. I got so animated explaining the program last week that I knocked a glass of water onto my desk. I nearly lost a computer and a half dozen books on adolescent development to water damage.
Needless to say, I have big feelings about middle school and they are all GOOD. (That’s a statement I bet you’ve never heard before!)
In all seriousness, developing this curriculum has been a career highlight. And there are so many reasons why. If you missed it this fall, check out this post on why middle school family engagement is so important that we made it our #1 priority this year.
Now, with no further ado, it’s my honor to share the details of our middle school curriculum, aligned to the Dual Capacity-Building Framework for Home-School Partnerships.
Middle School Family Engagement, Made Easy
Domain 1: Academic Support
SNAPSHOT: The Academic Supports domain offers parents research-based, developmentally appropriate strategies for supporting their child’s learning. It guides parents in helping their children reach grade level expectations in Math, Literacy, Science and Social Studies.
We all want parents to support learning throughout all phases of development. Research shows that parents need to do it differently in middle school and beyond. In elementary school, children benefited greatly from direct skill and standards-based support.
This is not the case in middle school. Studies have found that parental involvement in homework directly can actually interfere with achievement (Cooper, 1989, 2007; Wolf, 1979).
Given this, what is the solution? Academic Socialization.
According to research, this is one of the best ways for parents and caregivers to support middle schoolers’ overall academic performance. Nancy Hill and Diana Tyson unpack this in their article on middle school family engagement. Academic socialization means that parents and caregivers:
- Communicate expectations for achievement
- Show that education is valued
- Work with adolescents to determine their occupational and educational aspirations
- Discuss learning strategies
- Make plans and preparations for the future
- Link school subjects with their adolescent’s interests and goals
That’s why we give families strategies to help kids navigate homework independently and study effectively. You’ll also find tips for helping kids advocate when they have questions, to develop a growth mindset. And, the curriculum guides parents in making connections between kids’ passions and learning in school.
Domain 2: Social and Emotional Learning (SEL)
SNAPSHOT: The SEL domain aims to increase student success by promoting research-based social and emotional competencies. These lead to middle schoolers building independence, a positive sense of self, emotional regulation and critical relationship skills.
Social and emotional skills are critical in middle school, a key component to success both in and out of school. Recent research shows that adolescents are driven towards five areas of learning and growth. And, they all fall within the SEL domain:
- integrate with peers
- take risks and have new experiences
- learn using emotion, so-called ‘heartfelt goals’
- work out self-identity,
- and gain autonomy and independence.
Psychologists often sum these drivers up in a single phrase: “I want to belong but I need to stand out at the same time”.
Considering these key drivers, adolescents are often less interested in parental involvement. They are less likely to open up to parents about issues related to social and emotional health and well-being. Parents see their children’s growing independence as a signal to “step back.” In turn, children are left to manage many critical decisions, relationships, and emotions.
And yet, adolescence is a time when parental support is critically important. Kids need parents to support their social and emotional development. Research tells us that teens are uniquely vulnerable to mental health challenges.
Many mental health disorders can appear for the first time during adolescence. These include schizophrenia, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and eating disorders.
As is the case with academic learning, parents need “just right” activities for supporting social emotional skills in middle school adolescence. As one ParentPowered partner explained: “Parents need ways to help [kids] with that transition to independence while letting them know ‘I’m here for you’.”
These strategies are nested within our SEL domain. The messages offer parents everyday things they can do to foster open communication. Parents receive tools to help support their adolescent as they navigate independence, new responsibilities, relationships and powerful emotions.
Want to give your middle school families the support they need to help students thrive?
Connect with us to learn how ParentPowered family engagement curricula can help.
Domain 3: Home-School Partnership
SNAPSHOT: Home-School Partnerships help build trusting and reciprocal relationships between home and school. These partnerships give families everyday ways to navigate middle school, communicate with educators, support attendance and advocate for child’s needs.
Current research in family engagement has shifted the model from participation to partnership. Dr. Karen Mapp, author and creator of the Dual Capacity Framework for Family School Partnerships, recently published a revised version of the Framework. This new version places trusted relationships at the top. She did this to show that trusting home-school relationships are “key for any other partnership work to actually take place.”
But, the middle school context can make this partnership exceptionally hard. During our listening sessions, we heard time and time again that middle school parents are unsure how to be involved.
This makes it exceedingly difficult to establish the kind of trusting relationships outlined in the Dual Capacity-Building Framework. There need to be points of entry into what is happening within the school. There has to be open and reciprocal communication between parents and teachers.
And that’s where this domain comes in. Developing home-school partnerships means orienting families around how middle school works, how to access information, how to establish relationships with educators, and how to have a voice within the school community.
Domain 4: Approaches to Parenting
SNAPSHOT: In the Approaches to Parenting Domain, we arm parents with information, self-care strategies and reflective practices. This helps them to understand, navigate, leverage, and celebrate the shifts that adolescence brings about in the parent-child relationship. Dr. Michael Rier’s quote is spot-on: “In adolescence, kids basically fire their parents as the managers of their lives and rehire them as consultants.”
During our listening sessions with middle school educators we heard that parents often approach this time of life with a sense of dread and overwhelm.
Not surprising, right?
It’s a mindset that makes middle school hard for parents to engage and navigate. And, it can make middle school family engagement even harder. But mindsets can shift.
As Dr. Jacob Towery, adjunct clinical instructor in the Stanford Department of Psychiatry, has done extensive research on this. He explains, “By challenging yourself with new experiences and perspectives, you can form new neural connections — or mindsets — at any point in life.”
In this domain, we aim to shift mindsets around the middle school years. How? By offering strategies and reflective practices which help parents to build a strength-based view of adolescence. This helps parents see adolescence as an exciting time for building the skills and capacities that lead children into adulthood.
We support parents in celebrating adolescence as a time of discovery, rapid learning, and growth. One in which parents play a key role. Coupled with that, we promote self-care strategies that are proven to help families. Proven to help navigate the ups and downs that come with any period of development and change.
Five Weeks of Middle School Family Engagement
Middle school family engagement is a great opportunity. And it comes with great responsibility. Which is why we really invested in building the best curriculum possible, and then applied the evidence-based Ready4K approach to make it easy for parents, and for administrators. Over the course of each month, we touch on skills in each domain. And every 5th week, we sneak in a review, to help everything stick.
The Curriculum I Needed, as a Middle School Mom
I started this post by telling you just how excited I am about this program. And I hope you can see why! But, I saved a very personal reason for last. I myself am a parent of two middle school children (and another one one who will be there soon enough). Developing this curriculum has literally changed my life.
I see my children differently. I have new ways to interpret their emotions, support their learning, and listen openly as they share about their friendships. I’m more patient now, better at supporting them as they take healthy risks and grow their independence. I feel like a better parent.
If you read this post and feel excited about this program, start spreading the word. Tell your colleagues. If they don’t have time to read this post, share this one-page Middle School Family Engagement program overview. Because middle school students need their families to be engaged.
And of course, reach out. Just let us know in advance how much time you have, because we have a lot to say about Middle School. And it’s all good.