By Robert Harrison
In the late 1980’s, about the same time that the International Schools Association was developing what would become the IB Middle Years Programme (MYP), another group of visionary educators consolidated the world’s best thinking about the schools that middle level learners deserve. This work—now carried on by the Association for Middle Level Education (AMLE)—offers a kind of manifesto of effective education for students aged 10-15 (This We Believe). Its characteristics are organized into three categories, something like the IB’s Programme Standards and Practices: Curriculum, instruction and assessment; Leadership and organization; Culture and community.
Taken together, these values outline sixteen essential features of quality educational programmes for younger adolescents. In successful schools for students in this age group:
- Educators value young adolescents and are prepared to teach them.
- Students and teachers are engaged in active, purposeful learning.
- Curriculum is challenging, exploratory, integrative, and relevant.
- Educators use multiple learning and teaching approaches.
- Varied and ongoing assessments advance learning as well as measure it.
- A shared vision developed by all stakeholders guides every decision.
- Leaders are committed to and knowledgeable about this age group, educational research, and best practices.
- Leaders demonstrate courage and collaboration.
- Ongoing professional development reflects best educational practices.
- Organizational structures foster purposeful learning and meaningful relationships.
- The school environment is inviting, safe, inclusive, and supportive of all.
- Every student’s academic and personal development is guided by an adult advocate.
- Comprehensive guidance and support services meet the needs of young adolescents.
- Health and wellness are supported in curricula, school-wide programs, and related policies.
- The school actively involves families in the education of their children.
- The school includes community and business partners.
Working with AMLE (and its affiliates in many of the United States, Canada and Europe), the IB developed a crosswalk that documents the MYP’s capacity to deliver such an educational experience and to structure educational institutions that accomplish all sixteen of these aspirations.
Early adolescence is a crucial span of human development that’s often overlooked. Not long ago, the British government’s education inspectorate asked if the school experience of 9-14-year-olds could be described as ‘The Wasted Years.’ But there are dedicated, inspiring communities of educational professionals who know that’s not the case! Here’s one: thousands of MYP teachers and administrators thoughtfully and joyfully develop and implement the MYP because we believe that students in this age group live in the wonder years.
Each March, we observe Middle Level Education Month to recognize the hard work of teachers everywhere who understand and care for younger adolescents, who believe in their importance and potential, and who are committed to their learning, academic growth, and personal success. It’s a good time to say thanks. And it’s a great time to draw the attention of policy makers and politicians to the needs of younger adolescents. Early adolescents undergo astounding physical and cognitive change. It seems more and more likely that they are not only emotionally volatile but emotionally vulnerable—thanks to deep neurological development that’s as rapid and life-changing as the fundamental years of early childhood.
In the difficult space between primary school and the emergent adult world of later secondary education, we have golden opportunities to help students shape their world view and build strong foundations for lifelong learning. In this space, the MYP works with a global community of teachers, researchers, scholars and multidisciplinary experts to develop an educational programme that meets the needs of these special students. The programme becomes real as it’s implemented in more than 1,300 schools around the world.
How can you tell it’s working? There are signs. We asked Dr Dru Tomlin, Director of Middle Level Services for AMLE, to offer some advice for parents who are looking for good middle level education. We hope you’ll find his description in this white paper apt for MYP schools everywhere.
Find out more on ibo.org and submit our form to download the free white paper What to Look for in the Middle Years
Robert Harrison, Ph.D, is Head of MYP Development at the IB.