The 16 Characteristics of Successful Schools
This We Believe: Keys to Educating Young Adolescents (2010), organizes
the 16 research-based characteristics of effective middle grades
education into three areas: Curriculum, Instruction,
Leadership and Organization; and Culture and Community.
Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment
Educators value young adolescents and are prepared to teach them.
(Value Young Adolescents)
Effective middle grades educators make a conscious choice to work with young
adolescents and advocate for them. They understand the developmental uniqueness
of this age group, the appropriate curriculum, effective learning and assessment
strategies, and their importance as models.
Students and teachers are engaged in active, purposeful learning.
Instructional practices place students at the center of the learning process.
As they develop the ability to hypothesize, to organize information into useful
and meaningful constructs, and to grasp long-term cause and effect relationships,
students are ready and able to play a major role in their own learning and
Curriculum is challenging, exploratory, integrative, and relevant.
Curriculum embraces every planned aspect of a school's educational program.
An effective middle level curriculum is distinguished by learning activities
that appeal to young adolescents, is exploratory and challenging, and incorporates
student-generated questions and concerns.
Educators use multiple learning and teaching approaches.
(Multiple Learning Approaches)
Teaching and learning approaches should accommodate the diverse skills, abilities,
and prior knowledge of young adolescents, cultivate multiple intelligences,
draw upon students' individual learning styles, and utilize digital tools.
When learning experiences capitalize on students' cultural, experiential, and
personal backgrounds, new concepts are built on knowledge students already
Varied and ongoing assessments advance learning as well as measure
Continuous, authentic, and appropriate assessment measures, including both
formative and summative ones, provide evidence about every student's learning
progress. Such information helps students, teachers, and family members select
immediate learning goals and plan further education.
Leadership and Organization
A shared vision developed by all stakeholders guides every decision.
When a shared vision and mission statement become operational, middle level
educators pursue appropriate practices in developing a challenging academic
program; they develop criteria to guide decisions and a process to make needed
Leaders are committed to and knowledgeable about this age group,
educational research, and best practices.
Courageous, collaborative middle level leaders understand young adolescents,
the society in which they live, and the theory of middle level education. Such
leaders understand the nuances of teaming, student advocacy, exploration, and
assessment as components of a larger middle level program.
Leaders demonstrate courage and collaboration.
(Courageous & Collaborative Leaders)
Leaders understand that successful schools committed to the long-term implementation
of the middle school concept must be collaborative enterprises. The principal,
working collaboratively with a leadership team, focuses on building a learning
community that involves all teachers and places top priority on the education
and healthy development of every student, teacher, and staff member.
Ongoing professional development reflects best educational practices.
Professional development is a continuing activity in middle level schools where
teachers take advantage of every opportunity to work with colleagues to improve
the learning experiences for their students.
Organizational structures foster purposeful learning and meaningful
The ways schools organize teachers and group and schedule students have a significant
impact on the learning environment. Interdisciplinary teams common planning
time, block scheduling, and elimination of tracking are related conditions
that contribute to improved achievement.
Culture and Community
The school environment is inviting, safe, inclusive, and supportive
A successful school for young adolescents is an inviting, supportive, and safe
place, a joyful community that promotes in-depth learning and enhances students'
physical and emotional well-being.
Every student's academic and personal development is guided by
an adult advocate.
Academic success and personal growth increase markedly when young adolescents'
affective needs are met. Each student must have one adult to support that student's
academic and personal development.
Comprehensive guidance and support services meet the needs of young
Both teachers and specialized professionals are readily available to offer
the assistance many students need in negotiating their lives in and out of
Health and wellness are supported in curricula, school-wide programs,
and related policies.
(Health & Wellness)
Abundant opportunities are available for students to develop and maintain healthy
minds and bodies and to understand their personal growth through health-related
programs, policies, and curricula.
The school actively involves families in the education of their
Schools and families must work together to provide the best possible learning
for every young adolescent. Schools take the initiative in involving and educating
The school includes community and business partners.
(Community & Business)
Genuine community involvement is a fundamental component of successful schools
for young adolescents. Such schools seek appropriate partnerships with businesses,
social service agencies, and other organizations whose purposes are consistent
with the school's mission.