Brisbane Grammar’s Jacqui Zervos has been teaching at Grammar for 19 years. Prior to taking up the Head of Middle School role in 2006, Ms Zervos was a Head of Year, a pastoral position that travels with the same year level of boys from Years 8 to 12. Thus she was well placed to understand how Middle School students need to be prepared to confidently progress to the senior school – academically and emotionally – as well as focusing on the particular requirements of young adolescents.
What is it about a Middle School that’s so important?
Middle years’ students are vulnerable because of the rapid social, cognitive, physical and emotional changes that typify this phase of life. Research indicates that students undergo the greatest physical and emotional changes at this age, more than at any other time. While these developmental processes are natural they do pose unique challenges; it is a period when lack of confidence, poor self-image and disengagement from learning are likely to be more common. Educational programs for students of this age must aim to keep them connected to the learning process to prepare them for their later studies and also help them navigate what can be a difficult social and emotional stage in their lives.
True middle schooling is not only about the physical separation from the rest of the school; it’s about aligning programs and practices to a clear middle schooling philosophy. At the heart of that philosophy is the understanding that as educators we have the responsibility to contribute to the development of every dimension of a young person’s makeup – intellectual, physical, social and emotional. Engaging in a holistic approach involves planning thoughtful progression in all key areas of the students’ interaction with their school environment, including personal organisation, study habits, complexity of thinking, social environment, learning styles and instructional strategies. In this way, middle schooling serves as a bridge that takes students from a primary school way of thinking and learning to a level where they can confidently transition into a senior school paradigm. Successful navigation over this ‘bridge’ requires teachers to carefully balance their encouragement of student independence and interdependence and the recognition of the powerful effects peer relationships and student/teacher relationships have on academic, social and emotional development.
In a practical sense how do you engage students in a Middle School?
Simply you have to tailor programs to the interests of middle years’ students. While students need to have strong foundations in literacy and numeracy it shouldn’t come at the cost of creativity and critical thinking. Effective curriculum design should meet a range of priorities: integrity and rigour in teaching disciplinary knowledge and skills; higher order thinking, capturing the students’ imaginations; and very importantly, fun. Whether building rockets, landing on alien planets to create a new society or building payload delivery systems – it’s about the sorts of things that really connect students to the learning process.
Why is the physical separation important in a Middle School?
A separate precinct allows students to have an identity within a school and helps educators deliver age appropriate programs. It also allows the students to feel safe and comfortable mixing with students their own age. At Brisbane Grammar we were also very fortunate to be able to purpose-build the Middle School. Thus the design of our learning spaces was driven by research into middle years’ philosophy and, as a result, it enables our teachers to uncompromisingly employ middle years’ pedagogy. The positioning of core teachers’ offices between classrooms means that we have constant, informal supervision of the verandahs and easy access to teachers for our students.
What do you enjoy about working in the Middle School environment?
I love coming to work every day to a community where there is great desire to learn, a strong culture of respect and a powerful sense of belonging. We have very courteous and enthusiastic students who are seeking to make the most of the opportunities before them. We encourage them to appreciate the privilege they enjoy and to develop a sense of responsibility and service to others.
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